Shenzie’s Wild Journey to Her Forever Home

How a skittish foster dog turned into a permanent family member.

Shenzie, right, grew accustomed to life in a real home after spending time with Roxy Riely and her dog. Photos by Roxy Riely.

For Shenzie, the journey to her forever home was an adventure-filled one.

She was known for being timid and fearful, and had been rescued by DMK Rehoming in Denver from a high-kill shelter in Oklahoma. Fortunately, that’s exactly the type of dog Roxy Riely — known as “the dog whisperer” at the Texas shelter where she had previously worked — was looking to foster.

“When I moved to Colorado, I felt like a huge piece of me was missing,” says Riely, who has a dog of her own and had frequently fostered in Texas.

“The first time I went to that shelter, I said that I was looking to foster a scared, troubled or long-term dog. I didn’t care if the dog was good with other people — it just needed to get along with other dogs.”

Shenzie’s Foster Home

Riely was introduced to Shenzie, an 11-month-old skinny and scared mix who was struggling in the shelter environment. Staff members were hopeful that Riely’s dog would help Shenzie come out of her shell.

“She completely pancaked, cowered on the floor and peed herself when we met,” says Riely. “I didn’t make eye contact with her and lay on the ground to try to let her know I wasn’t a threat. We did this for probably 30 or 40 minutes, and I was in absolute awe of this beautiful, completely terrified young dog.”

The first night in Riely’s home, it quickly became apparent that Shenzie had never been in a house before. She was skeptical of stairs and of carpet. Slowly but surely, she grew accustomed to life in her foster home, aided by Riely’s resident dog.

A search party had to trap Shenzie using cheeseburgers after she escaped while out on a walk with her new adopter.

Shenzie Gets Adopted

About 2 months after Riely took Shenzie in, a seemingly perfect adoption application was received for the dog.

“I always get a little overprotective of my foster pets and want to make sure they go to the best home possible,” Riely says. “We met the night of New Year’s Eve, and he adopted her. I cried — as usual when my fosters get adopted.”

About a week and a half after the adoption, though, Riely got terrible news: Shenzie had gotten spooked on a walk with her new human and bolted, escaping into a several thousand-acre field of protected land. Because Shenzie is so timid, she will not come when called and runs away from people, Riely explains.

The Search for Shenzie

Over the next several days, Shenzie sightings were reported across Aurora, but no one could get close to her. On Day 5 of the search effort, a party of more than 50 people, including Riely and DMK Rehoming supporters, searched for Shenzie for 10 hours.

“Don’t forget — this is January in Colorado,” Riely says. “It was freezing, and there was snow everywhere. But this poor girl had found somewhere somewhat warm to sleep during the cold nights — a sort of yurt.”

The City of Aurora permitted a live trap with cheeseburgers to be set under the yurt where Shenzie had been sleeping. Only 2 hours after setting the trap, Riely received news that Shenzie had gone for the cheeseburgers and had been trapped.

“My heart stopped when I got the phone call. I told them they had to send me a picture before I would believe anyone,” Riely says. “Sure enough, it was her! That was the best and scariest feeling I have ever felt.”

The shelter decided not to return Shenzie to her previous adopter, and she went home with Riely for the night. “She immediately jumped on the couch and relaxed once we brought her home — that’s when I knew she was home,” Riely says. “I told my roommates, ‘She’s not going anywhere.’” Riely then made her adoption of Shenzie official.

Riely says that Shenzie, most comfortable around other dogs, is adjusting well to her forever home these days.

Shenzie’s New Forever Home

Almost a year later, Shenzie has come a long way. While most comfortable in the company of other dogs, Shenzie greets Riely when she gets home from work with kisses and tail wags.

Riely says Shenzie will probably never be a completely confident dog, but she has made progress since her wild adventure.

“The amount of love and support that the entire staff, volunteers, advocates and everyone else at DMK gave me throughout the entire process — as well as once I adopted her — was amazing,” Riely says.

“I am beyond proud to call her mine, and I look forward to seeing her continued progress.”

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Kirsten Peek

View posts by Kirsten Peek
Kirsten Peek lives in Austin and works for a nonprofit organization and as a freelance writer. She previously worked as an adoption counselor at a no-kill animal shelter throughout college as she earned her journalism degree. In her spare time, she fosters for local shelters and spends time with her adopted dog, Flea, and 2 adopted cats, Sarabi and Mufasa.

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