Vail’s Story

By: Brent Honcharenko

Vail came to Ruff Start Rescue (RSR) in April 2019 after she and about twenty other dogs were found in kennels along the side of a road in Texas. It’s suspected the dogs were abandoned from a possible hoarding situation. Vail was eventually transported to RSR and was put into a foster home. Her foster, Lexi Johnson, who has been a rescue foster for about five years, said she had just come off a “foster break” and was ready to resume that role.

“We typically take the left-over fosters,” Johnson said. “We were told that Vail was shy, so we agreed to foster her.” Johnson said they picked her up and when they got Vail home, took her in their “dog room”, which is where the dog has his/her place, where their kennel is, plus food and water, and where the transition process begins.

“We took her to the dog room in her kennel and shut the door,” Johnson said. “I opened her kennel to let her out and she shot out like a bullet. And then we were unable to catch her. She was fast and allusive, and like a feral cat, she jumped up to the window sill like she was trying to escape.”

“It took fifteen days for us to finally catch her,” Johnson said. “And when we finally did, we got her back in her kennel and then that’s how she was transported around the house.”

Johnson said the acclimation process for Vail continued via her kennel for about four weeks. They had a big kennel that she stayed in, in the dog room, and when they wanted to bring her out, they would open the big kennel door directly to her transport kennel, and then Vail could be with them around the house.

“We would bring her around the house with us, in her kennel, when we were in the kitchen or when we were just relaxing and watching TV,” Johnson said.

When they first started taking Vail outside, Johnson said they used four leashes; a combo of harness, neck and muzzle leashes, and a lead rope. She said they were cautious but over about two months, they were finally able to eliminate the leashes from four to three, to two, and eventually to just the lead rope.

Vail eventually accepted the routine and had become more calm and relaxed, but there was still a long way to go. Surprisingly, Vail fell in love with Johnson’s newborn son and that’s when she started to open up.

“It was amazing how Vail took to our baby,” Johnson said. “When he was on the floor on his blanket, Vail was right beside him.”

Johnson said Vail slowly started trusting the family, and eventually became Johnson’s shadow. 

After about a year, Vail was in a much better place and it was time to take the next step and put her up for adoption. However, that transition began right at the beginning of the COVID outbreak earlier this year, so the adoption process became another challenge.

“I started corresponding with Halie Rostberg, who’d applied to adopt Vail,” Johnson said. “It was interesting because as honest as I was with her about Vail, she kept calling back.”

Vail’s Adoption 

Johnson said they did video calls so Rostberg could see Vail in her environment and they even did video training so Johnson could show Rostberg how to put Vail’s collar and leash on properly. She said through it all, Rostberg remained interested and committed.

“Halie and I put our best efforts into this transition,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know if it was going to be successful or not. We mutually decided that we’d give it a couple of weeks.”

“I started working from home in mid-March and within a couple of weeks started to go a little stir crazy and thought it might be time to adopt a dog. My last dog died in 2015,” said Vail’s adopter, Rostberg. “I noticed Vail on Petfinder and right away I thought she was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. However, I knew she was not the right dog for me at that time as she needed to live with another dog.  So I adopted a three-year-old male basset mix at the beginning of April.  A few weeks later, I thought it was time to get him a friend, and I applied for Vail.”

Rostberg said when she and Johnson spoke for the first time, Johnson talked her ear off for over an hour.

“She may have been trying to scare me off a little, telling me all about Vail’s history and all of her quirks,” Rostberg said, “But even though Vail sounded like a challenge, nothing she told me sounded like a hard no.”

Rostberg reported that the adoption process was different than normal due to COVID and reiterated that they did a lot of corresponding over video. She said her home visit was even done virtually.

“At least with my other dog, Veda, I got to spend an hour with him in my backyard before the adoption. But Vail was truly more like a blind date,” Rostberg said.

After her arrival, it took Rostberg an entire day to coax her out of her kennel and what eventually worked was using one of her favorite snacks, cheese.

Rostberg continued, “For weeks she was always on a leash and harness in the house, and when we went in the fenced backyard she was on three or four leashes, one clipped to me, as Lexi had told me what an escape artist she was.”

In mid-May Rostberg hired a personal dog trainer. She said she didn’t think Vail had ever been on a walk before and she certainly hadn’t been outside of her backyard, but the trainer insisted they go.

Vail’s Growth 

Rostberg reported that Vail has progressed well in her training. She loves her daily walks and sits when they stop walking. Vail even now waits at the front and back doors for permission to go out or come in. And, Rostberg said her favorite command is  ‘stay’ especially on one of her comfy dog beds.

“She is finally doing so much better,” Rostberg said. “Vail will come when she’s on a leash, but off leash is another story.”

Rostberg said Vail sits when she wants to be cuddled, too. 

Another big surprise to Rostberg is how much Vail likes being outdoors. Her favorite thing is to run around and explore the backyard. Rostberg says her “zoomies” when exploring are the absolute cutest.

“Vail loves taking weekend trips to the family cabin or the farm,” Rostberg said. “I put her on a 25-foot lead when we take walks there and explore the wilderness. She also loves being on the water in a kayak and on the paddleboat. She is a good swimmer.”

“She loves her big brother Veda and follows his lead,” Rostberg added. “We adopted a couple of kittens last month, and although they aren’t allowed to be left alone yet, she has been doing well with them. She hasn’ cared much for my mom’s highly energetic puppy, though. But as the puppy continues to grow and become better mannered, Vail is getting more comfortable around her, and last time they were together she even wanted to play.”

Rostberg said Vail is a bit of a spoiled princess, but in a good way. She eats off china and gets homemade dog food at every meal, and it’s to the point she won’t eat her dry kibble alone anymore.

“She is excellent in her kennel and is good with baths and getting her nails trimmed,” Rostberg said. “She is a quiet dog and rarely barks. And, she only had a few accidents in the beginning when I didn’t understand her signals.”

Rostberg added, “She has the most adorable inquisitive expressions. And when walking she prances like a little pony. She is still cautious around other people, but will accept treats and pets from some of them.”

“I had Vail’s DNA tested,” Rostberg concluded. “She’s Chihuahua, one-eighth Cocker Spaniel, and the rest is unknown. Lexi and I think it’s hyena.”

Rostberg still sends Johnson updates and pictures, which she appreciates, and gives most of the credit for Vail’s successful rehabilitation to Johnson.

From the side of a road in Texas, down a long slippery slope of transition challenges, Vail’s new life is a testament to the rescue process. To the fosters who refuse to give up on these frightened dogs, to the adopters who believe in them and offer a loving home, their dedication is an integral part of Ruff Start Rescue’s mission. 

Ruff Start Rescue 

Ruff Start Rescue is a nonprofit animal rescue in Princeton, Minnesota that has saved over 14,000 animal lives since 2010. At Ruff Start, we believe a home is the best place for an animal, not a shelter or kennel. Because of this, we rely exclusively on volunteers to provide foster homes for rescued pets until they find their forever homes. If you want to join our mission, reach out to us at or visit our website here