vixen, the princess & the ghost

[owning a rescue]

So I have never owned a puppy. I have never potty trained a dog or worked out puppy teething on my arm or with my personal shoe collection. But I have had the good fortune of having three beautiful furry souls in my life, two of those are still with me. And all came into my world because they needed a home. 


My first [family] dog, Vixen [Missy] was my ninth birthday present from my parents. I finally got to go to NORTH SHORE ANIMAL LEAGUE that chilly January morning after years and years of begging for a dog. I had names picked out [Vixen was not on the list] I had collar and leash colors selected - everything was blue. I pretended to hold an imaginary leash as I walked down the street. My parents weren’t waiting for me to be a responsible age for dog ownership and they aren’t cat people. The delay was the cold hard truth that I am allergic to dogs. Not just annoying uncomfortable allergies either. Allergies that lead to the full blown unwelcome onset of an asthma attack - I have asthma, and have had it since before I can remember. 

So how did it work? Well, I am still allergic to dogs - I just get used to the ones in my life, I guess they have always been worth it to me. 

So back to Vixen. We walked into the shelter and I was immediately drawn to the chainlink cage with a cement floor where a black wolf-like creature was bouncing around nonstop. She had no other spectators. I remember my mom pointing out a less - active dog with a yellow bandana around it’s neck on perfect adoption behavior. Pass. I want to walk this one - that nips as we try to get her leash on for the meet and greet walk. Our vet guessed that she was a Belgain Shepherd, I guess this started my love for the herding breeds. Our wild girl got her name when our neighbor first saw her as we were bringing her home - she said that she looked like a fox. Vixen was part of our family until we had to put her to sleep my junior year of college. 

My parents were against getting another dog at first but missed Vixen so much that when an adoption event popped up about four months later [and around the time of my Father’s birthday] they made sure to go. I was home from school on Christmas break and sleeping when my mom woke me up by asking if I wanted to go to a pet adoption with them. I said no, half asleep. She responded with “do you want daddy and I to bring home our next dog without meeting her?” ... I’ve never hopped out of bed so fast. 


I was witness to my mom first spotting Arwen [Delilah] for the first time. From the back her siloutte was strikingly similar to the late Vixen and my mom took a B-LINE to her cage and didn’t leave until we had her on a leash. Arwen wouldn’t look at us. We were uncomfortable, we wanted that connection - like with Vixen [who was much younger when adopted] but Arwen had some baggage. A volunteer came over, and it was clear they really liked each other.

The woman even had a nickname for her, princess - and we soon found out how fitting this nickname was. The interaction between the two of them was love, she wasn’t cold - she was unsure and scared. Alone and rescued from a kill shelter she was now living in another shelter where she had been for the past 6 months after being adopted and returned all after being picked up on the streets of Jersey City. Arwen is still my sister and living with my parents to this day. We believe she was around 2 when we adopted her so that would make her 13.

I would say that Arwen is every part a Chow Chow except that aggressive mean reputation the breed has. Did she lose this edge or trade it in to be grateful to have a home? Maybe or maybe someone purchased a Chow Chow for the reputation and got this teddy bear of a dog and decided to let her go. Arwen is one of the sweetest souls I have ever encountered and she is the perfect example of giving a rescue the time they need to let their true personality shine. 


We met Vixen, took her home. Met Arwen, took her home. So when my husband and I went to meet Heidi [now Ghost] for the first time I already knew that she was coming home with us. I have no doubt that Ghost would have been one of those shelter returns much like Arwen and I think we were Vixen’s first non-shelter home because she was only six months or so when we adopted her - so she never had the chance to be adopted and returned. But Ghost thankfully never lived in a shelter, she was surrendered by her owner to a dog trainer at 7 months old. The skinny on the situation was this: older couple, lots of digging, barking and nipping … summed up with a statement about her that still makes me very sad “I don’t think she had the best life”.

