What is it that makes us such suckers for touching animal stories? Their cuteness aside, perhaps it’s that we are constantly amazed at how they so often display human characteristics and emotions to the point of making us forget they are animals.

When I reached out to Georgeanne Irvine, author of Ruuxa & Raina (San Diego Zoo Global Press), my first question was: Does anybody read your book and not cry?

“The Ruuxa & Raina story was quite emotional,” she said, “especially as we were going through it and didn’t know whether it would have a happy ending.”

This is the type of story for children (ages 6 to 10) that is not spoiled – on the contrary, it may even be enhanced – by knowing the outcome in advance. It is billed as a true story of friendship and miracles and is a recent gold winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award.

The cheetah Ruuxa was two weeks old when he came to be raised by the team at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Shortly after his arrival, he met Raina, a five-week-old Rhodesian ridgeback puppy. They were to become best friends, almost inseparable.

People likely would be surprised to learn that cheetahs and dogs have been paired at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park for decades. Typically cautious and skittish of new situations, cheetahs are comforted by their dog partners. When raised together as cub and pup, the animals become best buddies and form a close bond.

The bond between Ruuxa and Raina was extraordinary.

Raina was sweet yet twice the size of Ruuxa. After some initial hesitation, the animals got to know each other and became best playmates. While they slept in different areas, they wanted to be together all the time.

After several weeks, the keepers noticed that Ruuxa’s legs were bowed. A decision was made to have surgery in the hope that Ruuxa eventually would be able to run like other cheetahs, known to run at up to 70 miles per hour. All went well, but when Raina was allowed to visit her friend, Ruuxa hadn’t awoken yet from the operation, making her nervous.

Ruuxa and Raina became famous friends, the subject of newspaper and magazine articles as well as guests on television shows.

When Raina was two years old, the trainers noticed a limp and she was brought in for tests. Needless to say, Ruuxa did not like being separated from her friend.

When tests confirmed the worst, the team at the zoo was heartbroken, and did what they could to help both animals through what they felt was going to be a difficult, and unfortunately fairly short, transition.

That’s where miracles come in.  And for the sake of this review, let’s leave it at that.

Georgeanne Irvine is the perfect narrator for this story. As a child, she slept with a dozen stuffed animals on her bed – a lion, two teddy bears, a tiger, monkey, and more. It was indicative of what was to become a lifelong career as a champion for wildlife and conservation.

She writes in a simple, informative way that is easy for children to follow and that captures our hearts. The book clearly appeals to our emotions and teaches us about the wonder of animals, the incredible pairings between them, and the bonds of friendship.

If you are reading this book with your child and find yourself wiping something away from your eyes during the process, do not fret – it simply shows your human side, much like the story’s protagonists seem to display at every turn.

Ruuxa & Raina is now available for purchase.


About Georgeanne Irvine

Georgeanne “George” Irvine has devoted 40 years of her colorful career to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where she is director of corporate publishing. She is the author of two dozen children’s books about animals. Photographing and learning about animals in their native habitats are passions for George. Her worldwide adventures have taken her to many of the wildest places on Earth – from the jungles, mountains and forests of Asia and South America to the savannas of Africa as well as the Outback of Australia.