After Denise Shepard's 3½-year-old Boston bull terrier bolted from her family's six-acre farm near Battle Creek, Mich., in January, she eventually thought he was lost forever.
Four months later, Shepard was floored to receive a phone call Monday morning from the Wheeling Animal Hospital and Pet Resort notifying her that her dog, Frankie, had been found roughly 197 miles from home.
"I was so excited, people were all staring at me," said Shepard, who was at the local community college when she got the news. "I can't even tell you I was so happy."
She drove four hours to be reunited with her pet Tuesday afternoon.
"After like the third month, I thought someone just had him and would never give him back," an emotional Shepard said as she cradled Frankie tightly in her arms. "He's been gone for so long, I didn't even think I was going to see him again."
Wheeling resident Mark Feldstein found Frankie early Sunday morning when the dog walked up to his car in the parking lot of Harmony Village apartments without a collar or tag.
"I drove around with him for about a half-hour and finally took him to the police station," Feldstein said.
Wheeling police asked Feldstein to drop off the dog at the animal hospital, which has an agreement with the police department to take in lost or abandoned dogs and cats.
"I was all ready to adopt him," Feldstein said of the dog if the owners could not be found. Feldstein has a 10-year-old Chihuahua, Chico, who would have liked a brother.
Luckily, a microchip embedded near the neck and shoulder area of the dog bore a serial number that helped locate Shepard.
Frankie had not been neutered, which is a primary reason why male dogs run away, said Joan Roberts, owner of Pierre Le Bark's Pet Boutique, which is inside the animal hospital owned by her husband, veterinarian Humphrey Roberts.
Under the hospital's contract with the Wheeling police department, 12 dogs and 20 cats have been brought to the facility, Roberts said.
"We've been here for 20 years in June - never had such a story," she added. "My best guess is a trucker or just a family going through picked him (Frankie) up."
Hospital doctors gave Frankie a thorough physical examination and found him to be healthy, but did give him vaccinations.
Shepard said she got Frankie when he was six weeks old. He and her two other dogs - a 41/2-year-old female Rottweiler named Xena and a 21/2-year-old male Chihuahua, Raffy - were playing in the backyard. Her husband Joe was watching them while doing chores. In a matter of seconds, Xena and Frankie disappeared. Though the Rottweiler returned, Frankie was nowhere to be found.
"He's an indoor dog," said Shepard, who had initially missed the call about his recovery because she was taking a physiology final exam for her nursing degree at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek. "We live out in the country on six acres right outside of Battle Creek. But I think we're going to put a fence in the backyard now because I don't trust him."