A few nights ago, Melissa Moeller had a dream that Bo came back.
"I honestly hadn't thought about Bo in so long," the 23-year-old said. "It seemed so far-fetched that he would be found."
Bo, the Moeller family's collie, went missing Memorial Day weekend 2003 from the family's home in Northfield. But Tuesday, the Moellers, who now live in Arlington Heights, were thrilled to learn Melissa's dream came true.
"I can't believe he was found," she said. "I just can't stop smiling and laughing."
In the five years since his disappearance, Bo traveled about 85 miles from Northfield to Rockford, where he was found Monday afternoon.
Winnebago County Animal Services Officer Kelly Swanson said a resident found the dog running loose, secured him in the backyard, gave him some water and called the shelter.
"This is the first time ever that I have found any animal that's been gone for that long," said Swanson, who retrieved the dog from the residence.
What saved Bo, Swanson said, was his implanted ID microchip, which allowed the shelter to scan him and locate his owners.
"Without a microchip, the dog probably would have sat (at the shelter) for eight days waiting to be reclaimed. At the end of eight days, they either go up for adoption or they get put down," Swanson said. "This family is very lucky."
Swanson said there's no way of knowing where the dog spent the last five years unless somebody admits to taking it. Bo showed some signs of hair loss, which can occur when a dog is in the wild, but he's not emaciated, meaning someone likely fed him.
"We were told he is in very good health overall," said Bob Moeller, Melissa's father. "(People at the shelter) said a dog like that wouldn't survive in the wild for five years."
The family reunited with Bo, who they say looks like Lassie, at the Rockford shelter Tuesday afternoon.
Bo even sat and rolled over at the command of Bob's son Brent, who was Bo's main caretaker. The scene brought tears to Bob's eyes.
"It was just like old times. He did all the commands like he hadn't missed a day," said Brent, 21. "It was like a Disney movie."
The family acquired Bo from a collie rescue group in 2002. He disappeared just days after the Moellers moved into their Northfield home. Along with a microchip, he originally had a tag with his owners' contact information.
"We searched all the animal rescue shelters in the area," Bob said. "There were a lot of tears over Bo leaving."
The Moellers got their hopes up about a year after Bo left when they got a call from police that they found a dog matching his description.
"It just didn't look like our dog," Bob said. "It was a double heartbreak, thinking we had the dog back, but it was someone else's."
Since then, the Moellers, a family with six children, got two new dogs, Katie and Rudy.
"We've had these other dogs, and they're fun, but we're delighted to know that Bo is alive," Bob said. "We were really worried that something awful had happened to him, but knowing that he's alive and well is a great relief. We've missed him."
Swanson said about half of the dogs she finds have microchips. Most dogs adopted from shelters have them, and she said there many area clinics that implant the chips.
Brent is certainly grateful for the microchip. It's giving him a new roommate.
Brent moved into a Chicago apartment just two weeks ago, so he said Bo will stay with his parents in Arlington Heights until he can find a new place that allows dogs.
"I have to," Brent said. "He's my best friend."
Microchip the key in Bo's return
Without his microchip, the story of Bo the lost collie would not have had a happy ending.
Five years after he disappeared, it was that implanted microchip that allowed him to be reunited with the Moeller family of Arlington Heights after he was found in Rockford this week.
"(A microchip) is a very, very valuable tool in tracking your pet if for any reason they get lost," said Steve Camp, chief of staff at the Arlington Heights Animal Hospital.
Here are the basics:
• Pet owners can get microchips for their dogs and cats at most animal shelters, veterinary clinics, humane societies and breed clubs.
• Chips generally cost $10 to $50, depending on the quality. They're often included in shelter adoption fees.
• About the size of a grain of rice, the chips are usually inserted in the skin in the back of the animal's neck. The procedure is similar to getting a shot and dose not pose health risks to the pet.
• Animals can be microchipped at any age.
• Most vet clinics, shelters and police departments have universal scanners that can read chips from any manufacturer to identify the animal.
• Chips contain ID numbers that can be traced to one of several microchip companies. Owners are encouraged to register their name, address and phone number with the manufacturer, sometimes for an additional fee of about $15. Remember to update if you move. If the owner did not register, the chip can still be used to determine which shelter or clinic would have that information.
• Microchips are good for remainder of the animal's life.