Ottawa

Vader the Star Wars 'dumpster dog' still a force to be reckoned with

On a frigid day in February 2011, 11 German shepherd-mix puppies were found abandoned in a cardboard box behind the Canadian War Museum. CBC caught up with one of them and found he's no villain.

CBC caught up with 1 of the 11 puppies found abandoned in 2011, and found he's no villain

Vader was one of 11 puppies found abandoned behind the Canadian War Museum in February 2011. Two hundred families called the Ottawa Humane Society with offers to adopt the dogs. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Their names were Luke, Yoda, Jedi, Binks, Jabba, Anikan, Solo, Kenobi, Padmé, Leia and Vader. But this was no movie.

On a frigid day in February 2011, 11 German shepherd-mix puppies were found abandoned in a cardboard box near a dumpster behind the Canadian War Museum.

The pups' plight touched a nerve in Ottawa. It didn't hurt that they were floppy-eared, tongue-lolling cutie-pies.

Almost a decade ago, 11 puppies were found abandoned behind the Canadian War Museum. CBC News caught up with one of them. 0:49

More than 200 families contacted the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) with offers to adopt the dogs, including the Shephards in the city's west end.

Wendy Shephard had wanted a smaller dog. A dog with a pedigree. One that didn't shed.

Instead they got Vader, falling in love with his drooping ears and choosing to overlook his ominously large paws.

8 years and 80 lb. later

Fast-forward to 2019: Vader now weighs 36 kilograms or 80 lb., and on four paws rises to Shephard's waist — a gentle giant, though it's a matter of perspective.

"He's not too intimidating-looking, I don't think, although people do cross the street," Shephard said.

German shepherds are a favourite choice for police or security dogs, and can indeed be intimidating. But despite his name, this Vader is no villain. 

"He barks when some people come to the door. Other times he doesn't bark at all, he just lies there and watches. He's not much of a guard dog," his owner said.

Wendy Shephard wanted a small dog with a pedigree. Instead, the family fell in love with Vader. A DNA test revealed he's three-quarters German shepherd along with husky and 'a lot of other things.' (Hallie Cotnam/CBC )

Shephard calls Vader over and he comes, seeking a treat. She tells him to sit, a command he chooses to ignore.

"He went to puppy school, but that was a long time ago."

Vader's puppy picture — prominently displayed as a screen saver on the kitchen table laptop — shows mainly black and tan colouring. As the years passed, "he's gotten a lot lighter brown, with a lot of grey around his muzzle."

Shephard's daughter gave her an unusual Mother's Day gift a few years ago: a DNA testing kit for Vader. "He's three-quarters German shepherd, but it's got some husky and oh, all sorts of other things," she said.

Her husband, Bob Shephard, has had heart issues and needs to exercise daily. Taking Vader out for a stroll three times a day helps. They go out morning and afternoon for a long walk, then again in the evening after dinner.

Vader's siblings were named Luke, Yoda, Jedi, Binks, Jabba, Anikan, Solo, Kenobi, Padmé, and Leia. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Vader's own health issues

Vader isn't in the best of health these days, either. He's had seizures since he was three and is on medication to help control them. His owners haven't had an MRI done to rule out a tumour, but Wendy Shephard, a retired nurse, thinks it could be epilepsy.

"It's not the most pleasant thing to see a dog seizing," she observed.

The Shephards said they've contacted the OHS to see if Vader's 10 siblings have had similar medical issues, but were told information about other adoptions is confidential.

OHS executive director Bruce Roney recalled the furor around the rescued puppies, but told CBC he doesn't remember the other adoptive families expressing concerns about their dogs' health. Then again, 80,000 animals have passed through the OHS since Vader.

Vader suffers from seizures, for which he's on medication, but that doesn't stop him from taking his owners on long walks three times a day. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The Shephards did run into one of the other Star Wars puppies at Frank Ryan Park when Vader was about a year old. It was Vader's sister, Leia. (Star Wars fans, let's not get into a debate about paternity just now, OK?)

Both owners considered themselves lucky, and the Shephards still do.

"We won, so to speak," Wendy Shephard laughed, scratching Vader behind his drooping ears.


Did you adopt one of Vader's siblings? Tweet Hallie, message us via Facebook  or comment below.

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