Lion, also known as Indie, will be sleeping on his bed tonight back with his original rescuer, Austin Heil, and his three canine friends. The Shelter Me article “Mystery Dog Over 2000 Miles from Home — Do You Recognize Him?” was instrumental in getting Lion home — in less than 24 hours after it was published.
Much of his past, though, remains a mystery. Heil found Lion in late 2015, wandering along a busy highway. Because she has often rescues dogs, she carries treats and a leash in her car. She said to Shelter Me:
“I opened my door and said, ‘Hey buddy,’ and he bolted to my car – he’s chubby, but fast. He jumped in the front passenger seat, crossed the console and jumped right in back. It was like he was saying, ‘Let’s go.’ He had a collar and tags. I thought, thank goodness I found a dog with a home. I called the Merced County tag, but it was registered to a female dog. He had a Santa Fe Pet Hospital tag with a rabies vaccination number. They said his name is Lion, and he perked up his ears when he heard that name. He knew that was his name.”
The hospital wouldn’t give Heil the owner’s information, but said they would call and give the owner her contact information. She sat in the car with Lion and waited. She waited and waited and finally called the vet back. They said that Alfonso, the owner, had sounded happy to hear that Lion was found. They were surprised that he hadn’t called her. So they tried to call Alfonso again, but from that point on, he refused to answer the phone.
Heil reflected on the strangeness of dumping a dog with his collar and tags. “He took good care of Lion,” she said. “That vet had neutered Lion and he was up to date on vaccinations.” When Lion fit right in with Heil’s three other dogs, she decided to keep him. Around a year later, they moved from their dairy into town. It was during that time that Lion ran away.
“We were staying with family for a few weeks until we could get into our new house,” explained Heil. “We were at work when he ran away last November.” Even though one of the residents at the house was calling him, he didn’t come back. So they posted on Facebook and in local papers. They went to the shelter. But months passed with no sign of Lion. During Christmas, Heil’s mother sent her a picture of a found dog, but it wasn’t Lion.
So when she came across the article about the lost mystery dog, she was intrigued by the heading since they rescue dogs. When she clicked on the link to the article, she was struck by how much the picture of the dog resembled Lion. She sent the article to her daughter. Heil recognized the collar — it was Lion’s collar! After three months, they had found their dog.
Sandy Caracciolo, whose children found Lion when he followed them, is sure that he is back home. When she and Lion (whom she had named Indie) were waiting in her car for Heil to come and get him, she whispered “Lion” in his ear. He snapped his head around and snuggled closer to her. Then, when he saw Heil and her mother, he was ecstatic. He raced from one to the other, tail wagging furiously.
“This dog had jumped into my car through the open window the day before. When they arrived we got out, and I left the car door open. When it was time for them to go, after they had greeted Lion and we had talked, he didn’t even look at my car. He went right to their car and jumped in. There was no doubt in my mind that he was their dog. It was obvious he loved them to death.”
Once back with his old family at their new home, Lion’s friends greeted him excitedly. Gentry and Molly are two small dogs, and Roxie is a pit bull mix like Lion. They were thrilled to see each other. But questions remain. Where was Lion for the last three months?
“He’s definitely chubbier than he was,” commented Heil. Someone was feeding him well. But no one posted a “found dog” anywhere. No one was looking for him in Chowchilla when Caracciolo’s children took him to their house.
Why does Lion have a chip from Evansville, Indiana, and why had no one registered it? Why didn’t Alfonso want Lion back after spending money neutering and vaccinating him? One thing is certain: Now that the Heils know Lion has a chip, they will be registering it with their name and address.
While these questions will probably never be answered, Caracciolo’s fondest wish has been granted — Lion is home with those who love him. The power of social media has reunited him with his family. It’s a powerful message to us all — keep sharing those stories, keep posting the stories, and keep caring.