LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Putting on the dog is a way of life for businesswoman Julie Nickerson after she created Ruff Life, a medical charity for rescued pets.
Nickerson discovered the number of animal rescue organizations that exist for various breeds of dogs and other pets when she was looking for a gentle dog before moving to Manatee County.
"Growing up in the Boston area, there wasn't an awareness of dog shelters. We only had breeders. When I moved to Hilton Head, the island is very involved with rescue shelters. I met dogs on the beach that were rescued, and thought that was the coolest thing I had ever heard," Nickerson said.
She went online and researched dogs by breeds. After she found Jack, a retriever mix, Nickerson drove to South Carolina to pick him up the next day.
Shortly after, Nickerson learned Jack would need
extensive surgery -- a triple pelvic osteotomy -- to treat hip dysplasia.
"Without it he would be in too much pain and putting him down would be the only other option," Nickerson said. "Because I just didn't have $5,500 for this surgery, I didn't have any other option."
But one other option arose.
The owner of a Hilton Head hardware store, Beth Castelli, spearheaded a fund drive for Jack's surgery. The act of generosity so impressed Nickerson that she dedicated herself to starting a business to keep the idea going.
"Ruff Life was born because of the generosity of my friends, neighbors, family and community, I am making it my personal mission that we never forget the reason we came together and why we need to keep that tradition moving forward," reads the statement on her website, rufflife.org.
On the site, Nickerson sells hats, T-shirts and hoodies with the Ruff Life logo. She sells items at the regular Friday farmers markets at San Marco Plaza in Lakewood Ranch and participates in festivals on Bradenton Beach, Gulfport and elsewhere.
"She's wonderful," said Barb Smith, who organizes the San Marco markets and owns the Second Ann Rose shop. "She's the one who makes the hats and shirts, and the profit goes to the organization. She's just a great gal. She's pure. It's a very good cause."
Wearing the slogan saying it's a "ruff life" makes vacations especially fun for Smith.
"I always wear it on my cruise," Smith said. "I enjoy wearing it, saying I have a rough life and knowing I'm helping an animal at the same time."
"I didn't know this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life," Nickerson said. "I just knew it was time to get a dog and I wanted to get a rescue because we had golden retrievers all our lives."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.