She was standoffish, but collected, she walked well on a leash - much better than any other dog my husband or I had ever owned and she played FETCH! I was in love. Her excellent behavior was thanks to the time she spent at the trainer’s, which was about 4 weeks. He was prepping her for her next home and she was part of his balanced dog program. I cannot thank Walter enough for seeing Ghost’s potential, taking a chance on her, keeping her for so long and finally for connecting us. We responded to a Facebook post about a young female Australian Shepherd in need of a home.

So you finally adopt a dog, usually you don’t know what you are going to get. My husband and I did. We loved Aussies, how they looked, how the ones we saw on the internet acted, we wanted one - ok I wanted a frisbee or flyball athlete! But we had done our homework and read articles like “Reasons To Think Twice Before Getting an Australian Shepherd” so we knew they were a hard breed. Which is why I am sure we didn’t already own one when we heard about Ghost. Her first day was long we brought her to meet both sets of her grandparents, to a friends house and even on a boat ride - she did awesome. 

Then she got comfortable. She didn’t change, but her breed traits and instincts just came out as she started to realize that this was now her home. Nick and I had her out until 9PM every night trying to tire her out - it was hard, she was like the energizer bunny. What were we going to give this dog to do - what kind of life? Since we didn’t own a farm … I wrote a letter to a neighbor whom I had never met. She had dog agility equipment in her yard, and was nice enough to return my letter with a phone call and information on agility training in the area. Agility was the best thing to happen to Ghost and I. It started as an activity to engage Ghost and “tire her out” but it has been a bonding experience for us both. It helped to deal with Ghost’s behaviors that I didn’t like or even understand. 

For example, Shepherds protect and Ghost was getting very protective (I thought it was even aggressive at times). I remember bringing up my frustrations at an agility class - to the answer of “that's not aggressive [I think she thought I was crazy] she is simply saying “ hey hey hey look over here are you aware this is going on” so we catered to the behavior. She wasn’t being aggressive … protective maybe in that she was just trying to warn us. Her instincts are to see and observe everything, to scare / intimidate something away if she thinks it is a threat and to let me know. I just didn’t know, and I didn’t know how to read my dog.

Agility has taught me that the more I understand her - the more likely she is to be open to understanding and working with what I want from her - but more on agility later. So Ghost’s issues came out and they were something we didn’t at first understand. We had to re-condition ourselves, and we had to re-condition her. She has reasons for acting a certain way and we will never know why, we can only work on her behavior now and try to understand it. We will never fully know why she is uncomfortable with tall older men [we can guess] but it is an issue that if we had her from a pup we wouldn’t have to deal with. 

You will never know what your rescues’ past life was like and it will affect the new life you are trying to create for sure. But I think the gratefulness they show you is well worth it - at least that is how I feel with Ghost but I also think she is that once in a lifetime heart dog for me. 

The only rescue advice I can offer besides trust your heart would be:

- On adjustment, give them a break - this is new to them too. They need some time to show you who they truly are. 

- On the unknown - you don’t know why they act a certain way but work with them to overcome and fix it - don’t just accept it. You picked them baggage and all.

- On re-naming, this is something that I was only really concerned about when we took home Ghost. Both Vixen and Arwen had shelter given names and neither responded to Missy or Delilah. Ghost on the other hand only known the name Heidi. I was worried we would be confusing her all the more with a new name and a new life … but received the best advice from a friend who works at The Seeing Eye. “Call her GHOST HIEDI and eventually just drop the HEIDI” and it worked like a charm. For a short time calling her GHOST HEIDI reminded me of a silent hill character but she was always meant to be our Ghost. We named her before we received her vet papers - discovering that her birthday was October 25th. 

Aussies are a lot of work and so are rescue dogs but I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

October is a great time to adopt a pet! The fourth annual ASPCA Mega Match-a-Thon Presented by Subaru, happening throughout the month of October, seeks to save as many shelter animals as possible through high-volume community adoption events across the country. Are you ready to meet your four-legged match? CLICK HERE