Homeward Bound: Kokomo Humane Society returns Florida dog who went missing in 2019 | National sports

Aug. 4—Ines Figueroa was heading to a family reunion on Christmas Day 2019 when she decided to quickly let her two pit bull mixes, Grace and Mia, out before leaving.

It was a hot day in Tampa, Florida, where the 61-year-old has lived with her husband for more than two decades, and after about 5 minutes Figueroa went into the yard and called the two dogs back.

“Here’s Mia with her head down,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Ah, there’s something wrong here. Where’s Grace?'”

It’s a question Figueroa would ask over the next two and a half years.

When Grace didn’t return that day, they searched the garden, but she was nowhere to be found. Assuming she had jumped the fence, Figueroa and her husband roamed the neighborhood for hours looking for their dog, but no one had seen his skin or hair.

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, Grace was gone.

“Since then, we have prayed and prayed and prayed,” Figueroa said. “And all I was thinking was, ‘Please God, whoever has her, don’t mistreat her. She’s a good girl. Don’t mistreat her.'”

It was a devastating blow for the couple, who had raised the 7-year-old pit bull since she was a week-old puppy. Figueroa said they consider Grace one of their children.

But as the months and years passed, the hopes of seeing their beloved dog again faded.

Until July 15.

Figueroa was going through spam when she saw a message from 24Petwatch, which operates the largest lost pet database and microchip registry in North America.

Figueroa said she was about to delete it when she remembered registering Grace on the website after being microchipped as a puppy. She opened the email, and there it was: someone had scanned Grace’s chip.

That person was Marissa Shoffner, a canine behavior and medical programming specialist at the Kokomo Humane Society, located more than 1,000 miles from Tampa.

Shoffner said on July 15, animal control officers brought in a mix of stray pit bulls after someone reported the dog wandering North Mulberry Street.

Shoffner saw that the animal had been microchipped, so they scanned it and reported the dog missing on 24Petwatch.

The next day the phone rang. A man from the animal shelter picked up and heard a woman say, “You have my dog! You have Grace! You have my baby!

The woman, of course, was Figueroa, who asked the man where she was calling. He told her it was the Kokomo Humane Society in Indiana. He asked her where she was from. Tampa, Florida, Figueroa said.

Everyone was stunned.

“It’s so mind-blowing how a dog can manage to make it all the way here from Florida,” Shoffner said.

“How the hell did Grace get to Indiana?” Figueroa added. “How?”

But the real question was how to bring Grace home after almost 3 years?

Figueroa said her husband had recently had eye surgery and was recovering, so there was no way they could travel to Kokomo to pick her up. It was then that Shoffner told him not to worry. Human society would take care of it.

Now, for two weeks, Shoffner has been working closely with The Rescue Railroad, which is a network of volunteers who return animals to their owners or receive medical attention.

A plan and route are in place for volunteers to drive Grace more than 1,000 miles home, and she leaves on her journey on Saturday.

Figueroa said it was hard to express how much it meant strangers would go out of their way to return his pit bull. She said she was crossing her fingers that everything would go well and that she would see Grace soon.

“Dealing with my husband’s health issues and getting to know our baby has been a rollercoaster here,” Figueroa said. “But we’re thrilled. We can’t wait to see her. We can’t wait to have her home again.”

But the question remains: how did Grace end up in Kokomo? Figueroa and Shoffner said that with no one to fill in the gaps, his 1,000 mile journey will remain a mystery.

Figueroa said she’s just happy that Grace looks healthy, even though she’s lost weight since she disappeared and probably had puppies at some point.

Most importantly, she is happy that after years of wondering if they would ever see their dog again, they now have an answer.

“I always believed that Grace would one day walk back into the garden with her head down and try to say, ‘Mom, I’m sorry I ran away. I’m here, I’m here.” There’s been nothing for years, but now she’s coming home.”

Shoffner said she’s also glad everything finally worked out and that human society could play a part in reuniting the family with their pet.

But none of this would have been possible without the microchip or the volunteers willing to take Grace home. Shoffner said she thinks it will take months to organize the trip, but thanks to The Rescue Railroad, it’s happening on Saturday.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a long time. We might not be able to get her back there,'” she said. “But it was within 24 hours that we found transportation, and I can’t thank our contacts enough for that. It’s pretty amazing.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, [email protected] or on Twitter @carsongerber1.


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