Dog, family reunited after 3 years with help from NJ shelter (VIDEO)
For three years, the Gonzalez family waited, never knowing if they would ever find their beloved puppy, Rihanna, after she was stolen from their backyard in Bronx, N.Y.
That all changed with a phone call on Feb 18.
The Voorhees Animal Orphanage, a no-kill shelter based in Camden County, called the dog's owner, Maria Gonzalez, to tell her that Rihanna had been located.
Sharla Floyd, the marketing and fundraising director for the shelter, said Rihanna was brought to the shelter by two men who found the dog on the front lawn of their Stratford Township home.
"They didn't want her to get hit by a car, so they brought her to us," Floyd said.
Once the dog was examined and calm, shelter workers scanned her for a microchip. Floyd said many pets are implanted with microchips that contain information about the animal, its home, family and other data that can be used if a pet is lost.
Initially, shelter workers noticed that the address on the chip came up as the Bronx - about 100 miles away from where the dog was found. They feared that the chip might be outdated, but figured at the very least, they would be able to find someone who could provide information on the current owners. To their surprise, when they contacted the Gonzalez family, they learned Rihanna had been stolen from them as a puppy, nearly three years earlier. The family had even sent out the pet equivalent of an Amber Alert in an effort to track her down. The shelter still doesn't know where Rihanna was for the past three years or how she ended up in New Jersey. They say she appears to be healthy.
Although Floyd said the family was "overjoyed" to learn that their long-long "puppy" was safe and sound, they couldn't afford to make the trip out to New Jersey to pick her up. Hearing this, two people from the shelter decided to step up and make sure Rihanna was reunited with her family.
"Two staff members volunteered to drive out there on their day off to bring her home," Floyd said.
Other staff members of the shelter heard about their plans and chipped in for gas and tolls. They even packed dog food and treats for Rihanna before the staffers headed to New York.
When staff members finally arrived at the Gonzalez home with Rihanna, the boxer immediately recognized the family she had been separated from since she was a puppy. An emotional video of the reunion shows Rihanna heading straight for her family, excitedly giving them kisses and enjoying the affection.
"It just goes to show how good the animal memory is. It was just incredible," Floyd said.
Floyd said members of the shelter are "overjoyed" that they were able to help facilitate the reunion. She said part of the shelter's job is to "build new lives" for the pets they take in and not every situation has a happy ending.
"This was so different, so crazy and so not the way stories like this tend to end," Floyd said. "For us, this underscores why we exist.”
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.