It takes a true heart of gold and genuine animal lover to trade in Nordstrom's gift cards for shelter dogs on one's birthday, but that's what Ramonan Michelle Robertson-Clark did last year in April and hasn't looked back since.
"Last year, I went online to look at dogs and saw all of these ones scheduled to be euthanized on my birthday," Robertson-Clark said. "I completely forgot about my Nordstrom's gift cards I had gotten and asked my husband if we could go save the dogs."
And that's what started the animal-lover's idea for a rescue in Ramona. Since then, Robertson-Clark said she and her husband have rescued close to 30 dogs, all from high-kill shelters throughout Southern California, from Barstow to Venture.
"What we like to do is go online and see where we can get them from," she said. "We're typically a small dog rescue because it's easier to transfer, but we have big breed puppies from high kill shelters."
Robertson-Clark now has a place for all these pups to be showcased, as well as pet accessories and necessities. The Rescued Pup Boutique sits at 220 Rotanzi St., Ste. A, next to Sears. The shop celebrated its grand opening the first weekend of February with hundreds of residents showing up to take a peek at the rescue shop.
"The support for the community has been overwhelming," the shop owner told Patch, noting how gracious Ramona biz Laund-Yer-Mutt has been with offering free services to clean the pups once they come out of the shelters.
Last week, Robertson-Clark had about eight dogs in the rescue shop, all with unique personalities and some with unique features—like three-legged Dotty, a sweet Chihuahua who comes from an abusive home.
The Rescued Pup Boutique owner said that her goal is to place dogs in forever homes that will keep the dogs in a safe and loving environment.
"If I see a red flag, I won't let you adopt," she said. "My job is to make sure they don't end up on death row."
Robertson-Clark said the pups never stay at the boutique at night because she doesn't "want them to feel like they're in a shelter." Instead, they go to "foster" homes at night.
Anyone who adopts a pet from The Rescued Pup Boutique can expect a well-mannered dog and even free training.
"They're not allowed to be treat- or food-aggressive. They're well socialized," Robertson-Clark said.
Robertson-Clark's mom offers free training session for anyone who rescues one of the pups, though she said there's never any pressure to adopt a dog when you come in to check out the cute goods.
"I'm very low-pressure, so if you don't want a dog that's fine," Robertson-Clark said. "Every visitation is a chance for the dogs to socialize."
Besides, the shop owner said, most of the time the dogs end up picking out you.
"Most people usually come in for one particular pup they've seen online, but end up going home with another," Robertson-Clark said. "The dogs end up adopting the family."
In fact, the Ramona resident told Patch that the furthest family she had come in and adopt was was from Montana, who were in town visiting family. The family had an autistic daughter and wanted a golden retriever as therapy for the girl. Robertson-Clark only had small dogs, but knew that one in particular might be of great value to the family—Mr. Chuggles.
"Here's this dog, when I first tried to get him out of the shelter, he was too nervous to come out," she said. "The child took to Mr. Chuggles right away, and he loved her!"
Mr. Chuggles, though he's been renamed, is now doing great with the Montana family.
All costs for the dogs are paid for by Robertson-Clark, as are some of the accessories inside the shop, like sweaters, bedazzled collars and leashes and more. The owner said that she pays for the accessories and the proceeds go right back into her rescue, which is in the process of becoming a non-profit 501 (c)(3).
She also said that she graciously accepts donations of all kinds, including gently-worn items as well as blankets, dishes and cleaning supplies.
"We could always use towels," the dog-lover told Patch.
Most recently, the rescue has been looking for help with one particular rescued-pup's high vet costs. Ralphy, who was saved from euthanasia, was brought it with what Robertson-Clark was told kennel cough. As of Feb. 8, Ralphy's condition had worsened and was not reminiscent of the common cough dogs often get in shelters.
Currently, Ralphy is at Parkway Pet Clinic in Escondido, who offered Robertson-Clark a discount on services. Those wanting to donate to help Ralphy and his high vet bills can call Parkway Pet for donations at 760-743-0973.
And if you're interested in just checking out the rambunctious pups, pay the Rescued Pup Boutique a visit—even if it's just to give yourself a little bit of doggy therapy.
"I think rescues all bring different things to the table," Robertson-Clark said. "With ours, we're not in a rush to adopt them out. We want to make sure they have no baggage."
The new shop owner said she hopes that her rescue here in Ramona can one day be a place where other rescues, who don't have a physical building to showcase their dogs, can come in use the space. She also said she hopes to have in-shop grooming services.
"Here, they have a place that they're used to," she said. "We're about having a successful place for dogs to be adopted from."
You can see all of Robertson-Clark's pups on her website, NikaPower, named after the rescue pup that started it all.