[Article from New York Post, 16 July 2008]
Rocco and Natalie, reunited after 5 years
When her beagle, Rocco, squeezed himself under the backyard gate and disappeared into the streets of Queens, 5-year-old Natalie Villacis refused to believe – as her parents reluctantly told her – that she would never see the puppy again.
That was in 2003.
Last weekend, Rocco came home – after being found in Georgia.
The prodigal pooch turned up in a shelter 850 miles away in Hinesville, and by a combination of chance and chip – the one embedded in his back – was reunited with Natalie, now 11, and her family.
“When my mom told me they found Rocco, I cried hysterically – just like I did when they told me he was lost,” Natalie told The Post. “I felt like I was in a dream, like my head was spinning.”
Someone dropped Rocco off as a stray at the Liberty County Animal Control in Hinseville on July 5, supervisor Randy Durrence said.
After scanning the pooch’s identity microchip, one of thousands routinely implanted in the skin of many pets today, Durrence traced Rocco to Queens.
Rocco’s disappearance had been traumatic for both Natalie and her parents. In the days after he vanished, the weeping child and her father, Jorge, plastered their neighborhood with signs in search of the dog. But it soon became clear Rocco would not return.
Even after the family later brought a poodle mix named Bonita into the home, Natalie said she never stopped wondering “what happened to Rocco, where he went, and if someone good found him.
“Every time I would see a dog on the street, I would say to my mom, ‘Maybe Rocco will come back,’ ” Natalie said. “She would say that he probably isn’t going to come back. I would say, ‘I know, but maybe he will.’ ”
She even refused to part with his favorite toy, a stuffed cat.
“At night, I would wish, ‘Please Rocco, come home.’ And now that wish came true,” she said.
When Natalie’s parents, Jorge and Cristina, listened to the voice mail Durrence left for the family, they thought he or the computer must have made a mistake.
“We didn’t think it could possibly be him – Natalie never stopped thinking about him, but we thought he was gone for good,” Jorge said.
Jorge flew down to Georgia, and though he didn’t quite recognize Rocco, was pleased to see that aside from a scratch on his ear, he was in perfect health.
“We have reunited families with their dogs before but never after so many years – this is unheard of,” Durrence said.
Durrence said he could not imagine how a dog could make this journey but speculated that since the town is home to Fort Stewart and the Army’s Third Infantry Division, “perhaps it was someone in the military.”
Natalie said she was nervous about Rocco’s return, in part because she was unsure how Bonita, the poodle mix the family got in 2004, would react.
“I don’t think he recognized me, but I told him I loved him as much as always,” she said. “Rocco seemed a little confused, but happy. He looked at me like, ‘I don’t know who you are, but I love you, too.’ ”
One of the first things she did was give Rocco his toy back.
Bonita has not decided if there is room for a beagle in the house, she said, “but at least she hasn’t tried to bite him. Rocco doesn’t mind. He’s as calm as pie.”
Embracing Rocco, Natalie asked her mother, “Where do you think he has been all this time?”
“I don’t know,” her mother told her. “But if he could tell us, I’m sure he has more than enough material for a novel.”