They are like orphans who formed a family of brothers, two outcasts who instantly clicked:
Two dogs without a home, one named Maximus, the other Ghost.
Maximus is a muscular, high-energy, 3-year-old retriever mix who has become one of PAWS Humane’s longest residents. Three times he has been adopted, and three times returned. Despite his wild brown eyes and pit-bullish build, he’s no threat to people. He loves people.
“We have volunteers that take him downtown quite a bit. He loves crowds; he loves being the center of attention,” said Kati Morrell, PAWS’ adoptions manager.
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Maximus loves cats, too, in that he loves to try to catch them. Also chickens. “He has a high prey drive,” said Casey Smith, PAWS’ marketing director.
His last adoption, so far the longest, was to a farm. He needs room to run, to burn off some of that enthusiasm.
His high spirits are not entirely irrepressible: Among the commands he now hurries to obey are sit, down, stay, off, look and leave it. But he is an alpha dog. He wants to lead the pack.
Unfortunately, on the farm, he wanted to lead the herd, too: He tried to dominate the horses, a good way to get kicked like a football.
So he went back to PAWS, where he met Ghost.
To say Ghost and Max are night and day is not just a cliché.
Ghost has a dark, coal-gray coat; Max has a light tan and white one. Ghost easily spooks and retreats into the shadows. Max is fearless, as evidenced by his horse conflict. Ghost is submissive. Max is dominant.
PAWS believes Ghost to be about 2 years old, a Cane-Corso mix. The Cane-Corso, originating in Italy, was bred to guard property and hunt boar.
Ghost was wild, when PAWS caught him. He was just a puppy when he broke away from the litter a rescue group was moving from the shelter to a van. He escaped into the woods, where he grew up alone, for a year.
Dogs are social animals, their identity based on their place in a pack. That’s why they’re such good pets: The human family becomes their pack.
Growing up alone in the woods, Ghost did not know he was a dog, Morrell said.
But he was drawn to other dogs. PAWS daily walks its dogs on trails through the surrounding trees. Workers noticed a dark gray dog lurking in the shadows, trailing them, too frightened to come closer.
Eventually, on Dec. 4, they were able to coax Ghost into an enclosure, and catch him with a snare pole.
Then he died.
Briefly. His heart stopped, but luckily one of the volunteers there was a veterinary technician who gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then he was sedated and carried into the shelter.
Since then, Ghost has become a community project.
Because he grew up outdoors, experts felt he would be less stressed were he not inside all day, so he might better adapt if he could stay outdoors during the day, and sleep in a kennel at night.
Ghost needed a special outdoor enclosure, with his own fence, house and shelter. The special enclosure would not be his alone, in the years to come: PAWS believes it will have more Ghosts to rehabilitate, after this one.
Within a day or two of a March 8 Ledger-Enquirer report on Ghost’s story and PAWS’ fund drive for the separate yard, the shelter surpassed its $3,200 goal, Smith said: Donors rushed to contribute.
Four months later, PAWS has the space it needs to help Ghost get accustomed to humans, so he can be adopted. Now it just needs time.
In the beginning, Ghost could not look a human in the eyes.
“If you accidentally make eye contact with him, he will go into his kennel and spin in circles, which is what he does when he’s anxious,” Smith wrote in a March email. “Ghost doesn’t wag his tail; he doesn’t know how to accept affection; and he doesn’t know how to trust humans.”
But he still liked other dogs. That instinct held firm. He was at ease with another dog, and would follow where he would not go alone.
One day the people at PAWS thought: What if they put Ghost and Max together?
Why not? Max is fearless and dominant and super-social. Ghost is scared and submissive and shy.
They gave it a try, and two dogs who had no family formed one.
“From the first minute, they have just taken together,” Morrell said. “There was no introduction needed, just ‘Oh, you’re my best friend.’”
Thanks to Max, Ghost’s socialization has accelerated. He is learning to be a dog.
“When they see each other, they light up. They start playing, and Maximus has taught him some really cool things about being a dog,” Morrell said.
When they get so dog-tired that Max finally takes a break, Ghost sees it’s OK to just lie down and pant for a while. Max proves a dog doesn’t have to be paranoid all the time.
Max proves people are OK, too: He runs right up to them, his tail whipping back and forth, ecstatic to get some attention, to sit and stay, and get a treat, and get rubbed behind the ears.
“He loves affection. He loves to be petted,” said Morrell.
Ghost will accept a little of that human touch now.
“Relaxing around humans, accepting affection, really our being able to touch his neck and his head, a lot of that came from his seeing Maximus’ affection, and Maximus is a very affectionate dog. So Maximus has really done a lot of work for Ghost.”
The leash is another issue.
“We’re currently working very hard on leash-training him,” Morrell said “That is a big hurdle for him. We’ve been working on it for several weeks. And, take a step forward, take two steps back, it’s a give and take.”
This band of dog brothers will not last. PAWS still hopes to find Max a home where he can run free, and play with children, and maybe other dogs. Just not horses, chickens or cats.
His best fit would be a active owner who can meet his need for affection and exercise, Morrell said: “He loves to get attention, but he also requires attention as well. He needs someone who’s going to be focused on him.”
When finally he finds his human family, he may come back to visit PAWS, but he will not be there every day to play, at 5 p.m., in the run that’s cleared just for him and Ghost – with the door to the shelter left open in case Ghost spooks and has to duck back inside.
But PAWS hopes Ghost, too, eventually will find the family he grew up without, and never be alone again.
“We’re really excited about where he’s going,” Morrell said. “In the beginning, we didn’t know if he was going to be adoptable, and now we can see that he’s going to get there. He’s really going to get there.”