‘We have a kitten with no eyes.’ He looked like a mini Frankenstein monster. Instantly, we became advocates.’: Couple shares animal rescue missions, ‘I never planned to own my own personal zoo’

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“‘Please,’ I begged. ‘These will be the last ones.’

‘Absolutely not,’ my wife said. ‘I will leave. It’s me or them.’

2 days later, we made the 8-hour round-trip to Dallas.

This wasn’t the first time she’d threatened me with divorce over an animal. 4 years before, I had fielded a frantic call from my younger sister about a gorgeous fluffy dog that had been left behind by some neighbors after a move. After initially planning to just get him neutered, I asked to bring Albus (as I later named him) into our home. Megan pitched a fit, raving about how we already had five dogs and didn’t need anymore. If I wanted to continue ‘collecting street mutts,’ I could do it on my own. Needless to say, the fat ball of fluff is sleeping in the spare room with his best dog friend, and the wife is sitting in the recliner watching Netflix.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

I never planned to own my own personal zoo. When I was 18, I adopted my first girl, Abby, as a tiny puppy simply because she fit in the palm of my hand and had huge bug-like eyes. My mother tried to steal her from me once, claiming I couldn’t possibly care for anything other than myself, but there was no denying the love Abby and I had for each other. She grew as I grew, and we quickly became inseparable. I never went anywhere without her, and she was my greatest friend and companion for years.

When Megan and I started dating, she once tried to kick Abby out of bed. I almost broke up with her then. How dare she ever try to remove the TRUE love of my life? It didn’t take Megan long to fall in love with Abby, and her ridiculous nickname for her — Speed Bump — drove me insane, a moniker adopted because Abby used to run out of my apartment. Megan would tell her, ‘You’re so small, you’d just be a speed bump. Be careful.’ Later, we adopted Bronze, a retired Grand Champion Rat Terrier with an intense fear of men, together. As expected, he fit perfectly into our no-men-allowed household.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

Our family of four didn’t stay small for long. One night at dinner, Megan stupidly showed me a picture of a tiny 6-week-old Chihuahua puppy as a joke. Her head was still reeling from the quickness of the events as I made her go to the ATM that evening, withdraw $200, and drive to a neighborhood in the slums of Spring, Texas to pick up the minuscule bundle of long-legged joy. Darby rode home that evening perched on Megan’s shoulder. She was the first and only dog we ever bought.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

We didn’t stop there. A week after Darby, one of Megan’s co-workers at school came to her with a problem. The evening before, Shannon had awakened to thunder mixed with the drowning cries of a puppy. She ran across the street and saved a roly-poly 4-week-old mutt from the scary thunderstorm. Megan fell instantly in love, and, for once in my life, I said no to a dog. We already had one puppy in the house — two would be too many. Absolutely not. My foot was down.

I was awakened for the next three nights at 3 a.m. by the bright light of her cell-phone in my face highlighting Shannon’s picture of this puppy. ‘Please?’ she begged.

Enter Scout, named for the main character in our favorite novel. Between Abby (who hated me for bringing more animals into her life), Bronze, Darby, and Scout, we remained busy loving and caring for all our pets. Life was perfect. I had no desire for any more. Our babies traveled with us on vacations, grew up alongside our nieces and nephews, and brought more happiness to our lives than we ever thought possible.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

Until our own personal nightmare. In September of 2015, we lost Bronze to a tragic accident. The guilt, though misplaced, ate us both alive. In that moment of grief, I felt called to act… not to replace him, but to work towards saving dogs like Bronze who had an intense fear of strangers, those who might not readily be considered ‘adoptable.’

