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Six years apart: Lost dog in Charlotte is returned to its Florida owner

Bridet Sim
CMPD Animal Care and Control
Bridget Sims holds her shih tzu, MJ, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by her family members at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control shelter.

Giving up a pet is difficult decision. Sometimes an owner has to move somewhere not pet-friendly, or they lose a job, or they can no longer care for the animal.

Six years ago, Bridget Sims of Fort Lauderdale was trading her home for a small apartment after her kids went to college, and made the tough choice to give up her fluffy, white and gold shih tzu, MJ — short for Major.

"We didn't want to give him up, but you know, our lifestyles had changed," she said.

Sims gave the dog to a friend's sister who had recently lost a child.

Fast forward to last December: Sims' mother got a call from an animal control officer in Charlotte who said MJ had been picked up on the street and was sitting in the city's animal shelter.

"I was shocked. I mean like, totally shocked," she said.

The officer found the family's contact through the dog's microchip. But how did MJ end up hundreds of miles away in another state?

Sims called her friend’s mom, who said they had given the dog to another family in North Carolina, who said they had lost MJ sometime in 2021.

"I was super sad," Sims said. "I just immediately started crying, and so did my other kids. They were like, 'Mom, we have to go get him. We have to go get him.'"

So the family rented a minivan and squeezed in for the 10-hour drive from Florida.

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"It was me, my mother, and my oldest daughter, and my youngest daughter," Sims said.

All of them, plus her two grandchildren drove 750 miles to the Charlotte animal shelter where Sims was nervous the dog wouldn’t recognize her.

"When I did see him, it was just like, oh my god, it was just like, you know, seeing someone like an old friend that you hadn’t seen in years," she said.

As for MJ, "all he did was sniff me and keep going," Sims said.

Katie Caffray is the animal control officer in Charlotte who looked after MJ at the shelter. She says it’s not unheard of for an owner to retrieve a pet years after it went missing.

"Every once in a while, us officers will get ones that are like two or three years in between, or they have moved from one house to another, and the dog will turn back to the old address," Caffray said.

But an owner reuniting with a dog from six years ago is rare, she says, and it underscores the importance of microchipping.

"We would have never gotten in contact with Ms. Sims if this dog was not microchipped, and he could have possibly just been adopted out again to yet another family," she said.

Sims is glad to be back home now with little MJ, who is settling into her small one-bedroom.

"He’s laying down on his bed now, like he’s a king, like on his back. He’s actually under my feet right now," Sims said with a laugh.

She said it feels like they’ve picked up where they left off six years ago, and she’s thankful to the person who found MJ, took him to a vet, and turned him in to the shelter.

"I’m just forever grateful because they didn’t have to do that," she said.

He has some vet bills, and Sims said it feels like she’s caring for another grandbaby. While she can’t undo giving up MJ six years ago, she’s glad to have him back.

"I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m just like — I’m overwhelmed."

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal