Shih Tzu, possibly dog-napped, finds way home with help of Lost Pet Services.
Virginia Bell answered the call June 8 at her Braden River Lakes home and quickly became confused.
"We've got your dog," came the voice on the other end of the line ... a Patty Giarrusso.
"We've got Spanky."
Bell was slightly alarmed, only this wasn't the kind of kidnapper's voice who would want $500 delivered on a department store gift card or it would be curtains for poor Spanky. No, this voice should have been accompanied by soothing harps.
"We found Spanky," Giarrusso repeated.
Oh my goodness, Bell thought. How did he get out?
Bell lowered the phone and yelled, "Spanky!"
And a split second later, Spanky, her Yorkie, came running to her side.
Darned spammer. Bell hung up the phone.
But as soon as she hung up, she started to think about it. Yes, she did have another dog, Spanky, a Shih Tzu, Maltese mix who had disappeared from her Bradenton yard — Bell believes he was stolen for breeding — more than six years earlier. It couldn't be.
Bell called Giarrusso back.
Giarrusso, the president of Lost Pet Services, Inc., told Bell that Sarasota's Heather Von Seggern had found Spanky while walking along Longbay Boulevard where it connects with Hernando Avenue in southwest Manatee County. Seggern contacted Giarrusso and a scan of the dog's chip revealed Bell as the owner.
But was this the true, original Spanky? Bell wasn't sure. All the information, though, made sense.
"Are you kidding me?" Bell asked Giarrusso. "No way."
After Lost Pet Services ran some checks on Bell, making sure she looked for Spanky after he was lost — which she did for months — she was connected with Von Segggern, who bathed the downtrodden dog while waiting for the owner to arrive.
"We were out walking at 6 a.m.," Von Seggern said of herself and her golden retriever, Dutch. "We saw Spanky two blocks ahead. He kept trotting toward us. He came up and sniffed Dutch."
Spanky looked abused and Von Seggern wanted to help so she let the little dog accompany them to her home. She thought she had seen lost dog fliers for Spanky in her adjoining neighborhoods. It actually was another dog.
Then as Von Seggern was telling the story, she started to cry.
"This is a little emotional," she said. "That little dog looked so lost. Taking him home felt like the right thing to do. I couldn't imagine leaving him there."
Von Seggern said she would be devastated if anything happened to Dutch.
Meanwhile, Bell admits she had some mixed emotions about picking up Spanky six years after he disappeared. She already had two dogs, the new Spanky, purchased three years ago to replace the void left by the departure of the previous Spanky, and a German Shepherd. She didn't even know if Spanky would remember her.
Of course, once she saw the now 8-year-old Spanky, and realized he was, indeed, the dog she believes was stolen from her yard, she knew she couldn't separate from him again. She brought him home, renamed him Gizmo, and waited to see how the new Spanky would react.
The two dogs have been extremely jealous of each other, she said, and when one lies next to her on the bed, the other tries to get even closer.
Gizmo has physical problems, possibly from abuse. Bell had to potty train him again and she had to take him to the vet for a staph infection, immunizations, crystals in his urine, and dental problems.
"I know he was abused," she said. "It's just the things he does. He is timid and scared."
Bell's children, 16-year-old Christopher, 14-year-old Aubrey and 13-year-old Sadie, all said they wanted their mom to bring the original Spanky home.
"It was hard on all of us when he lost him," Bell said. "It was so sad. We drove around looking for him. We thought he might have been hit by a car. We were constantly worrying. The kids were devastated."
Bell said the return of Spanky should remind people about the importance of chipping their pets. It worked for her, even after six years.
Lost Pet Services, Inc., has reconnected 80 lost pets so far this month and averages 250 a month, according to Giarrusso. Chips are a large part of the process. Giarrusso said the Spanky span of six years is the longest ever time away from a family before reconnection for the nonprofit.
"I'm sad I had to miss out on all those years," Bell said. "I would love to know where he has been."