Tracy Dove assumed the worst after her 1-year-old dog named Charlie disappeared in 2006. Days without the animal turned into years, and Dove figured the brown-and-white pointer was dead.
Then, last week, Dove's phone rang: Charlie had been found alive near the south Alabama town of Brewton. A veterinary clinic tracked her down using a microchip that Dove had implanted in the dog when it was young.
"I was shocked, overwhelmed. I cried," Dove said in an interview Thursday. "It's amazing."
No one knows where the dog has been for the last decade, but Charlie has a gray muzzle now and a cancerous tumor in his chest. Charlie will undergo surgery at a veterinary clinic in Mobile as soon as next week, and Dove plans to bring him home as soon as possible afterward.
"It will be a lengthy road for him, but he'll be home," said Dove, who lives near Birmingham in Corner and works as a dental assistant.
Dove was living in Cullman with her then 8-year-old son when Charlie disappeared a decade ago. Charlie is a German Shorthaired Pointer, a breed favored by hunters, and Dove believes someone stole him from an enclosure outside the house.
"It's an expensive hunting dog. We just kept him as a pet," said Dove. "He was a spoiled rotten pet."
After Charlie disappeared, Dove kept updating her contact information in an online database used to match animal owners with pets that are implanted with microchips for identification, but she never thought she'd see the dog again.
Charlie's road back began when a neighbor told animal rescuer Renee Jones about a dog that was lying on the steps of a church near Brewton, about 250 miles from the dog's last known home. Volunteers took the dog to Spring Hill Animal Clinic in Mobile, where a worker found the microchip.
"We often get dogs with microchips, but often the information hasn't been updated and the phone numbers don't work," said Jones, director of Souls on Board Rescue Ride, a nonprofit organization. "When the number worked, it was pretty wild."
Dove didn't know what to think when the call came.
"I was shocked and at first I thought 'This has got to be a scam' because it's been 10 years," she said. "They sent me a picture and I talked with them, and it's my Charlie."
Donations from an online fundraiser will cover the cost of the dog's surgery, and Dove plans to be there when it's done.
"He's too weak and sick to make the trip home, so I am going to stay down there with him until he's well enough to come home," she said. "And then he'll be my dog again."