Had I known this desire would have snowballed into the life we have now, I still would not have changed a thing. We fell into animal rescue headfirst: Nymeria, the painfully shy Husky-German Shepherd-mix who wouldn’t come out of her kennel at the shelter; Annie, the long-haired Chihuahua whose owner surrendered her; Albus, the Shepherd-mix, abandoned on the streets of Nederland, Texas; Spot, the pit-bull pulled from a euthanasia list by a rescue who spent 2 years of his life in a 3 x 10 concrete kennel; Ghost, the emaciated and heartworm positive Husky who wandered up to our home on the verge of death; Bailey; the Chihuahua-mix picked up on a busy interstate feeder road; Harper, the gorgeous Husky surrendered to the shelter for killing chickens; Lily, the Chihuahua-mix found eating garbage out of a trashcan; Scarlett, the Chow-Bloodhound pulled as a puppy from the Henderson shelter; Missy, the 11-year old Rottweiler abandoned at the shelter in her senior years after her owner died; Reese, the antique 2-pound Chihuahua rescued from a scalper trying to sell her for breeding; Lola, the paralyzed Chiweenie; Gilbert, the handsome Chihuahua-mix adopted from a life spent in the dark.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

They are not all with us any longer. Abby passed away from congestive heart failure in 2016, on an evening that pervades my memories frequently even though I would rather forget it ever happened. After leaving her with Megan in the living room to go take a nap, I was awakened by my visibly-upset wife who simply said, ‘Abby is gone.’ ‘Gone where?’ I asked. I would rather have died myself, but I tried to find comfort in the fact she slipped away while lying in her favorite spot, chewing on her favorite bone, without a single drop of pain. Bailey and Lily have too passed on, as has Missy, who at the ripe old age of 14 (unprecedented by Rottweiler standards) was released from the constraints of oral cancer. The rest remain – twelve dogs, at the latest count.

However, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, the conversation from the beginning of this story wasn’t even about a dog. It was about a cat. Two cats, as a matter of fact.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

In all fairness, I never even liked cats. Megan was the one who initially thought I was unfair when I told her I didn’t want any cats. But, one weekend, she left for a professional development seminar in Dallas… and that weekend, I fell in love with a green-eyed, black-haired monster. Luna. I stumbled across her at the local Petco while a small rescue was having an adoption event. She captivated me. The contrast of her lime green eyes to her jet black hair made it impossible for me to walk by her kennel.

What happened after that is a snowballing, free-wheeling expressway into absolute chaos. We began fostering for that local rescue, and dozens of kittens and cats came and went from our home. Many also stayed, unable to find loving parents who wanted them. Eventually, our house was overrun not only with dogs, but also 20 cats. I’ll tell you what we didn’t have. We didn’t have a roach or mouse problem.

The abundance of animals made it impossible to live, to a point. I am a neat freak who cleans twice daily, so the house never smelled like a shelter, but the sheer absence of space became apparent quickly. Not only that, but the local rescue closed, leaving us with all these cats that didn’t really belong to us. Eventually, we built a huge, elaborate cat hotel on our property and moved most of the rescue cats out there.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

This meant I finally had room in the house for my true love — special needs cats. Back in 2015, while working with the rescue, we received a call about a kitten with no eyes that was picked up from a refinery in Baytown. Megan and I were immediately repulsed. What could we do with a kitten with no eyes? He looked like a mini Frankenstein monster from the pictures. But we agreed, and that little tiny monster grew into the most beautiful luxurious boy named Jon Snow. Instantly, we became advocates for eyeless cats. Many are born that way; many others have their eyes removed due to advanced disease. People always asked us, ‘Well, what does he do? How does he get around?’ With Jon, his other senses were so advanced he didn’t need to see… he mapped our home and knew where everything was. The only time he got confused is when we’d rearrange the furniture, and he’d go to jump on the couch and find nothing there.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

2 years later, we went to assist the rescue with an adoption event, and the owner told us, ‘I have two kittens if you’d like to foster. They need to be bottle-fed though.’ Megan rolled her eyes, shot me an ‘absolutely no’ look, and walked down a different aisle. I knelt to look.

