Xerxes was the name of one of our beloved feline leukemia cats, who sadly passed away last winter. He came to us from the "Friends of Ferals" cat rescue of Madison Wisconsin.
There is some element of serendipity and mystery about how many animals end up at Home for Life and one interesting occurrence is how animals with the same name, even when the names are unusual like Xerxes, are presented to us in need of help. We never name a cat the same name as any other cat at Home for Life, but we have many cats named after our late dogs at Home for Life and vica versa (see our blog post http://homeforlifesanctuary.blogspot.com/2010/04/namesakes-at-home-for-life-animal.html).
So when we were asked to help an 11-year old mixed breed black dog by the name of Xerxes, who was from New Richmond Wisconsin, only 10 miles away from Home for Life, and only about a month after Xerxes the cat has passed away, it seemed like it was meant to be that he come to Home for Life.
Xerxes - the dog - was acquired as a puppy by his owner, a single guy who was interested in adopting a wolf hybrid to be a companion to his other dog, a male black and white Akita. He was a dedicated and loving dog owner, but did things a bit differently than what we advocate for at Home for Life - the dogs mostly lived outside and were tied out. They would occasionally get loose and run around the neighborhood. On one of their escapades, a neighbor tried to apprehend the dogs, reaching out first to seize Xerxes by the collar - the Akita, Nitro, protective of his brother, grew indignant, and nipped the woman. This incident precipitated a chain of events which led the dogs' owner to Home for Life with a request for us to take the Akita. The other variable in play was that the dogs' owner was moving to Oregon and would be a house guest of a relative who didn't want to put up the two old dogs. Initially the urgency involved the Akita who had bitten, was a senior dog and needed a safe place to go. As a result of the incident, their owner, who was a renter, was risking eviction - his landlord didn't want to deal with the liability involving the Akita. But the owner was ultimately able to find a new situation for Nitro the Akita that worked out well - a great home, a mature couple with a fenced yard who were interested in adopting the purebred Akita. That left Xerxes still in need. Although he had not been involved in the bite incident other than being present, in many ways he was a tougher case for re-homing. He was a mixed breed dog, purportedly part wolf, black and a senior dog at age 11. Despite months of hard work, Xerxes' owner, who had had him since a puppy, for 11 years, was not able to find a new placement for him. No rescue group focusing on adoption was interested in him, friends and family were unable to help and Xerxes' longtime owner was unable to take him with to Oregon. He had even inquired about placing Xerxes at a wolf sanctuary in Oregon but they could not accept him as a wolf dog hybrid, and felt he would be at risk in the pens with their wolves as a hybrid and senior.
When the owner called us with this dilemma, just two weeks before he was to relocate, he told us that if Xerxes couldn't come to Home for Life he would have to be euthanized.
We thought it might help to meet the dog, and since he lived so close to the sanctuary, the owner was able to bring Xerxes out to Home for Life, to see our facility and to introduce him to our staff and some of our dogs that we thought about or roommates. Our first impression of Xerxes was of a humble, shy and elderly medium size black dog who looked more shepherd mix than wolf at all. It seemed like he could be protected and happy at Home for Life, and it was plain to see his rescue options were limited. Two weeks later, when his owner left Wisconsin to head for the West Coast, he brought Xerxes to Home for Life and said good bye to his dog of 11 years, entrusting us to care for the dog who had been his best friend for over a decade.
Xerxes seemed to miss his owner at first, and looked for him for several days after he was dropped off. But after a couple of weeks, he realized his future was with his new home at the sanctuary, and as old as he was, he let go of his past life and looked to the future to make the best of his situation. Xerxes now resides like a sultan with a bevy of Home for Life's beautiful female dogs - all his contemporaries - Snowbelle, Kitchee, Dodi and the younger woman of the group, St Bernard Dagney. Xerxes thought he had died and went to heaven surrounded by all these pretty female dogs and he the only guy in the group. Beyond that he enjoys a large townhouse, temperature controlled with couches and comfortable dog beds that he shares with" his girls" and also his own man cave - a beautiful large dog house in the run made by Amish craftsmen, since Xerxes is a dog who always lived outside and as a typical guy, sometimes needs his space. With new friends, and for the first time, female dogs to live with, plenty of activity, great food, time in our fenced meadows to explore and stretch his legs and attentive care, Xerxes has seemed to grow younger before our eyes, with renewed energy and restored faith in life. He lived with anxiety and uncertainty for many months, losing his longtime friend, Nitro the Akita, and then having his future in flux, not knowing if he would live or die with his owner moving away. Although dogs don't have the ability to conceptualize the future, they surely are receptive enough to sense uncertainty, and when their fate hangs in the balance. Once Xerxes was at home for life, his sadness at the loss of his longtime owner, and the uncertainty about his fate hanging over his head receded into the background. as he embraced his new life at the sanctuary,. His life now at Home for Life is much different than the 11 years with his prior owner, but filled with fun, friendship and loving care, it is just as fulfilling as when he was in a home.
Xerxes' story shows that a sanctuary can be a true home in all the ways that matter to a dog, and that the Third Door in animal welfare provides a different but equally fulfilling life for dogs and cats at risk.