From Victim to Victor - North Carolina Puppy Mill Survivors Celebrated in New Mobile App for Kids

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A new mobile app being developed by Startled Cat, Inc. will use illustrations of puppy mill survivors to educate kids about humane pet care

Ricky Bobby - Walk with Me

We believe the key to ending puppy mills and getting dogs adopted into forever homes is education. What better way to educate kids than a fun, interactive and affordable mobile app? - Vanessa Budnick

Meet Ricky Bobby, a tiny 6lb. bundle of dachshund energy. One of the first things you'll notice about him is his soft brown eyes. The second will undoubtedly be the miniature cart he uses to support his hind legs as he zips along behind his person, Megan Bliss. Ricky's back legs are paralyzed, the result of a hardened disc left untreated for years in the puppy mill from which he was rescued, but his remarkable recovery and joie de vivre have become symbols for what can be accomplished when people come together to right a wrong.

"Ricky's story was first brought to my attention by Kim Alboum of the Humane Society," says Jena Ball, the writer and illustrator leading the CritterKin creative team. He was one of the dogs the HSUS and SPCA of Wake County, NC rescued in their latest puppy mill bust. She knew I was looking for a special needs dog to include in the CritterKin pack of puppies, and sent me videos of him as he was learning to use his cart. I knew I wanted to illustrate him as soon as I saw the sweet, trusting expression on his face.”

Ball and the Startled Cat team are not only illustrating Ricky, but plan to create lessons based on his narrative for the CritterKin app as well. "Ricky's story is inspiring, but it's also a great opportunity to teach kids an invaluable lesson about empathy and humane behavior," says Martin Keltz, the Emmy award winning producer of The Magic School Bus and former President and co-founder of Scholastic Productions. "If we imagine Ricky as a child with a learning disability or physical challenge, it's not hard to see how he could be ostracized or even bullied. By including Ricky in CritterKin, and giving kids a chance to learn about and play with him, we will be teaching compassion and respect for differences."

The CritterKin app teaches the basics of pet care through fun, interactive games, puzzles and stories. Kids log into the app to do daily chores and take their dogs to the CritterKin Dog Park for class. At the park, they learn about how to care for their dog, but other important lessons about things like canine body language, flea and tick prevention, and why dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate.

“My hope is that CritterKin can bring the kinds of lessons I teach about in my classes at the SPCA of Wake County to a broader audience,” says Vanessa Budnick, the Humane Educator collaborating on the CritterKin curriculum with Startled Cat. “We believe that the key to ending puppy mills and getting dogs adopted into forever homes is education. What better way to educate kids than a fun, interactive and affordable app?”

Ricky Bobby and Megan Bliss will be walking with CritterKin at the SCPA Dog Walk on April 20, in Raleigh North Carolina. A signed print of the illustration Ball created of Ricky Bobby – pawprinted by Ricky himself - will be on display at the SPCA of Wake County’s Pet Pals booth, the day of the race. The print will be raffled off and the funds donated to support the SPCA’s work. To learn more about the walk and learn how you can participate (a virtual walker option is available) visit:

To learn how you can get copies of the Ricky Bobby print and support CritterKin’s upcoming Kickstarter campaign visit or call Jena Ball at 919-535-8472.

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Marty Keltz

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