Missing for Two Years After Hurricane, Dog Reunites With Cheyenne Family 1,200 Miles Away

When Bolt went missing in Galveston, Texas, just before Hurricane Laura hit in 2020, his family never expected to see him again. Two years and 1,200 miles later, they've been reunited.

Wendy Corr

December 04, 20228 min read

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When Alexis Leuning and her then-boyfriend Bobby visited an animal shelter in South Carolina in 2019, they brought home an energetic pit bull puppy they named Bolt.

A year and 1,000 miles later, Alexis, her two children, Bobby and Bolt had moved to Galveston, Texas. The family was preparing to protect their property from Hurricane Laura, which was about to make landfall, when Bolt slipped out of the yard.

Despite hours of searching, they never found their beloved pup.

In the aftermath of the hurricane and with her husband ill, Alexis made the difficult decision to leave Texas – and Bolt’s uncertain fate – to move back to her hometown of Cheyenne.

But in a happy twist of fate, just last month the family was reunited with their four-legged buddy thanks to dedicated shelter employees – and a tiny microchip.

Bolt is reunited with his family in Cheyenne after being separated from them two years ago in Texas. (Photos Courtesy Fort Worth Animal Care and Control)

‘We Searched Everywhere’

Leuning said when she and Bobby picked the pit bull puppy up from the shelter in South Carolina, the couple immediately bonded with the little white dog. Leuning’s two children, who were 5 and 7 at the time, also loved the new addition.

So when Bolt, well, bolted, the family did everything it could to find him, calling local shelters and searching everywhere they knew to look for their family pet.

“We searched high, low, here, there, everywhere,” said Leuning. 

But the search was in vain. And just two months later, they had to make another move, this time back to Cheyenne 1,000 away from Bolt’s uncertain fate.

“I never gave up hope,” she said. “I always hoped that I would find him, but we never did.”

Shelter From the Storm

Meanwhile, unknown to the Leuning family, Bolt was alive and well and living with an elderly woman who rescued him from the storm.

Meghan Bittel, foster coordinator for Fort Worth Animal Care and Control, said she doesn’t believe the woman had malicious intent when she took the stray in rather than call a shelter.

“Everybody has a bad impression of animal welfare, animal control shelters,” said Bittel. “So, you have this really sweet, amazing, great personality, scared dog show up on your front porch, they just didn’t want to take him to the shelter – and they probably had no clue about microchipping.”

Fort Worth Animal Care And Control

This October, a young pit bull named Poppy was surrendered to Fort Worth Animal Care and Control. The woman who dropped him off explained that her mother had gone into hospice and could no longer care for the dog.

Bittel and the staff at the shelter followed protocol, which dictates a full body scan for microchips for every animal arriving there.

And Poppy had a chip.

“But when they scanned him and they called to verify the ownership on the microchip, it wasn’t the right person,” Bittel said. “It didn’t match.”

A call was then placed to the emergency contact number associated with the chip – Alexis Leuning.

“We reached out to her and told her, ‘Hey, so we have this dog come in that has your microchip,’” said Bittel. “And she’s like, ‘Who would that be?’ And so we explained the dog to her. And she said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Bolt.’”

Out Of The Blue

The timing of the phone call, Leuning said, was almost spooky. When the couple moved to Wyoming, Alexis and Bobby, now married, were facing a crisis. Bobby’s liver failure was advancing, and in October 2021 he died.

Almost a year to the day after his funeral, receiving a phone call saying Bobby’s dog had been found was quite a shock, Leuning said.

“It was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe he’s alive,’” she said. “I had to catch my breath for a second, because that day changed everything for me.”

Telling the kids was another other level of joy.

“So, I come home, and I sit my kids down and I said, ‘Mom got a really interesting phone call today,’” she said. “And they asked me like, ‘OK, well, what was it, mom?’ And I said, ‘Well, do you remember Bolt? How would you feel if he came home?’”

As the children stared at her in bewilderment, Leuning told them about the phone call from Fort Worth Animal Care and Control.

“Both of the kids just started crying in excitement,” she said. “My daughter loved that dog, and she instantly started crying.”

Arriving In Style

There was just one big problem – Bolt was in Texas, and the Leunings were in Cheyenne.

Bittel said when they realized that transporting Bolt to his family would be an issue, the Texas shelter turned to its network of volunteers.

“The superintendent at our shelter, Barry Alexander, quickly got on the phone, started calling different rescues and different points of contact,” she said. “People that we could get to potentially pay for the trip out there, or donate the money for it.”

They soon made contact with Flying Shepherd Ranch Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in Colorado. 

“They said they were actually picking up dogs (from Dallas) on Nov. 10, and so were already going to be in the area,” Bittel said, adding that there would be no problem to include Bolt in the flight to Denver.

Leuning said that it would be worth the two-hour drive to Denver to get Bolt back.

“But they said, ‘Well, we don’t mind, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump for us to fly into Cheyenne Regional Airport,” said Leuning. 

On a sunny day in November, Leuning and her two children went to meet Bolt at the airport.

“Of course, it was instant tears as soon as we saw him come off the plane,” said Leuning. “All three of us were crying. I mean, we were just so happy and excited to see him.”

Bittel said the entire experience has shown the value of microchipping pets.

“Microchipping is so monumental when it comes to animal welfare,” she said. “Stories like this, it really gets it out there how important and how lifesaving (the technology) is.”

Like No Time Had Passed

Leuning said re-integrating with the family that Bolt had been separated from for the last two years was nearly seamless.

“Once we got home and he kind of realized, ‘OK, I’m home, this is mom, these are my kids,’ you would have thought no time had passed,” she said. “I mean, the minute he got into the house, I sat down on the couch, and he’s right there next to me just like when he was a puppy.” 

Leuning’s daughter is especially glad to have Bolt home.

“Every time the dog is in her room, she dresses him up, it’s the cutest thing,” said Leuning. “I have a picture of him in his vest, and he has my son’s pit viper (sunglasses) on, and he’s just sitting there doing the biggest pit bull smile you could ever see.”

Bolt’s big personality – which was evident even to the shelter staff – has brought an inordinate amount of joy to the family at a time when joy has been hard to find. And Leuning thinks her husband might have had a hand in the reunion.

“It’s been a rough couple of years,” said Leuning. “And the call came almost a year to the day (after Bobby’s funeral), you know? And it was like, he kind of knew we needed something.”

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Wendy Corr

Features Reporter