Dutchess the fox terrier squeezed out the door at her owner's house in Orlando, Florida, one day in February 2007 and didn't return. A devastated Katheryn Strang made "lost dog" signs and took daily trips to the local shelter for months, desperate to find her.
On Friday, Strang finally got the reunion she had been hoping for - 12 years after Dutchess disappeared. A man found the dog under his shed in the Pittsburgh area, almost 1,000 miles from Orlando. He took the shivering animal to a shelter, Humane Animal Rescue. There, a scan of Dutchess's microchip linked her to Strang, who had since moved to Boca Raton, Florida.
At the shelter on Friday, Strang cried as an employee handed her the dog she had always hoped would one day return to her. Staff members posted footage of the emotional reunion on Facebook, writing, "This is why we do what we do."
"Dutchess. Hi, baby. I missed you," Strang says in the video as she strokes the dog's face. "Your face is all white."
No one knows how Dutchess made the trek to Pittsburgh - or what she has been doing for the past 12 years. Strang joked that the dog could "tell me some stories." She said she couldn't imagine that Dutchess had walked the whole way.
The dog, who is now 14, was hungry, shaking and "in serious need of a nail trim" when she arrived at the shelter, said Torin Fisher, an admissions counselor with Humane Animal Rescue. She was also "a little nervous about the situation, which, who could blame her?" Fisher said. But otherwise, Dutchess was in pretty good shape.
Shelter employees soon found the microchip - an implanted device that contains a unique number that can be traced back to an animal's owner. Seeing that Dutchess's owner lived in Florida, Fisher figured the family must have recently moved to Pittsburgh. Only when she called Strang did she learn "how incredible of a situation it actually was."
"The whole story kind of unfolded while we were on the phone," Fisher said. "And we were equally excited and shocked and surprised."
Strang had always held out hope that Dutchess might be found, even after so many years. She paid a $15 annual fee to keep the microchip active, saying on Friday that she would have continued that for years.
Still, she was in disbelief as she drove to Pittsburgh.
"Until she's in your arms, it's just gut-wrenching," she said
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