When Mike Stotts of Austin, Texas saw a California phone number on his caller ID Monday morning he let the call go to voice mail, assuming it was a solicitor.
Little did he know the call was one that would change his life. Against all odds, it brought his beloved dog, Romeo, back to life, or at least back in to Stotts’ life.
On the other end of the phone was a representative of a company that manufactures the tiny microchips implanted under the skin of animals so they can be found if lost. The representative was calling to tell Stotts, 60, that the chip he’d had implanted years ago in Romeo, a 15-year-old Nova Scotia Toller, had worked.
Romeo had gone missing in August while camping with Stotts in the mountains of Hyde Memorial State Park near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“The first night there it started raining a little bit, so I unzipped the tent to put up the rain flap, and apparently he snuck out and I didn’t notice,” Stotts told ABCNews.com today by phone from Santa Fe, where he’d returned to pick up Romeo. “As soon as I noticed I went out looking with a lantern because there’s a big coyote problem in the park and I knew time was of the essence.”
Stotts searched for Romeo for the next three days, hiking the mountains himself, making friends with the park’s rangers and fellow campers to enlist their help in his search, and even posting photos of Romeo on fliers he made at a Kinko’s in Santa Fe.
“By that last day I’d given up,” Stotts said. “Everyone said there was no way he could survive. I put a little cross memorial up on the mountain the last time I went up looking for him. I wanted to picture him that way instead of being eaten by coyotes.”
Stotts returned to Austin and resumed his life as best he could without his companion of 15 years by his side. He even visited a rescue shelter, thinking he would adopt a new dog. But none, he says, matched Romeo.
Then Stotts, the owner of an apartment locating company in Austin, got the call Monday. A man, later identified as Eli Madrid, found Romeo Sunday morning in a restricted watershed area of the mountain, nearly five miles from the nearest campground, and called the microchip company on Romeo’s tag.
“My first thought was that I better not get too excited because I thought they’d found his remains,” Stotts said.
Instead of planning a burial, Stotts hopped in his car with his girlfriend, Colleen Ford, and made the 12-hour drive to Santa Fe. They arrived on Tuesday afternoon and were reunited with Romeo.
“It was indescribable because it was like seeing a loved one resurrected,” Stotts said. “It was surreal, and all of a sudden it was back to normal, like he was never gone.”
Romeo, who is partially deaf, was a little worse for the wear — a tear on his ear, anemia and significant weight loss — but is expected to make a full recovery.
“The vet said it is an unbelievable story that defies logic,” Stotts said. “It’s a testament to the will to survive, whether a dog or a human. Here he is a little coddled house dog, but his instincts kicked in when necessary.”
Stotts also got to thank the man who made it happen. Eli Madrid and his wife, Jamie, both cared for Romeo before Stotts arrived. Stotts called Madrid a “good Samaritan.”
He also wants to make sure people use his story as a lesson on the importance of micro-chipping your pet, something that can be done for less than $50.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “This should be a testament to micro-chipping your dog.”