Life of adventure for a dog who couldn’t be left behind

Ken wearing a cowboy hat and holding Minnie the dog in his lap, sitting on a boulder in front of a river
Minnie left the Sanctuary for a life full of adventure with her new family.
By Sarah Thornton

Minnie is a hiking dog, through and through. She loves to be out on the trail, sniffing and exploring and checking out every new sight and smell she can find. She wants to run, run, run as fast as her paws can carry her, back and forth with the wind in her ears until she needs to stop for a quick recharge break. It’s her thing.

So when Danielle Furfaro approached staff at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Dogtown HQ looking for a canine companion for an afternoon outing, they knew exactly whom to recommend. Minnie’s excitement as she jumped into the converted camper van Danielle and her husband, Ken Yapelli, call home was off the charts. She was ready to go.

After a few hours of wandering the canyon trails — plus another hour of cuddles and wet doggy kisses in the van — Danielle was in love. And that was only their first adventure.

A small-town stray

Danielle and Ken had been living the van life for a year and a half when work brought them to Kanab, Utah, just 15 minutes south of the Sanctuary. Ken was going to be a field guide for a wilderness program for teenagers. And while he was on his three-day training shift, Danielle decided to volunteer at Best Friends, where she met the energetic pooch for whom they would both fall head over heels.

Minnie came to the Sanctuary after local animal control picked her up as a stray. She had no microchip or collar, and no one had shown up to claim her, so she’d needed a safe place to go until she was adopted by a new family. She loved being around so many new people. Caregivers, visitors, and volunteers were all potential friends, and Minnie had endless free space on her friend list.

But Minnie did not have the best canine social skills. When she saw another dog in playgroups or on parallel walks (where each dog walks on the opposite side of the road), she reacted strongly, barking and pulling on her leash or jumping on her fence to try to run over to them. She took corrections from other dogs well, but she didn’t really understand any of their other social cues. Play bows — the appropriate request for play in doggy society — were a complete mystery to her.

This made life with so many canine neighbors a bit overwhelming, so Minnie had been moved into an office where she could enjoy some peace and quiet, as well as plenty of attention from people. But it also meant that it was taking longer for Minnie to get adopted; she needed to be the only pet, and most people who love animals already have a furry family member in their home or want that option in the future.

It was just Danielle and Ken in their van, though. And when Ken came back from his training shift — after Danielle had gone on her hikes and fallen in love with Minnie — it was his turn to meet and fall for the cuddly canine. They brought Minnie back out to their roaming home for a sleepover, and having her there just felt right.

[Big life for a much-loved-adventure dog]

As the days and weeks passed and their departure date drew nearer, Ken and Danielle’s minds were on Minnie. “I went out of town for a while to visit family. When I came back, we were ready to leave town, and we said, ‘Are we going to take her with us?’” Danielle recalls. “We just couldn’t imagine leaving Kanab without her.”

A few weeks before they were due to leave, Danielle and Ken adopted Minnie, and they spent the rest of their time exploring the area as a family.

They woke up early in the morning to beat the heat on hikes (Minnie was particularly fond of one trail and whined when they headed for any other path) and ventured around town during the day. And it was there they found out that Minnie had friends in many places. “We got to experience a wonderful small-town thing,” says Ken, “where we’d take her into a hardware store, and the cashier would ask, ‘Is that Minnie?!’ with her eyes all excited.”

He took Minnie to a meditation where, after she’d greeted everyone in attendance, she spotted someone approaching in the distance and eagerly pulled him over to say hello — only for Ken to find out this new person was a veterinarian Minnie recognized from the Sanctuary. “Minnie is one of the most personable dogs I’ve ever met,” he laughs. “She loves vets, she loves cashiers, and she loves random passersby.”

And then, after Minnie had done her rounds in her last hometown hurrah, it was time to hit the highway and head off on the next big leg of her life with her new family. First stop: Colorado.

On the road again

Leaving Utah, the family of three drove east to Colorado, where they would spend another few months. For part of this stop, they stayed on a friend’s land: 20 acres of trees and mountains, all free for them to explore. There were no other dogs around, and Minnie took full advantage of her first chance at an off-leash excursion.

“We were able to take Minnie hiking through the mountains for hours, all the way to the top of one of those mountains overlooking the entire valley of Mancos (Colorado), and she was wonderful,” Danielle says. “She went six times as far as we did, just between going forward, coming back, going forward, and coming back.”

But there was also another big first waiting for Minnie in Colorado: Ken and Danielle’s friends and their own dog, Iro. They’d had him since he was just a puppy, and Iro was very dog savvy, never having met another pooch he couldn’t get along with.

“So with a little hesitation, very tentatively, we introduced Minnie and (Iro),” says Ken. They took it slowly, going on several parallel walks before they were able to approach and sniff each other. And the whole process went well. “When we let them off-leash together, Minnie played roughly, but Iro enjoyed himself, and pretty soon they were playing together beautifully. They hung out a couple times, and I’ve never seen Minnie so happy and relaxed.”

[How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other]

The two families went out hiking on another mountain, and Minnie and her new canine companion interacted wonderfully. She had just needed another dog who could handle her social awkwardness. And now she had a friend.

Life then took them down to New Mexico, back across to Arizona, and farther west to California, where they spent the holidays with Ken’s family (who, of course, adored the new addition). Along the way they’d stop for a while, go on adventures, meet up with friends, and even work with a couple of dog trainers.

“We have taught her a bunch of tricks. Her recall is pretty good. She can sit and lay down and roll over, all that kind of cute stuff. If you say ‘leash’ and she’s tangled in her leash, she’ll untangle herself,” Danielle says. “She’s really smart.”

Everywhere they go, they keep a treat pouch with them, and Minnie knows just what to do to earn herself a scrumptious snack. Every time she comes to her name or resists the urge to start bark, bark, barking, she gets a treat. She also gets snacks when she sees another dog and stays focused on her family. And all that work means things like van life gatherings — where just about everyone has a pup of their own — are getting easier, bit by bit.

When Danielle, Ken, and Minnie stop at one of these big meetings, they still park on the outskirts of the caravan to help keep Minnie from getting overstimulated. But once she’s met the temporary neighbors and settled down, she gets much more comfortable. Iro may have been her first dog friend, but Minnie now has a few more friendly acquaintances in her circle.

The further adventures of Minnie

Most recently, Minnie and her family traveled south of the border into Mexico. They spent time along the Gulf Coast, basking on the beaches of Baja. And Minnie transformed from a hiking dog into a swimming dog.

Minnie was just as much in her element in the calm ocean waters as she had been on the tops of lush green mountains, splashing and doggy-paddling around without a care in the world. The fun really started when the paddle boards came out. “She fell in love with being on the paddle board,” Danielle recalls fondly. “Every time we would go out with her, she would get so excited, and she would be so happy to sit there while we paddled her around in the gulf.”

After a few months of Mexico sun and sand, it was back up to the States to New Mexico sun and sand. The adventures continued, stops and hikes along the way to their next destination, and now they are getting ready for another new leg of their journey. And it’s a big one.

“We’re actually about to go through a lifestyle change, in part because of Minnie, in part because we were sort of aiming that way anyway,” Ken explains. “We’ve been living in the van for 2 1/2 years, and we’d been talking about settling down.”

The biggest priority, they say, has been finding a big yard for Minnie. With how much she loves to run, Ken and Danielle want her to have as much space as possible to do just that.

Ready for little adventure and a lot of love?

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