In 2010, animal control officer Julie LeRoy responded to a call about a stray dog, but she found something else.
The callers had a special needs Pit Bull puppy they wanted to rehome immediately.
Cuda's appearance was unlike anything Julie had ever seen. The dog's spine was curved, her teeth jutted out in an underbite, earning her the name Cuda - short for barracuda. The pup appeared malnourished, underweight and in desperate need of medical attention.
Julie didn't know what was wrong with the dog, but she knew that Cuda belonged with her family.
"Scenarios of her future started revealing themselves in my head and I knew I had to be her future. Her body shape was so unusual I felt no one would give her a chance."
Julie's husband was reluctant to bring another pup into their home because the couple already had 4 dogs. But, after some convincing, he agreed.
Julie learned that Cuda had short-spine syndrome, also known as baboon dog syndrome. At the time, the pup's curved spine was squishing her organs together.
Julie and her husband Scott loved Cuda no matter her appearance, but the public didn't share that joy at first. People stared, laughed and pointed at Cuda on her first trip to the pet store. Heartbroken, Julie ran out of the store as soon as possible.
Instead of giving up, Julie made the most of Cuda's unusual features. She entered the pup in the 2011 World's Ugliest Dog
Cuda didn't win, but she did become a media darling. There were no more looks of disgust thrown her way, only kisses, love and a desire to help special needs dogs.
"Just walking in public with Cuda brought people to us. Conversations with some people led to other connections, such as a local photographer, then her friends, a local store, volunteers in animal rescue and Facebook. There wasn't a place we could visit without making a new friend."
Due to all of the pawsitive press, Julie started a Facebook page for Cuda
called Cuda Cares. The page was an opportunity for Julie to stress the importance of responsible breeding practices and to advocate for special needs dogs.
Thanks to social media, other people with short-spined dogs got in touch with Julie. Now Cuda is part of a network of 11 pups with the syndrome.
These connections are important because there is very little information about baboon dog syndrome available. Now, these pawrents can swap stories and learn from one another.
of like-hearted individuals gave Julie another idea for Cuda Cares; she wanted to create a larger network of "specialists" to educate people about the reality of adopting a special needs pup.
"I envision a world wide network of people experienced with particular conditions, animals suffering from environmental behavior and breed related issues. I can refer people to them when they need help. If social media is going to put the spotlight on adopting special needs or animals in the news I want people to have resources to help them understand that their lives will change."
Julie knows first hand what it's like to rearrange your life for your furry best friend. Cuda also has diabetes.
"After she was diagnosed with diabetes, our lives changed drastically. We live around her insulin times. We have to be careful about her diet. We live with diabetes, too. I didn't welcome that. I had no choice but to embrace it and become educated. Now I educate others."
She sees this network going beyond educating people about special needs dogs and growing into something that educates people about specific breeds. Every breed comes with its quirks. Julie wants people to have someone to speak with about what it's like to live with a particular breed. We all know there's a lot of love involved, but Julie thinks people should talk about the time investment for training and exercise, the reality of monetary costs and any emotional or physical exhaustion that comes with handling certain breeds.
While Julie expands her work, Cuda continues to bring joy to those around her. She is now a certified therapy dog. Julie thinks people can learn a lot about diversity from Cuda, she says:
"When people who discriminate towards others who don't look the same realize that Cuda is no different than any other dog, maybe that will translate to how they act with other people."
You can follow Cuda's journey on Facebook and Twitter.
All images via Cuda Cares.