It’s Hello Kitty’s fault.

For my wife’s Valentines Day, I wanted to make our French Bulldog Ruby into a “kawaii” drawing. Kawaii, how fans describe the Hello Kitty logo, is a Japanese cultural philosophy: “super cute” on the surface, underpinned by values of emotional connectedness and empathy.

When Ruby scratches, she scratches. When she stretches, she stretches. When she strolls, she strolls. That’s Ruby. There is no past or future, before or after, only here and now. She commits 110%. What’s the simplest kawaii drawing that would capture Ruby’s personality?

Nine pencil lines later, Ruby’s cartoon avatar was born, named “Rubyfornia.” Two bat-like ears adorn a determined forehead. Her toasted-marshmallow fur is accented by a bean-shaped muzzle sporting a bold ovalish nose. Sincere eyes follow yours with a sympathetic gaze. And there was Ruby, a kawaii sketch in Rubyfornia, looking up, out from the paper.

Pepper, our poodle-mix rescue, also does everything 110%, reflecting an innate understanding of the importance of the moment. Pepper’s Rubyfornia character is just seven lines: a dark grey fluffy forehead frames a silvery peanut-shaped muzzle dotted with an aerodynamic nose. Eyes also wide, Pepper’s black floppy ears flap behind when he pounces to greet visitors at our door.

Our orange pomeranian-mix rescue Winnie had nine lives. Her life in our home began when my wife plucked her from a finite timeline for imminent, anonymous doom at a Moreno Valley facility. Over a dozen years, despite slipping loose from her collar, zig-zagging down the street, getting struck by a car, and later tumbling from a height, Winnie repeatedly rebounded, never revealing any bum cards she was dealt. Goofy and graceful, a hodge-podge of doggy traits never meant to be expressed all in one dog, she exuded unabated joy. Bright eyes beamed from her small furry face. She was knowing and innocent. But her tenth battle was her last; she fought her failed kidneys right to the last breath, and died, hugged to my chest, cradled in my powerless weeping arms.

In Rubyfornia, however, pencil to paper, Winnie came back in nine lines: small muzzle with button nose, roundish fuzzy forehead, crooked triangular ears, and lush whimsical eyelashes. Now in Rubyfornia, Winnie is with me all the time. We go everywhere together. 👼

Friends and family wondered, “Ooh!” Could their pups be in Rubyfornia, too? Shih-tzu. Great Dane. Cocker Spaniel… A dozen pooch sketches later, simple and sparse solid lines bring to kawaii life their dog’s unique personalities.

Wait. Every dog person should be able to see their dog in Rubyfornia.

What I’m working on: What started as a small Valentines Day present became a way to cope with grief, and transform it into celebratory appreciation. If every dog person could do that with their dog, more people would be happier more often. The Rubyfornia project is to create a platform app that lets people create unique kawaii dogmoji of their dogs and share joy. Blame it on Ruby. Blame it on Hello Kitty.