DALLAS -- After nearly one and a half years and an almost 3,000-mile trip from Dallas to New York, Toby, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, is settling in at home with his family -- again.
Toby's long journey began Jan. 12. That was the day a new client of Dallas Animal Clinic brought the happy, mild-mannered dog into the office.
"She said (Toby) showed up on her porch like he belonged there and wouldn't leave," said Tammy Owens, the receptionist at the clinic.
The woman and her family had pretty much fallen in love with Toby, but she wanted to make sure another family wasn't looking for their lost pet. Vet technician Vera Cox scanned Toby for a microchip and found one.
A few phone calls later and Owens was in touch with Toby's owner, Mark Coleman -- in New York state.
Owens recalled Coleman's amazed reaction when she told him who she was and that someone had found Toby.
"He goes `What? He's been lost since 2010,'" Owens said.
She explained how Toby was found and offered to help send him to New York, if that was what the family wanted.
"It was pretty much instantaneously," Coleman said of his decision to fly Toby home. "I was kind of speechless. I didn't believe it."
Coleman had reported Toby missing in August 2010 after the family moved to New York, where Mark's wife, Pfc. Elizabeth Coleman, a U.S.
Army combat medic, had been stationed. The family had left Toby with Mark's mother in Dallas, but a few months later he disappeared and didn't come back. Eventually, she left Dallas and moved to New York, as well.
"I thought he was long gone," Coleman said. "We thought the worst. We thought he had died, gotten hit by a car. We didn't know what was going on."
Until Toby's reappearance last month.
Employees at the clinic spent a week caring for him and helping make arrangements for his reunion with his family.
"You've seen the stories about dogs and cats that have gone across the country and had been reunited," said Dallas Animal Clinic veterinarian Thomas Keck. "This is the first one we've had with this much travel. I'm proud of my staff."
Clinic employees were more than happy to help send Toby home. It seemed he won their affection instantly.
"He's a super happy, fun Lab," Cox said. "He would do anything for a treat."
"I would go in and see him every day," Owens added. "He was just a big love."
Veterinarian William Fullmer
examined Toby in preparation for his flight home. He said with the exception of needing a dental checkup and cleaning and a nail trimming, Toby seemed healthy and happy.
Owens said it appears someone had at least been feeding Toby during the time he was lost.
"He wasn't a dog who looked like he had been starving or malnourished," Fullmer said.
Fullmer updated Toby's vaccinations and gave him clearance to fly, much to the delight of the Coleman family eagerly awaiting his arrival at Fort Drum in New York.
A friend of the family picked up Toby on Jan. 19 to take him to Portland and put him on a flight. Coleman was able to see his long-lost dog again the next day.
"I was crazy pretty," Coleman said. "Tears were flowing. It sounds strange from a grown man, but I don't care. He knew exactly who I was. He was licking me and doing all the tricks I taught him as a puppy."
Equally excited to see their dog again were the Coleman's children, Ian and Kendra.
"I didn't get home until 11:30 p.m., but they were waiting up for me," Coleman said.
Owens said Coleman called the clinic once he picked up Toby at the airport in New York. She announced it over the clinic intercom to cheers.
Everyone involved in Toby's unlikely return to his family said the incident illustrates the importance of microchips.
"People may not think that getting their pets microchipped is important," Cox said. "They think, `My pet isn't going to run off.' But things do happen."
In Toby's case, the result was a very happy homecoming -- just a week before Elizabeth Coleman returned on leave from Afghanistan.
"I was absolutely amazed," she said last week of having Toby home again. "I was excited. I was happy. I really love that dog."