The Ghost Dog of Twain Harte is a former stray shrouded in mystery that has gained local legend status in recent years among people who care for her and see her from time to time in the mountains of Tuolumne County.

One of the few things people know for certain about the Ghost Dog of Twain Harte is she is a Pyrenean mountain dog with ancestors first bred in the Pyrenees, a rugged range that rises to more than 11,000 feet between France and Spain.

According to the American Kennel Club, dogs from the Great Pyrenees breed are known for their strength, courage, and vigilance, as well as their Zen-like calm and mellow dispositions. They are also known for their skills as escape artists.

Many people know the Ghost Dog of Twain Harte, and some have known her for years. She used to be a homeless dog in the Twain Harte community, but she now has multiple caretakers. Two of the caretakers, Kerry Schock and Maggie Driscoll, have collaborated on a 32-page illustrated book about the wayward canine.

Asked about the Ghost Dog of Twain Harte’s origins, Schock, Driscoll and others, including a woman who has groomed dogs in Twain Harte for seven years, believe she was born or raised from a very early age outside Twain Harte by an older man who eventually passed away a few years ago.

Denise Calavan said she’s been grooming dogs for 30 years, including for the past seven at Ruff House Pet Salon & Mobile Grooming in Twain Harte. She can’t remember the old man’s name, but she remembers grooming his young dog named Roxy, whom she’s convinced is the pooch now known as Ghost Dog.

The last time Calavan remembers grooming Roxy for the old man was three-and-a-half years to four years ago.

“Then I saw her two years later,” Calavan said. “She was roaming.”

People believe that after the older man’s death, the Ghost Dog was abandoned and escaped, or intentionally set free. Either way, people began seeing or believed they were seeing the Ghost Dog up and down the Highway 108 corridor, between Mi-Wuk Village and as far east as Donnell Vista, where at least three people are believed to have disappeared between 2005 and 2016.

No one was calling the mysterious, wandering dog “Ghost Dog” yet. Jake Fuller, owner of Mother Lode Tree Service, said he was driving west one night down from Sonora Pass in fall 2019, when he and his girlfriend, Evon Meckler, saw what looked like the wandering dog between Donnell Vista and Strawberry.

“We saw it on a stretch of highway about 10 miles east of Strawberry,” Fuller said Wednesday in a phone interview. “We’d already been tracking it between Mi-Wuk and Pinecrest, based on social media sightings. Everybody was seeing it at different places.”

That’s when Fuller decided to call the mysterious canine Ghost Dog.

“It kind of appears and disappears,” Fuller said. “It wanders on its own. It has its own little spirit about it. It’s unique. It’s always alone. It never had help from anybody. Nobody could get close to it. You get close and it moves away slowly. The dog has independence and persistence, and it survived on its own.”

Fuller posted a blurred image of what he believes is the Ghost Dog to social media, with the caption “10 miles east of Strawberry. Creepy?” and 68% of respondents said “Yes.”

Regardless of how far the Ghost Dog wandered and whether people actually did see the Ghost Dog at Donnell Vista and farther east on Highway 108, she eventually began to hang out in the Twain Harte area, where more people began to see her.

The Ghost Dog was present, she was around, but she was shy. At first, she would not accept food or contact from humans. She could be seen eating from garbage cans, socializing with other stray dogs, and walking on her own. Sometimes she would lay down to rest in the road, and people worried she could be struck by a vehicle.

The Ghost Dog of Twain Harte became so popular she got her own Facebook page, where people began exchanging stories about the Ghost Dog and debating her future.

Last summer, some women in Twain Harte were able to get closer to the Ghost Dog and offer her food from a distance. Ghost Dog began to trust the women, and they eventually got Ghost Dog to accept a brush, then a collar. Several women began coordinating feeding, walking, and brushing the Ghost Dog.

Then, the women noticed the Ghost Dog appeared to be sick. They eventually recruited Calavan to help take the Ghost Dog to the local veterinarian. 

The vet determined the Ghost Dog was around 5 years old and confirmed she was a Great Pyrenees breed. The vet tested, spayed and chipped the Ghost Dog. Women did bake sales to raise funds to care for the Ghost Dog, and to pay for another visit to the vet when the Ghost Dog came down with bronchitis.

The vet advised the women that the Ghost Dog needed to be on a leash and have a place to stay.

In December, Driscoll and others put several signs out around Twain Harte, advising motorists, “Please Slow Down, Ghost Dog Crossing.”

These days, to ensure the Ghost Dog’s safety, she spends time staying with Schock, Driscoll and a third caretaker. She’s kept inside or on a leash when she’s outdoors, because she can climb fences.

Several people stopped to say hello to the Ghost Dog of Twain Harte while on a walk Tuesday with Kerry Schock and William Schock.

She leaned into the legs of Jeff Sorensen, who was walking with his wife, Nancy Sorensen, and they both recognized the Ghost Dog from when she was known as a homeless dog in the Twain Harte community.

The Ghost Dog’s orange-yellow eyes were relaxed and at ease while people petted her.

“People thought she was deaf,” Kerry Schock said. “She never barks at people or animals. The first time I heard her bark was a month ago. One night she barked at a vehicle in the driveway. We thought she was barking to protect us.”

Kerry Schock wants people to understand that she and the other caretakers do not own the Ghost Dog.

“Our biggest thing is we are not the owners,” she said. “We know that she had an owner up here at some point. She chose us and the other ladies. What we tell people now is she is Twain Harte’s dog. She considers Twain Harte to be her ranch, and we are her flock, because that’s what that breed does — they guard their flock.”

Schock emphasized, “We are her guardians, we are not her owners. Proceeds from this book are going to her. It takes a village to care for her.”

Stories of the Ghost Dog of Twain Harte have been uplifting for people who live along the Highway 108 corridor, Fuller said. A lot about the Ghost Dog is still shrouded in mystery, and that keeps it interesting.

“Now people are taking care of it and it’s domesticated,” Fuller said. “It’s cool to see. It’s a great story considering everything in the past year. Who knows the history of the dog? It’s still unknown.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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