For Chuck and Elicia James, a dog made all the difference in their household. Reckless, the family pit bull, knew when the parents of three could use encouraging licks, and he could make the whole crew laugh until their bellies hurt. He made their house a home.
Which made their mistake all the more painful: While preparing for a storm set to blast their city, the James’ left one detail unaccounted for that cost them their beloved canine. They didn’t realize the hurricane would push them into the most atypical adoption journey.
Superstorm Sandy, which hit the U.S. East Coast in 2012, will go down in history as one of the costliest, most destructive hurricanes in American history. It imposed nearly $70 billion in damage and forever changed some families.
Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media
Affecting 24 states and, along with a post-tropical cyclone, causing at least 147 deaths in the Northeast United States, Canada and the Caribbean, as stated by the National Hurricane Center, Superstorm Sandy was a monster. The James family experienced that firsthand.
Though Chuck, Elicia, and their three children — Alexandra, Kelsey, and Liam — were lucky to have their health, Sandy took something from them. The storm had destroyed the fencing of their Keansburg, New Jersey, home, which was keeping their dog from getting out.
Dawnmarie Wilson Mcallister / Facebook
With the fence torn down, Reckless, the couple’s brown and white terrier-pitbull mix, ran away. “We had a collar on the dog, but it got caught on the fence and came off,” said Chuck. They searched hard for Reckless, but they couldn’t spend eternity searching for him.
When Alexandra’s 10th birthday rolled around, over a year after Reckless escaped, the couple thought it’d be the perfect time to finally adopt another pooch. Knowing they could never replace their friend, they visited to the Monmouth County SPCA.
Lindsay Sanator / Monmouth County SPCA
At the shelter, an employee first introduced the James family to an adorably scrappy dog named Lucas. This doggo had brown-and-white short fur and appeared to be some sort of mutt. He had an incredible backstory.
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“After Sandy, we had so many animals being turned in,” Jerry Rosenthal, the president and CEO of the animal shelter, explained to CNN. Many of these poor things had their homes destroyed, and wound up losing their way.
ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital
Jerry relayed that three-year-old Lucas was brought to the shelter in November 2013, after an employee witnessed him aimlessly roaming the streets of New Jersey. He was in terrible shape.
Best Friends Animal Society
Due to Lucas’ condition upon entering the shelter, experts assumed the dog had spent a period living with another family (or at least being fed) before escaping once again. Enamored by the dog’s story, the family got to know him a little better.
After initially observing Lucas pant, jump, and simply walk around the shelter, the James family noticed that the short and stout pit bull mix had an eerie resemblance to their beloved Reckless. It was heartwarming to be reminded of an old friend.
But then Lucas reacted. “He jumped 3 feet in the air. He immediately recognized us. And then the tears came — there wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Chuck stated. Was it a miracle?
Chuck James / Facebook
If they were truly in the presence of their missing Reckless, how would they know for sure? “He was a little heavier and it had been a while, but then my wife saw the scar on his head and immediately we start tearing up. We found our dog,” Chuck said.
ChocolateMadison / Pit Bull Chat Forum
By May 2014, the James family’s home was still in ruins, leading them to pack up whatever belongings survived the storm and move into a hotel. But they didn’t mind; Reckless was back at their sides. One family member in particular was the most enthusiastic.
Chuck James / Facebook
Alexandra was ecstatic when she was reunited with Reckless, as the two had a close bond. While on a family camping trip, Chuck told CNN that the duo have been inseparable since the unforeseen reunion.”The kids are happy and this whole thing has been an amazing experience,” said Elicia.
Mark R. Sullivan / Asbury Park (N.J.) Press
“The only thing I can say now is I am finally on a vacation with all the members of our family again,” Chuck warmly said. We really could shed a tear at this wholesome happy ending.
Chuck James / Facebook
In Jerry’s eyes, the James family’s story, which obviously had a happy ending, only further highlighted the importance of getting your pet microchipped. Things would’ve played out much differently if Reckless had been microchipped to begin with.
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“If Reckless had been microchipped, we could have reunited him with his family much sooner,” he said. The process entails implanting a rice-sized chip in your pet’s skin in order to electronically identify him or her.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
“We love happy endings. I always tell people our goal is to prevent animals from coming into the shelter except when we can get them back to their original owners,” Jerry continued. It’s a joyful day for everyone when lost fur babies can see their loved ones’ smiling faces again.
If Reckless were microchipped, he could’ve been reunited with the James family in November 2013, more than six months prior to when they were actually reunited. Perhaps fate truly played a part in this story.
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Call it fate or, maybe, an animal’s intuition. Once they were re-united with their beloved dog, the James’ were shocked to learn how many families had similar experiences.
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It really is a wonder how some animals just always find their ways home. Jo and Ade, from Stubbington, Hampshire, got Charlie when he was just seven weeks old. He was the sweetest little black and white kitten, and the couple was happy to welcome him to his forever home.
