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Amazing Story of How a Lost Dog Made It Home

Their Dalmation disappeared after a tornado. Six years later, they had almost given up hope.

Ginger with the Collin's family in their home.

We worry about the weather out here in Oklahoma, maybe more than most folks, especially in spring when vicious storms and tornadoes can gather deadly strength in the course of an afternoon. One minute the sun is shining and the next you’re running to the basement for shelter. But that spring seven years ago, there was little that could dampen my happiness. Just months earlier I’d given birth to twin girls, Emerson and Preslee. Harley, our Dalmatian, had a litter of 12 pups. One was very special.

We called her “Muff” because her brown ears made it look as if she were wearing tiny earmuffs. Dalmatian puppies are usually all white—the spots come later—but Muff stood out with her solid brown ears. We gave away the other puppies, but kept Muff for ourselves. The perfect puppy for my babies, I thought. “They’ll all grow up together,” I told my mom.

One blustery afternoon early that May, Muff and Harley didn’t come back from playing outside. “Muff!” I shouted into the whipping wind. “Harley! Where are you?” May is the heart of tornado season out here, and there were reports of dangerous storms coming. I was worried. “They’ll come back. They probably chased a rabbit or something,” my husband, Brian, tried to assure me. “Dogs can always find their way back home.”

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But the next day they still weren’t back, and the weather was worse, much worse. I called the animal shelter, drove around town, checked with the neighbors. I was at my mom’s place when she said, “There’s a tornado coming and it looks real bad.” I scanned the darkening horizon, the sky bruised with storm clouds. “Lord,” I said, “keep my dogs safe, especially Muff. She’s just a pup.”

We took shelter in a nearby elementary school basement. Even down there I could hear the wind howling mercilessly outside. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about Harley and Muff. Were they stuck out in the storm? I almost hoped they had been stolen. Then at least they’d be out of harm’s way. Harley was older and could take care of herself, but Muff would be helpless. All at once the wind’s howl turned to an incredible roar, like we were being run over by a freight train, and even my worries about the dogs were drowned out by it.

Finally it was over. The first thing I did was search for Muff and Harley. Driving around town, I realized how lucky my family had been. The tornado left a swath of unbelievable destruction less than a half mile from our house. The humane society shelter was chaotic—bursting at the seams with dogs and cats gone stray in the storm. Their eyes all searched desperately for a familiar face to claim them. But no Harley. No Muff.

Six months after the tornado, we moved into a new house 15 miles away. I still worried about the dogs. What if they came back to the old home and didn’t find us there? Where would they go then? I knew I was being unrealistic, but I still held out hope. It was a hope that faded with time, especially for Harley, but once you have a dog you never forget him. I always wondered about poor little Muff with those cute brown ears. The years passed, and we got two new dogs—a Dachshund and a Labrador retriever. The girls grew up playing with them. But my heart still skipped a beat anytime I saw a Dalmatian.

Then, six years after that terrible tornado season, on a Saturday afternoon a week before Easter, my mom called. She told me she and my sister had been surfing the internet when they came across the web site of Rocky Spot Rescue, a local organization that puts dogs up for adoption. “We don’t need another dog,” I started to say, but she cut me off. “I think you need to see this,” she said.

I turned on my computer and clicked to the web site. I scrolled down to the photograph of the dog Mom told me about. Chills ran down my spine. Those ears, just like earmuffs. The web site said this dog—named Ginger—had originally been rescued a week after the tornado six years ago. Could it be Muff?

Brian was cautious. “Lots of dogs got picked up after the tornado. I bet a bunch were Dalmatians,” he said. “Besides, do we have room for a third dog?”

“The shelter is hosting an open adoption at the pet store tomorrow,” I told him. “I have to act on this. Otherwise, I’ll always wonder if it was her.”

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll all go tomorrow. But don’t get your hopes up, Hon.”

Getting ready for bed that night, I had my doubts. What had become of Muff in six years? Why was she still up for adoption? Even if it were her, after six years, would she remember us? How could we even be sure it was her? She was only a puppy when she disappeared. I called my mom. “Maybe I should just let it be,” I sighed. “Nonsense,” Mom assured me. “A dog never forgets a scent. If this dog is Muff, she will know you.”

Sunday afternoon—Palm Sunday—we all piled into our SUV and headed to the pet store. My hands clutched a bunch of Muff’s puppy pictures. The girls talked excitedly about having a new dog to play with. “Now, don’t get too excited,” Brian said to them. “We’re just going to check this out.”

“But if it is Muff, we’ll get her, right?” Emerson said.

My husband gave me a look. “We’ll see,” I said.

The second I entered the pet store, my eyes scanned the dogs lined up for adoption. There were many Dalmatians, but none had those ears. I went up to one of the shelter volunteers. “Excuse me, but do you still have the Dalmatian you called Ginger?”

“Yes,” she said, “But she’s not available for adoption now. She’s recuperating from a dog bite.”

“Can we see her?” I couldn’t hide my excitement.

“Why her?” the volunteer inquired.

“Because…” I said hesitantly, “I think she’s our dog.”

I handed her Muff’s puppy photos. She flipped through them, eyes wide with disbelief. “Those ears look familiar, all right,” she agreed. “I’ll call the shelter right away and tell them about you. I’ll let them know you’re coming down.” She gave us directions and we drove off.

All the way to the shelter, my heart pounded. Please let it be Muff. Please let her remember us. As we pulled up, I could see a bunch of dogs in the fenced-in yard, some running around playing, others lazing in the shade. One Dalmatian stood at the fence. The car came to a stop and the dog turned toward us. I stepped out and called to her, “Muff?”

There was not even a moment of hesitation. The instant she heard my voice, she started to bark happily. She put her paws up on the fence, then tried to climb it, jumping up and down. The shelter employees came outside to see what all the commotion was about. “She doesn’t react that way to anybody,” one of them said to me. “She’s usually so shy.”

They let me in and the dog almost bowled me over. I kneeled down and put my arms around her. She was all over me, licking my face, barking, nuzzling against my chest. She was a whole lot bigger now, and filled out, but there was no mistaking that this dog knew exactly who I was. I held her head and looked deep into her eyes. “It’s her,” I shouted out. “It’s Muff!”

“Amy,” Brian said, his voice choking with emotion, “this dog definitely has to come home with us.”

It took us a while to find where our poor puppy had been the past six years. Rocky Spot had rescued her from the animal welfare division just days before she was scheduled to be euthanized. Her first adoptive parents after the tornado couldn’t care for her after she was hit by a car and broke her hip. Her next owners moved and left her behind, tied to a tree. She had other traumas and travails that I couldn’t even believe. But miraculously, she survived it all. And I don’t use miraculously as a figure of speech.

We call her Ginger now, but she’ll always be Muff to me. The kids got their new dog and I got my old one back. That first Easter Sunday, Muff—Ginger—and I went for a walk, just the two of us. She kept close, walking contentedly at my side, occasionally looking at me as if she couldn’t believe it. I knew how she felt. I could still remember clear as ever that day of the tornado when I searched the neighborhood for her, shouting into the rising wind. But my prayers too had been taken up by that same wind to the only One who could keep my dog safe when I could not. Now at last, she’d come home.

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