The brown tabby with unkempt fur and bent whiskers was looking at me with his head cocked sideways. He began to move towards me, and instead of reaching me, simply curved his journey into an arc and continued walking in circles.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

‘I think he’s special,’ the shelter director said. ‘He had a seizure when I picked him up off the street. I thought he had died. I wrapped him in a towel and set him aside to bury him the next morning, and when I woke up, there he was looking for food!’

My heart broke for the second time in 5 months. 2017 had been, up to that point, the year of the greatest heartache and loss of my life. 2 years before, I had been hired at the local high school as a special needs aide for a young man named Andrew. Andrew was 17 years old and weighed 38 pounds. He was completely confined to his wheelchair for the most part, but his compelling personality far outshone his disability. Andrew was born with Cockayne Syndrome, an extremely rare disease that most children don’t survive past their second decade of life. Andrew was already at the end of his second decade when I met him. I adored him, and he adored me, a masterful feat since he ‘fired’ his aides quite frequently.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

I won’t get into the details of his death. The grief is far too great for me to bear, even 4 years later. But when I looked at that tiny little kitten, walking in circles on the white linoleum in Petco, I knew this was my chance to protect something innocent again, something that needed me as much as I needed it. ‘Megan, I have to have him,’ I said. ‘He reminds me of Andrew.’ When she heard that, she gave in.

Of course, I named him Andrew, a decision that in hindsight was a terrible idea. Andrew grew into a handsome, sassy boy. The head tilt never went away, but the movement in circles controlled itself a bit as he aged. Our vet said he had a mild form of Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH), an underdeveloped brain due to his mother’s illness while she was pregnant with him. Due to his underdeveloped cerebellum, Andrew would never be perfect in terms of motor coordination and movement. We didn’t care. It made him even more special to us, and especially to me.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

I wish this story had a happy ending. I wish I could say we lived happily ever after with our eyeless gentleman Jon Snow and our perfectly wacko little Andrew, but life, as always, destroys doors before it cracks a window. We lost Andrew in 2019 to Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a deadly virus with no cure at the time. We lost Jon Snow a few months later to an emergency bladder blockage. Within months, my two great special needs babies were gone from me, and the hole they left seemed impossible to fill.

I knew then adopting special needs cats would be my lifelong calling. Despite minor disagreements from Megan, I adopted Nico, an eyeless, mischievous grey kitten, and Ollivander,  a sleek black mild CH cat who is also 100% deaf. He is the resident spaz who likes to scream at the top of his lungs.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

And then comes the conversation from the beginning. All things come full circle. I was notified by the rescue I adopted Nico from they had two young kittens, one with no eyes and one with moderate to severe CH. I knew, in my heart, these babies belonged with me, but Megan was adamant — no more cats, no more responsibilities. To be fair, we did have enough on our plate by far, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Eventually, like she always does, she broke.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

Yoshi and Buddy Holly have been with us for almost a year now, and they, with their brothers Nico and Ollie, represent our commitment to special needs cats. Through them, I am allowed to be an advocate for CH and eyeless cats everywhere, and much of my evenings are spent answering people’s questions about CH and filming videos of Buddy Holly and his crazy antics. Buddy Holly is the celebrity, though (378k followers on TikTok at the last count) – not me. I’m just the human that gets to spend my days with him.

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

And there you have the road to rescue. For us, it started with an inconceivable loss that opened our hearts to an indescribable love. It is not an easy life. With every loss of a pet comes an incomprehensible heartache, voids that will never be filled, but we continue to work toward a world where all animals are treated with dignity and respect. No, we cannot go on vacation. Yes, we are frequently one pet emergency away from absolute bankruptcy. No, our lives are not perfect, and we have had many fights and near-breakups over the realities of our lives. Yes, we sleep on the outer edge of our king bed, and the kids take up the rest. But, whether I’m sad or happy, there’s no greater comfort than coming home and walking into a house full of waiting love, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Courtesy of Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chelsea Rush and Megan Ryan from Texas. You can follow their journey on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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