It could be the plot for a Disney movie.
A tiny chihuahua escapes her enclosed yard in Texas, leaving her collar dangling on the gate. A frantic owner searches for days, but finally has to accept that the most likely scenario happened — a coyote grabbed and gobbled Greta.
She mourns, is sad and life goes on.
Seven years later Greta’s owner gets a call from an animal shelter 1,100 miles away in Green River, Wyoming.
Greta’s been found!
As much as this scenario sounds like a movie script, this true-life happy ending played out last month, and Greta, now 13 years old, is living her best life.
Tamara Fisk adopted the chihuahua she named Greta in 2006 from a local animal shelter when she was living in Colleyville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
They lived there for the next six years or so until they moved to a small rural community in the Texas Panhandle.
“We called her ‘Houdini,’ because she frequently got out of whatever type of yard or fenced area that we let her out in to go to the bathroom,” said Fisk. “But she always came back.”
Except for one day in the fall of 2016. Greta got out and never came home.
To make matters worse, Greta’s collar had gotten hung up on the fence when she shimmied out of her yard, so even if someone found her there would be no way of identifying Greta and returning her to Fisk.
Fearing the worst, Fisk said they searched for their little pup, which would be no match for the coyotes and other predators that prowl the Texas plains.
“We looked for her for several days, and she never came home,” she said.
And that was the last time Fisk saw her canine companion... for seven years.
Meanwhile, In Wyoming …
On March 30, a trucker walked into the Green River Animal Shelter carrying an older female chihuahua he had found at the TA truck stop on Interstate 80 at Fort Bridger.
“A guy that drives trucks saw her running around the truck stop,” said Jade Winters with the shelter. “And he picked her up and brought her to the first shelter on his way, and that was us.”
But the chihuahua didn’t look like a stray that had been making its way across the country by itself for the last seven years. Green River Animal Control Officer Lydia Holmes said it was obvious someone had been caring for the pup.
“For a 13-year-old, she was in very good condition,” said Holmes. “She didn't have any medical issues that we were aware of, that we could see right off the bat.”
Because she was found at a truck stop on I-80, Holmes surmised that the dog had been on her own for at least a little while before she was found and brought to the shelter.
“She had what I call ‘garbage’ in her system, but she got over that very, very quickly,” said Holmes. “So I don't think she was really alone a long time.”
Holmes and Winter both praised Greta, saying she was a delight to have at the shelter.
“I didn't keep her in the kennels when I was working,” said Holmes, who was Greta’s ward from her arrival March 30 to her departure April 8. “She hung out with me in the office. She got to be like my little buddy while I was at work, because she was just so sweet.”
Identifying The Mystery Chihuahua
One of the first things Holmes and Winters did when the mystery chihuahua was brought into the shelter was to check her for microchips. Fortunately, she had one.
“We always check every animal for microchips,” said Holmes. “And she had one, but the microchip information wasn't current.”
Shelter staff got a phone number off of the microchip information, at least, but the data was outdated by 11 years, said Winters.
“So what I did was call the animal shelter that was in the town that the owner had previously lived in, and then I had them look up records,” she said. “They didn't have a record of her microchip number, but they did have an updated phone number for the owner's name that came up. Then they found me a new phone number and I was able to contact her that way.”
The Phone Call
When Fisk’s phone rang in early April identifying the caller as being from Wyoming, she initially didn’t answer.
“I sent it to voicemail,” she said. “I'm like, I don't know anybody in Wyoming, so I thought it was spam or something like that. And they immediately called me right back, so I thought, ‘Well, I need to answer that.’ And I spoke to this sweet little lady named Jade.”
Winters was calling with what seemed like a strange question.
“She asked me if I had ever had a dog that was like a chihuahua mix,” said Fisk. “And I was like, ‘Yeah …?’
“And so I told her the story, and I said her name was Greta. And she said, ‘Well, we have her here.’ And I thought that was quite crazy, that she was found that many years later because she has been missing for seven years.”
Fisk said she was shocked at the news, never thinking that Greta might be alive after all these years.
“I did not ever think that she had gotten picked up and taken,” she said. “That thought never even crossed my mind.”
