Growing up in Iran, Julie Ruehle witnessed cruelty to the animal traditionally considered as man’s best friend.
She saw children kicking and throwing stones at dogs, who were dominantly stray due to a cultural and religious belief that animals did not belong indoors. In more extreme cases, people would tie the dogs to the back of trucks and drag the canines around as the vehicles moved. In Iran, all of this has widely been thought of as acceptable behavior, Julie said.
Now, the Rancho Santa Fe woman, who immigrated to the United States when she was 18, and her husband, Bill Ruehle, are making it their mission for the world to accept domesticated animals and realize how they can shape our lives.
"When I came to the States, initially I did like animals but I hadn't felt the kind of affection that I do today because of my own upbringing and not really allowing myself to be able to be open to loving them," Julie said. "Over the years, as I've adopted my own rescue dogs, I began to think more about this issue."
Julie, a managing director at her family's real estate agency, Ruehle Realty, felt further compelled to do something about Iran's treatment of dogs in 2016 when she learned of a stray mutt that had been thrown off a five-story building in Chennai. The canine landed on the ground and crawled and cried for help with his internal organs being exposed. Fortunately, some Good Samaritans did try to help the dog and the abuser was found. However, no one was punished.
Since learning about the horrific incident, Julie and Bill have developed The Ruehle Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating people about how animals should be treated and how they can help enrich our lives.
Initially the foundation, which is privately funded by the Ruehles, started off by providing opportunities like scholarships. It also has funded a music therapy program for a school for children with autism in Canada. Now, the organization has added an animal welfare component.
Through the Ruehle Foundation, the couple brings dogs from Iran to the U.S. The animals are then cared for medically or sent to animal sanctuaries.
New this year, the foundation has created a program to pair abused and neglected dogs with families who have children with autism or other mental illnesses.
So far, the organization has collectively helped 40 to 50 dogs, Julie said. She added that the organization is always looking for volunteers or families who are struggling with mental health and are open to animal therapy.
Julie said she believes animals can help improve mental health in humans and help them live overall better lives.
"I often say my whole psychology as a human being was not complete until I felt the affection and the love for an animal and from an animal," she said. "I truly believe that if all humans opened their hearts to this kind of love and they were able to receive it, they would be so much better. We save them and, in return, they save us."
For more information, visit www.jbrfoundation.org.