Lost Dogs, Amazing Reunions

Early July 21, 2021, Dwight Gary woke up to the sounds of the morning news after falling asleep with the TV on. Rolling over in bed, something took his breath away. “There was a lot going on in the world at the time,” the Milwaukee, WI resident recalls, but what he saw hit much closer to home—and his heart.

There, on a FOX6 News segment about the adoptable pets at the Wisconsin Humane Society, was his dog, Payday. The Cocker Spaniel-Chihuahua mix had disappeared from the sous chef’s front yard after being frightened by fireworks on July 7, 2019—more than two years earlier.

When Gary realized the dog on TV—who was introduced as Mason—was the beloved dog he’d adopted in 2016, he leapt out of bed.

“I jumped up and said out loud, ’Payday is on TV!’ I knew it was him because he has the most peculiar underbite I’ve ever seen on a dog.”

Gary, who in two years had never stopped looking for his dog, immediately called FOX6 News and the Wisconsin Humane Society. His mom and Payday (Gary himself had to work that day) had an emotional reunion that afternoon. “As soon as Payday saw my mom, he was hysterical… he was all over her,” says Gary. “The gentleman [that worked there] said to my mom, ‘that’s definitely your dog.’ After two years, Payday remembered all of us.”

"It gave me chills,” says Angela Speed, vice president of communications at the Wisconsin Humane Society, of how Gary found Payday on the news, of all places. “There was a Bucks championship game that went late the prior evening, and Dwight must’ve just dozed off after watching all the local coverage. He woke up to see a picture of his long-lost dog on the screen—it was nothing short of magical.”

Gary and his best friend made headlines across North America for their story of hope, miracles, and puppy love, but Payday’s long journey home isn’t the only happy reunion tale out there.

Cara, a beloved Lab/terrier rescue, was five years old when she broke through a screened window at her owners’ Hopkins Landing cottage on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast in July 2016. After 71 days and sightings up to 60 km away, Cara was reunited with her loved ones, but not before non-stop work on the part of her family and the community.

Dog Cara was reunited with her loved ones
Photo Elizabeth Tremblay of Aviva Studios

That “moment of realization that she wasn’t in the house was terrifying,” says Cara’s owner, Melissa Sorge of Salmon Arm, B.C. “My stomach dropped and I went cold. It was the feeling you get when you hear the most horrific news and there’s nothing you can do. You feel helpless and the anxiety sets in immediately.”

Sorge and her husband, Manuel, immediately jumped into action. “As we started looking, I felt like I was in a bad dream, and I couldn’t quite focus on anything. I think I knew right away that she wasn’t going to be just hanging around waiting for us. She’s never been a great listener when outside, and she’s an explorer. This is when the tears really started flowing.”

Manuel got an extra week off work to look for Cara. The couple put up hundreds of posters, handed out flyers, created a Facebook page, bought ads, put up night-vision cameras, and planted clothing with their scent outside. “When we weren’t physically looking for her, we were on the phone with people, emailing, posting, praying, everything,” says Sorge. Volunteers, which included a woman and her tracking dog, came forward to help, Sorge says, conducting multiple search parties and driving around the coast. Generous donors contributed to a GoFundMe that raised $5,500 to help cover a portion of the $8,000 CAD costs the couple incurred.

A happy reunion was in store for Sorge, but first, the obstacles of limited finances, a look-alike dog, and a new baby (Sorge was on maternity leave with their 10-month-old daughter Harlow when Cara went missing) complicated the search. But Sorge didn’t give up. “Deep in my gut, I knew that she was meant to be with us and us with her,” she says.

The community also supported Charlotte Hanington after her 14-year-old Manchester terrier was stolen from her parked car in Ottawa, ON.

Hanington was “overwhelmed with sadness and anger and worrying all at once” after she discovered Ellie, who she calls her best friend, was missing.

The security team at the store where Hanington was parked searched the area and a police report was filed. A friend helped her to put up posters, and Hanington offered a $1,000 CAD reward for Ellie’s return.

With thousands of people sharing social media posts, word of Ellie’s dognapping quickly spread. To Hanington’s amazement, PETA heard about Ellie’s story and issued a press release, offering a $5,000 reward. “So many dog owners in the Ottawa area reached out to me to offer supportive and kind words… total strangers were offering to add money to the reward. I even had someone offer to bring me food, understanding eating and cooking were probably the last things I was thinking about.”

After “the longest seven days,” during which she felt “absolutely exhausted, devastated, and hopeless,” a stranger offered Hanington the address of Ellie’s whereabouts in exchange for the $1,000 reward. Keeping her promise not to ask questions, she retrieved Ellie, who was unharmed and soon back to her old self, eating, sleeping most of the day, and wanting to play fetch.

The $5,000 reward from PETA was never claimed. “In order to claim it, the person would have had to go to the police, which they didn’t do,” Hanington says.

Stolen four years old dog thrilled to be back with his human family

In Payday’s case, a sixth sense may have played a role in his reunion. Surrendered to the Wisconsin Humane Society on July 2, Payday would hide behind staff members when introduced to prospective adopters, says Speed. “It was as if he was just waiting for the right person to come along.”

Shyness didn’t stop people from being interested, Speed says. Payday was adopted— and returned—twice between July 2 and 21, the date when Gary saw him on TV. “Payday was anxious and unsettled in both adoptive homes,” says Speed. “I think maybe he knew it just wasn’t right and was just waiting for his family to find him.”

As for Sorge, she credits a Holland-based spiritual coach/animal communicator for tracking Cara to a tiny area along the Sunshine Coast. Homeowners there managed to convince Cara—still in excellent health after 71 days on the run—to come into the house to be fed after she’d entered their yard to play with their dog.

Cara, now 10, has been sticking close to her family since her adventure. As for Sorge, the experience has changed her, she says. “I used to be an introvert, but through this process I was forced into being an extrovert,” she says. “The process helped me a thousandfold in my life.” She’s paying it forward by helping others find their lost pets. She’s also learned that there are many good people willing to help. “The kindness of strangers was such a beautiful experience for us. It made us have faith in humanity.”

“It had to be fate,” says Gary of Payday, now four years old and thrilled to be back with his human family and canine roommates Hazel, Diamond, and Mellow. “It had to be a miracle. You wouldn’t think that something like this—someone loses a dog, and then wakes up and the dog is on the news on TV—could happen, but it did.”

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!


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