It isn't always easy for a dog to recognize a good thing when she sniffs it — even harder for a dog named Jimena who had only known the bad things.
Jimena's tough luck started when she was born a galgo — a dog bred to be a hunting companion. Once the season ends, these all-star trackers lose much of their shine in their owners' eyes. And, as a result, countless galgos end up abandoned and neglected, skinny. half-starved specters wandering the countryside.
Jimena was born to one of those ghosts. But her mother had long disappeared by the time someone from the Spanish rescue group Galgos del Sol found her.
The organization nursed the forlorn dog back to health and even managed to find a foster home for her thousands of miles away in the United States. Not long after that, Lani Trovitch and Greg Judd — who volunteer to transport new dog arrivals — picked up Jimena for the long drive from Pennsylvania to her new foster home in Tennessee.
But somewhere on the road, Jimena's foster called to say she had an emergency at home — a sick dog. Could they keep Jiminea a little longer?
It turned out, the Spanish visitor needed just a few days to charm her hosts.
"We fell in love with her and decided we wanted to keep her," Trovitch tells MNN.
Jimena, on the other hand, wasn't so sure. Within a few days of arriving at the couple's home in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, she slipped out the front door of the couple's office. It was Jan. 23, the temperature digging deep down into the negative-double digits.
"This is a dog that just got off a plane from Spain," Trovitch explains. "My husband and I were thinking, there is no way she will make it through the night."
But Jimena seemed to summon all her ghostly DNA — a gift passed down from generations of dogs who knew how to exist on the fat and the thin of the land.
The next day, the couple got a call: Jimena was spotted running down a street. Later, someone reported her under a deck. Another sighting had her curled up alongside a heating element outside a local business.
"She was a smart dog and found a way to keep warm in those winter months," Trovitch says.
But every effort to trap this sly, slippery dog was met with defeat — even with a network of surveillance cameras set up just to find her. In fact, she seemed to be learning from the would-be good Samaritans who tried to coax her onto a leash.
"She was afraid of everyone," Trovitch says. "She would let you get a few feet away from her but was smart enough to know what a safe distance was and would just take off."
From there, the legend of the wandering dog only grew. Sightings still trickled in, but the geographical distance widened in a worrying way.
Keeping her distance
Jimena began to haunt a town some 40 miles away.
"A wonderful, kind-hearted lady would feed her and did so for five months while we tried to trap her," Trovitch says. "She's the main reason Jimena stopped and didn't go any farther. Thank God she fed her because maybe Jimena wouldn't have stopped."
Finally, a pet detective named Steve Hagey came up with a complicated plan for a very complicated dog. Jimena had been using a narrow space that ran between two fences to scavenge from various yards.
"We saw her on cameras using the corridor to get back and forth to the food source, we realized if we could trap her between these two fences…" Trovitch recalls.
If only they could build a trap into that corridor. If only Jimena wasn't so brilliant. She could detect even the slightest changes to her surroundings, sniff out something suspicious — and never be back that way again.
The solution? They spent 30 hours, cutting seamless doors in the existing wooden fence — coupled with a remote-controlled locking system that could be triggered by someone in a nearby car.
And sure enough, the first morning the trap was set up, Jimena appeared at one end of the corridor. At the other end was a newly cut fence door. And on the other side, a kennel.
Jimena sniffed around a little, before stepping inside the box.
The door closed behind her.
"We were there, my husband was on one end, we had her surrounded," Trovitch recalls.
And so, after more than seven months on her own in a strange new land, Jimena returned to the land of the living. Indeed, it seemed she even managed to do some living while at large.
"She actually gained weight when she was out there," Trovitch says.
Settling into family life
Now, it's time for Jimena to gain some traction in this life, at home with the her new family, which includes a galgo named Rooster and two golden retrievers.
"When she's at home with the other dogs and us and is comfortable, it is like she has never left and lived there her whole life," Trovitch explains "Her and Rooster started to play because they are the same age."
At times, Jimena still betrays a certain wariness of her new situation. But in time, it will pass. She's too smart not to sniff out a happy ending.
"I think she's really trainable. And someday we can train her to think, this is my family now, this is kinda cool."
Until then, you can't blame her family for taking special precautions.
"Our house is like Fort Knox now," Trovitch says. "We watch her like a hawk every minute, every day."
Because sometimes, if you really love someone, the last thing you should do is set her free. At least, not until she knows what real love looks like.