Legally Cute: From Rescue Dog to the Stage

Jun 11, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Helping Hands, Joyce Brandon, Pets, Theatre

by Joyce Brandon

Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Squaw Valley.

Good thing it is not illegal to be this cute! When you meet Raphi you know in an instant there is something special about this miniscule guy. At just five pounds, this little white wonder captures your heart in an instant. I am a huge Chihuahua fan, known as the Chihuahua whisperer to my co-rescuers, and I love them all; but I have to admit that Raphi has that “x” factor, that special bit of charisma that can steal your heart away in a flash. Thanks to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in Fresno, you will have the opportunity to experience that “x” factor for yourself. Raphi has been selected to play the role of Bruiser in the upcoming production of Legally Blonde.


My spin on this story is likely different than most. The whole rags to riches, stray to star angle is cute and I contemplated writing this story with that voice. Is Raphi the new makeover sensation in My Fair Chihuahua? Is he the misunderstood orphan in Oliver? I could have had a lot of fun with all of that but Raphi’s humble beginnings and what could have been his demise is all too common a story in our Central Valley and that is the story that needs to be told.

I first spotted Raphi at the Central California SPCA. He, like thousands of Chihuahuas each year, found himself in lockdown for one reason or another. I’m not sure if Raphi decided to take a stroll or if his owners decided he was too much trouble, but through no fault of his own he found himself at the shelter. He was one of many dogs in the kennel that day but, for whatever reason, he caught my eye. He was available for adoption but I knew the outlook for adoption was pretty dismal. He was an adult male Chihuahua and, no matter how cute, there just aren’t enough adopters willing to take that depressing tour of the CCSPCA. I marked him for rescue.

A rescue name on a kennel card can often mean the difference between life and death. It made all the difference for this guy. As predicted, he did not get adopted. What he did get is sick. It seems inevitable that if a dog spends enough days in the shelter it will get sick. There must be a Murphy’s Law about it somewhere. A cough, a sneeze, is more often than not a death sentence in a shelter environment, at least it is in Fresno. In Fresno, as I suspect with most high volume/high kill shelters, most dogs do not get medicated (certainly not a Chihuahua). They are killed. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh but it is the truth. The good news for Raphi is that he had a rescue willing to take him. We received the call that he needed to go, so off we went to retrieve him.

I don’t want to stray from the Raphi story too much but I do want to say that the truth is often hard to look at. I believe, however, that in confronting the truth we can affect change. I admit, until about five years ago I never gave the shelter animals much of a thought. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that it wasn’t a good place. I knew they killed unwanted pets but it really had no impact on my life. It had nothing to do with me.

I was wrong. The fate and care of our animals has everything to do with each of us. We are responsible to care for those that cannot care for themselves; we are the voice of the voiceless. I will save shelter politics for another day but I will say get involved. Find out what’s happening in your town. Ask questions and demand change if change is needed. Make a difference in the life of an animal today.

Jessi Staab knows how to make a difference. She is a young woman involved in animal rescue and is also (thankfully) a season ticket holder to Roger Rocka’s. When Jessi heard that they would be presenting Legally Blondee, she realized what an impact casting a rescue Chihuahua could have. She presented the idea to manager Dan Passano and he immediately agreed, so the casting call went out. Animal Compassion Team was contacted and told that Roger Rocka’s was looking for a small tan Chihuahua to play the role of Bruiser. We were excited at the prospect of spreading the rescue message and sharing the plight of the Chihuahua so our search began for the perfect Bruiser.

Raphi at his audition

We have several hundred animals in foster homes at any given time. We always have many Chihuahuas but at this time there weren’t many tiny, tan ones. We arranged to have a few at an audition and decided to take Raphi too. He wasn’t exactly what they were looking for as he is primarily white, but we decided to try. We knew he had something special. Raphi stepped on stage and it lit up! His confident posture and adorable big ears just screamed STAR. I think everyone knew almost immediately he was the new Bruiser. We waited about a week for final confirmation. Not only did we learn after a week that Roger Rocka’s wanted Raphi for the part but, as a bonus the director, Elizabeth Fiester wanted Raphi to come and live with her. I thought Elizabeth wanted to foster Raphi but it was better than that – she wanted to adopt.

Raphi in the arms of his new mom Elizabeth

I am happy to say that Raphi is no longer homeless. Elizabeth adopted him this past weekend and I’m told that he is already “King of the House.” Of that I have no doubt. I am confident that with the love and direction of his new mom, Raphi will make the perfect Bruiser. Raphi will enjoy the attention and limelight of Legally Blond but his real work has already begun. His job is to love and protect his human family. I don’t think most people realize what great little companions Chihuahuas make. Their only job in life is to love you. Chihuahuas are the perfect lap dogs, the perfect foot warmers, the perfect end to a stressful day. They are the ultimate therapy for a crazy life.

Legally Blonde premiers at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater on September 15th and will run through November 13th. Please plan to attend. Show them how much we appreciate their support of animal rescue. We will hopefully be planning a special Chihuahua adoption event where you will be able to meet Raphi and many of his little friends. You don’t need to wait until September, though; shelters and rescue groups are full of Chihuahuas and many other breeds of dogs right now. Visit your local shelter or rescue today and adopt a new best friend.

Raphi has a permanent place in my heart. His star quality is undeniable but his big heart shines even brighter. I am so thankful that Raphi is legally cute and so thankful our paths crossed even for just a little while.

Keep an eye on Roger Rocka’s KRL event page for details as the show gets closer and watch for a review of Legally Blonde here at KRL & possibly a special KRL reader ticket discount!

Learn more about ACT in their article here at KRL & watch for a new adoptable pet from ACT on our home page every week.

Joyce Brandon is co-founder of Animal Compassion Team, has lived in Squaw Valley for 21 years and has always had lots of four legged friends sharing her mountain home along with her husband Jim, and five children. Joyce works part time for Mountain Valley Community Church and splits the rest of her time between family and animal rescue work. Joyce believes animal rescue is a mission field God has called her to and has given her a passion for.

1 Comment

  1. Great article Joyce for not only raphi but all the shelter chihuahuas!



  1. Pet Adoption Event | Good Company Players - [...] For an article on Raphi’s adoption story from the Kings River Life magazine, click here! [...]

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