Being reunited with her Siberian husky in McHenry County after five years was a joy unlike few she's ever experienced, a Georgia woman said Saturday.
But Heather Jackson, of Chatsworth, Ga., said the real shocker wasn't the reunion itself, as moving and tear-filled as it was, but that it took so long. Her 6-year-old dog, Shakira, had been implanted with a microchip when she was just a few months old.
"A lot of people made assumptions that she didn't have a chip or that someone already checked. She was almost killed because of all the assumptions," Jackson said on Saturday afternoon, during her nearly 700-mile drive back home after having picked up Shakira from McHenry County Animal Control.
Shakira arrived at Free Spirit Siberian Husky Rescue in Harvard on Aug. 11 after being shipped from a shelter in Murray County, Ga., where she had been scheduled to be euthanized, according to the McHenry County Sheriff's Department. Free Spirit personnel learned that Shakira had a microchip and contacted HomeAgain, a pet ID service.
On Wednesday, Jackson received a telephone call from HomeAgain personnel, who told her that Shakira was in McHenry County.
"It was a shock. I started crying, I thought somebody was playing a joke on me," she said.
Jackson gathered the necessary paperwork to prove ownership of Shakira and contacted the sheriff's office on Friday. They verified the microchip information, and Shakira was turned over to McHenry County Animal Control.
Jackson and her brother, Matthew Asbury, left Friday and drove 13½ hours straight to McHenry County, arriving about 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Less than two hours later, Jackson and Shakira were reunited.
"She did recognize me, which was really surprising to me. I did not expect her to, because it's been five years," she said. "When she came around the corner, she ran straight to me and rolled over on her back and licked me on the face. It was pretty awesome. Of course everybody was crying. It was really emotional."
Shakira is about 15 pounds underweight but looks healthy otherwise, Jackson said.
"She's in good spirits. She has a really shiny coat, bright eyes. She's beautiful, absolutely beautiful," Jackson said.
Jackson said she got Shakira from a pet store when she was about 3½ months old and had her implanted with a microchip almost immediately. The dog lived on the rural farm Jackson shares with her husband until she disappeared about a year later in December 2007.
"We didn't know if she was stolen or if she got out somehow. I went to the animal shelter in my county, I went there every day for a month and a half. I printed out fliers for a reward, the whole deal," she said.
A neighbor who has since died even told her that Shakira had been shot after getting into someone's chicken coop, Jackson said.
"We were really upset about Shakira for many months. We thought she was dead," Jackson said.
Back home in Georgia, Shakira will be reunited with Jackson's 8-year-old Pekepoo and will meet two more canine additions to the family, a Shih Tzu and an Akita. But this time, Shakira will be kept under closer watch, Jackson said.
"Shakira will be an inside dog. She will be within sight of family," she said.
Jackson said she will talk to the Murray County shelter next week to figure out why they failed to contact her via Shakira's microchip.
"They dropped the ball big time. When she got to Illinois, they scanned her for the chip. But it was kind of a little late in the game," she said. "She was almost euthanized because of all the assumptions, because of Murray County's lack of doing anything."
A message left for Murray County Animal Control was not returned immediately.
Debra Quackenbush, spokeswoman for the McHenry County Department of Health, said it's standard procedure to check if an animal has a microchip.
"It's the first thing they do. If it is somebody's pet, you want to contact the owner to calm their fears and anxieties. I can't speak for that shelter, but I don't know why that dog wouldn't have been identified sooner," she said. "Certainly it's a puzzle."