After they vanished last September, Robert Browning was certain he’d never see his two buddies again. But a totally unexpected and joyous reunion on Friday changed that.
Browning and his son, Allen, drove from Toledo to the Fulton County Dog Pound to claim Zak and Timber, two 3 1/2 year old Shih Tzus they raised from pups. Having been away for five months, it took the dogs a moment to recognize their owners. But when they did, all tails broke loose as they scampered excitedly for hugs and petting.
“These guys are brothers. You don’t find one without the other, (but) it surprised me they’re still together after all this time,” Browning said as he showered them with attention.
It had been a hard road for Browning and his family since their little charges disappeared. With plans to relocate from Holland, Ohio, the Brownings moved in with his sister in Riga, Mich., while deciding on a new home. The dogs romped and played in a the sister’s fenced-in yard.
Before returning home from work one day last September, Browning was informed the dogs were missing. He’d had issues with them running off before, so he spent time in his car, searching. And searching. He thought they might have been hit by a car, but he couldn’t stop looking.
After several months, however, “obviously, that was fruitless, so after awhile I kind of gave up. I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said. “I just kind of moved on with my life – licked my wounds and moved on.”
Browning moved to Toledo, expecting to never see Zak and Timber again. So he was intrigued when he received a phone text last week about dogs. He called the number immediately and found himself speaking with Fulton County Dog Warden Brian Banister.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I think I‘ve got your dogs,’” Browning said.
It was an odd recovery that began last Wednesday at the Fulton County Humane Society on County Road J. Two local people approached Executive Director Steve Wanner and his wife, Tracey, with a pair of Shih Tzus and asked about surrendering them to the facility. They had gotten the dogs from a third party and couldn’t care for them.
“We tried to ask several questions about age, breed, how long they had them, who the original owners were, and we never got answers,” Wanner said. “We were very suspicious. The story was just not making sense.”
After accepting the dogs and discussing the situation, the Wanners contacted Banister the next day and asked him to bring along his dog chip reader. He immediately found chips that had been implanted by the Lucas County dog warden, and retrieved an address and phone number. But because Browning had moved neither was current.
So Banister and his deputies Courtney Iwinski and Jon Rufenacht dug deeper for information, using social media as a resource.
“Three hours later, he called and said they found the owner,” Wanner said. “This is one of the reasons why I’m with the Humane Society. I know what (Browning was) going through, because you never expect to see the dog again, especially when they’re close to purebred and they’re very friendly. It’s unfortunate, but some people got to have it when they see it.”
Banister credited the Wanners for having a sixth sense about the circumstances. “Something told them something is amiss here,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re (Browning’s) dogs.”
He said he gets one or two similar cases each year, and plans to thoroughly investigate how and why Zak and Timber disappeared.
“This is still an ongoing investigation,” Banister said. “We need to get the facts first and figure out exactly what actually happened prior to the dogs being presented at the Humane Society. We’re going to find out what the real story is.”
He said the dog pound’s close working relationship with the Humane Society “helps out the people of Fulton County tremendously, just doubles our eyes and ears out there. Because of their due diligence…we reunited these dogs with their owners.“
He advised people who come upon stray dogs either wearing or not wearing a tag to contact the dog pound immediately.
“This is ground zero. This is where (reuniting dogs with owners) starts,” Banister said.
Browning said he’s simply thrilled with the reunion, and won’t let the dogs disappear again. “They ain’t leaving my sight. They’re now inside dogs,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.