Then Winters brought up their immediate concern: Did Fisk want Greta back?
“She had asked me if we wanted to get her back, or if we wanted to go ahead and let her be adopted up there,” said Fisk. “So I told her that I would love to have her back. But we live in Texas, which is a long way away from Wyoming, and I cannot get up there to pick her up.”
The Greta Railroad
Fisk, now a nurse in Euless, Texas, told Winters that she’s working two jobs and there was no way she could take off on short notice to get her long-lost pup.
“They were very, very sweet and offered to go ahead and drive her all the way down to Texas,” said Fisk.
That task would become Holmes’ mission. Holmes, who has been an animal control officer with the city of Green River for the last 11 years, had some contacts that she was able to activate with a single phone call.
“I've kind of slowly built up a rescue network, people from different rescue groups, individuals to help with transports,” Holmes told Cowboy State Daily. “So I contacted a lady, her name is Joan Nickum, and this is what she does. She coordinates transports.”
Nickum was able to line up 13 volunteers to each take a leg of the journey to get Greta from Green River to Euless.
“Each person would take part of a trip, so it'd be, like, from Green River to Laramie, Wyoming, and that'd be their part,” said Holmes. “And then they get handed off to another person who would do another section, and it took 13 sections to get the dog to its final place back in Texas.”
Holmes credited Nickum and the volunteer network for getting Greta home.
“It takes a village,” said Holmes. “There's no way we could have done it without everybody else kind of playing a role and stepping in.”
Truck Stop Connection
When Fisk got the call that her Greta had been found at a truck stop on I-80 in Wyoming, she started putting some pieces together.
“This little small town had a couple of gas stations right off the highway, and so frequently had some truck drivers come through,” said Fisk. “And so when we found out that she was in Wyoming, I was guessing that she probably was picked up by a truck driver who thought she was not anybody's pet and just took her.”
Without a collar, Greta certainly would have looked like a stray. And from Holmes’ experience, the idea that someone picked her up and kept her wouldn’t be out of the question.
“My theory is that she got loose in Texas. Texas has a lot of loose animals, a lot of loose dogs,” she said. “I think someone found her and just scooped her up and was like, ‘She needs a home. I'm gonna take her.’”
Living Her Best Life
When Greta and Fisk finally reunited, it was a wonderful moment.
But then came the reality check — life doesn’t always have Hollywood endings.
“I'm a nurse and I work long hours,” said Fisk. “I live in an apartment, so there's no yard for her or anything like that, and she had a hard time holding her bowel and bladder for as long as I needed her to. And I felt like she deserved better than that.”
After some soul searching, and several phone calls, Fisk said she talked to a couple that was looking for a companion just like Greta.
“We have some friends in a little community here, it’s called Hurst, and it's an older couple who are home and they offered to take her,” said Fisk. “And so she is with a lovely couple, and they have just taken to her, and so that's where she's at.
“She’s with a loving family, and now she's got a yard and she's, you know, not cooped up all day in a crate. So as much as I hated to give her up, it was just the best thing for her.”
Knowing that Greta is safe and happy is a joy, but Fisk said the whole experience has made her realize that she can pay forward some of the kindness that has been shown to her and Greta.
“It actually has inspired me to be a volunteer, to maybe drive somebody else's pets to get home,” said Fisk. “So I am going to try to see what I need to do to volunteer to do that so maybe I can help somebody else be happy.”
The Importance of Microchipping
Both Holmes and Winters stressed the importance of microchipping beloved pets. If it weren’t for that crucial step, Greta would never have been identified.
“Not only does it establish ownership, if you ever get into a dispute with somebody that way,” said Winters, “but if your dog gets lost and gets hurt, veterinarians scan for it, we scan for it, if you're ever traveling every shelter is supposed to scan for those microchips.”
And Holmes pointed out that this isn't the first time they’ve been able to solve canine mysteries because of the technology.
“We found a dog that was stolen out of, I think it was Oregon,” said Holmes. “We've had a couple of pretty interesting reunifications because of microchips. I can't stress enough how important it is.”