It was a family reunion five years in the making. On Saturday morning Rocko, a five-year-old Beagle, was reunited with family members after he went missing from their Queens, N.Y., home when he was just a puppy. Somehow, Rocko made his way to Liberty County.
"Somebody turned him in as a stray on July 5," said Randy Durrence, Liberty Animal Control Director. "We checked him for a microchip and found one, so we contacted the name that it was registered under and the family was in shock that we found him. They told me the dog went missing five years ago in New York."
Durrence thinks somebody probably had the dog during those five years because the dog was healthy and appeared well-nourished. Someone also had taken the time to have the dog neutered.
"We had him for two months before he went missing," Nicholas Naranjo said as he kneeled down before Rocko and gave him a big hug. Naranjo and his stepfather, Jorge Villacis, flew into Savannah International Airport to come and pick up Rocko.
"My daughter is 11 now," Villacis said. "But when she heard they had found Rocko she started crying tears of joy."
Naranjo explained that his grandfather had let Rocko out in the backyard but forgot to cover a hole they had in their fence.
"He found his way out and by the time I got home he was already gone for awhile," Naranjo said.
The family frantically searched for Rocko and put up fliers and signs, but Rocko never turned up.
It's still a mystery how Rocko made his way to Liberty County but the family was just happy to have him back.
"I pictured him somewhere in New Jersey," Naranjo joked. "Never all the way down here in Georgia. We are going to drive him back to New York where he will join his new family. We have two other dogs and a cat now for him to meet."
Durrence credits the happy ending to the microchip, and Naranjo agreed.
"When we bought Rocko, he had the micro-chip already implanted and we registered our information," Naranjo said. "We were hoping he wasn't dead; we were hoping that he was just picked up by a family and taken care of."
Villacis and Naranjo headed northbound for their 14-hour car ride home and they said Rocko behaved well.
"He didn't take long to make himself feel right at home," Naranjo said. "He's been napping on our couch and playing with the other dogs that we have."
Naranjo said his entire family was happy to have him back at home and hopes this story will prompt more happy returns.
"We hope that this will help push veterinarians and animal hospitals to scan animals more frequently to ensure that the animals are with their rightful owners," he said. "Five years was a long time to have waited to get him back, but at this point we're happy to have closure and have him back home."
Leon is a reporter for the Coastal Courier in Hinesville.