Best Friends Animal Society
Charlie lived a happy life with his new parents in the English suburban village of Stubbington, which he loved adventuring through. They trusted Charlie enough to let him walk around the south coast of England, confident he’d always make it home safely.
This went on for nine years. So imagine the Haighs’ shock when, one day in 2006, Charlie never came back home to his family. They did their best to avoid panicking, as that wouldn’t solve anything; instead, they made it their mission to find their fur baby.
天然ガス / Wikimedia Commons
The anguished couple put up “Lost Cat” posters around the neighborhood and desperately contacted local veterinarian offices and animal shelters in hopes that someone brought Charlie in. Alas, this was all to no avail.
@kodibramble / Reddit
Sadly, life had to go on; Jo and Ade couldn’t grieve forever. The couple wound up packing up and moving to a neighborhood over two miles from the house that they once owned raised Charlie in.
The couple hadn’t visited their previous charming village in quite a while, but Jo took a visit to the town they once called home when her mother was looking to purchase a property in that region in 2012. Anything for mum!
Tony Cenicola / The New York Times
“My mum, sister and I were looking at a place close to the house Ade and I lived in when Charlie went missing.” said Jo. Being back in their old stomping grounds brought back memories of Charlie.
“If it wasn’t for the bungalow my mum, sister and I were looking at, we wouldn’t have been around there,” she continued. Perhaps there was more than one reason Jo was brought back to the area.
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It originally seemed like just and uneventful trip back to her old neighborhood, when suddenly, Jo spotted an oddly familiar-looking black-and-white cat outside a house. It looked like a replica of Charlie.
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“When we saw this cat on a wall outside a house I was immediately 99.9 per cent sure it was Charlie,” Jo recalled. But since she hadn’t seen her precious fur ball in about six years, it would be a miracle if it were really him.
Sage & Simple
“He was a lot skinnier but came straight over to me and responded to his name,” Jo explained. But of course, the cat could’ve just been responding to sound. She needed to know for sure.
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Jo had a strong gut feeling that this random cat in her former neighborhood was in fact her missing pet, so she did what any crazy cat lady would do: she took him.
Jo immediately booked it to the animal shelter she worked at as a receptionist to check the wandering mystery cat for a microchip, as her and her engineer husband had one implanted in Charlie. The microchip test would reveal the truth.
Unbelievably, the microchip test revealed that this enigma of a cat truly was Charlie, who was 16 years old as of 2012. “I’m over the moon to have him back. We shed a few tears when the microchip test worked,” Jo gushed. It was fate.
Jo went and spoke to the man who lived in the house she found Charlie in front of, him telling her that he’d been feeding Charlie for nearly two and a half years! If only Charlie could talk to tell the tales of his six-year journey.
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“Charlie had always been quite a friendly cat. When we lived in Stubbington he would often go down to the nearby stables where they would feed him. So it’s no surprise he found someone to look after him in the intervening years,” Jo explained.
Better Cities for Pets
Jo and Ade were beyond grateful to have their four-legged friend back in their home. But things were much different in the Haigh household since Charlie had last lived with them, as the family now had two other cats, two dogs, and beautiful twin babies, Drew and Daniella.
Though he was always a mischievous, fun-loving outdoor kitty, Jo and Ade were understandably wary of the idea of letting him outside again. Regarding the idea, Jo then stated “we will eventually, but I don’t know when I’ll be brave enough.”
“He’s got the meow of an older cat now and you can tell he’s grown up into an older boy. He’s settling back in and doesn’t seem too fazed by the children,” Jo relayed of Charlie’s progress. The Haighs had always wondered what happened to Charlie after he disappeared, but that no longer mattered; Charlie was finally home.
The Six Cats Parade / YouTube
Though the story of Jo and Ade’s runaway cat is miraculous, cats are survivors, and this kind of thing happens more than you’d think. Though not all pet owners get microchips implanted in their cats, there are other ways of confirming that a lost cat is your lost cat.
Photo: Jaimy Jones / HCN Staff
Jon Gulla was craving both responsibility and love one day in 2012, so he followed in the footsteps of so many young adults before him and went searching for the perfect pet.
Jon Gulla / Facebook
When he saw two cats — Julie and her brother, Jack — Jon knew he’d found the perfect pair. He brought the two home and let ’em run hog wild around his place. The kittens cuddled together. They played together. They were a delight.
This made it particularly painful when, shortly after the adoption, Jon had to leave Julie and Jack with his mother. He was off to college and wasn’t into the idea of hiding cats in his dorm room.
Jon’s mother, Lorinda, welcomed the kittens into her abode because, c’mon, who wouldn’t? Julie had a little white spot on her fur that made her just so darn cute. But her joy in living with the two kittens was unexpectedly cut short.
Being that she was a cat and prone to bizarre fits of panic, Julie took off running one day. Just scooted out the door and headed down the street. “I couldn’t find her,” Lorinda recalled. “I was just beside myself.”
Devastated by the breakup of his dynamic kitten duo, Jon teamed up with his mom to find the missing feline. They wandered the neighborhood, hanging up posters, jingling bags of cat treats, and calling Julie!
Frantic searches for the cat halted, however, when doctors diagnosed Jon with lymphoma. With a fight for his life now ahead of him, he could no longer focus on the cat he so dearly loved.
The Good Doctor
Six years passed. Jon beat cancer, married his long-time girlfriend, found a new job, and set-up shop in Indianapolis, 25 miles away from his old home in Carmel. Things were looking up. But he never stopped thinking about Julie.
Xu Chen Yang / Facebook
Perhaps it was for that reason his mother was browsing PawBoost Lost & Found Pets, a page on Facebook dedicated to reuniting pet owners with, well, their lost pets. A certain post on it piqued her interest.
A woman named Christine McKeon wrote that she’d recently seen a cat under a shed in her backyard. The cat, she noted, was skittish, and just a little bit mean. It didn’t sound anything like Julie.
Most concerning of all was that the post didn’t mention the white spot on Julie’s belly, which would’ve been a good detail to include, Lorinda thought, were someone trying to find this cat’s owner.
Still, even after six years, she, like Jon, was drawn to the idea that Julie was definitely still out there, looking for them. She knew they’d be kicking themselves for the rest of their lives if they didn’t follow up with Christine.
So Jon made the drive, white-knuckle clenching the steering wheel in anticipation. In less than half-an-hour, he arrived at Christine’s house and stood before the shed a mean, stray, black cat called home.
Marketplace Homes / Flickr
With every ounce of love he could muster, just as he and his mother had done six years before in the streets of suburbia, Jon called Julie’s name. And nothing happened.
Jon Gulla / Facebook
But understanding that cats are cats and don’t really come when you call them, Jon gave it another go. Julieeeee, he called. Julieeee. Then, two glowing eyes peaked out at Jon from the darkness beneath the shed.
Jon in her sights, the cat once called mean and skittish emerged. “She came out running from under the shed,” Christine recalled, “like ‘Oh hey, I know this guy.” Soon, she was face-to-face with Jon.
And then she started purring like a lawnmower engine! She rubbed against Jon’s legs, and, after he bent down to pick her up, she crawled right up on to his shoulders! Still, Jon needed to be convinced this was his Julie.
“I turned her around…and I said ‘does she have a white spot?'” Jon explained. The folks gathered around confirmed: “She has a white spot on her stomach!” Jon couldn’t believe it. After six years, he finally found his cat!
In that moment of reunion, Jon pet Julie and noticed her fur was surprisingly well-kept. To him, it meant that she only recently moved in under the shed. Someone had been taking care of her over the years.
Delighted to have his cat back, Jon looked forward to another reunion — Julie and Jack’s. Would the siblings even remember the short time they spent together? Would they get along?
All of Jon’s anxieties melted away, however, when he put Julie down beside Jack for the first time. The two went right back to their old tricks, running around and playing together. Jon was overwhelmed.
“It’s almost like seeing a ghost or something,” he said of seeing Julie in his home. Still, this was one ghost Jon was happy to have haunt his house!
Jon couldn’t help but be thankful to whoever cared for Julie over those six years. There wasn’t a chance in the world she would’ve made it on her own over that time. Oddly, though, some animals do prove surprisingly self-sufficient on their own.
In November of 2018, for instance, when one of the most destructive wildfires in California history ripped through the Golden State, people were forced to make tough choices. Animals were, too.
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For Andrea Gaylord, the decision to abandon the home that had been in her family for ten generations was one of the hardest she’d ever made. But even as she watched as the century-old home went up in flames, something else made her heart ache more.
As the Camp Fire made its way through Paradise, Andrea’s guard dogs, Madison and Miguel, had taken off and vanished without a trace. Though she and her husband had searched tirelessly for their beloved pets, the encroaching blaze forced the couple to flee, leaving the fate of the dogs unknown.
Andrea and her husband fled to a nearby shelter, where, alongside hundreds of other evacuees, they waited for the fire to be extinguished. All the while, thoughts of Madison and Miguel never left her mind.
Finally, after 17 days of non-stop firefighting, the raging Camp Fire blaze was contained. Like her fellow Paradise residents, Andrea was eager to return home, hoping somehow her dogs had survived. But when she and her husband attempted to leave the shelter, they were told that Paradise was still too unsafe to return to.
That’s when she contacted Shayla Sullivan of K9 Paw Print Rescue, who had actively been rescuing lost pets from areas affected by the Camp Fire. After learning of the situation, Shayla vowed to do whatever she could to reunite Andrea with Madison and Miguel.
Shayla Sullivan / Facebook
However, as soon as Shayla began her search, she received word of a dog matching Madison’s and Miguel’s descriptions wandering through the small city of Citrus Heights near Sacramento. The city was 85 miles south of Paradise.
Shayla drove down there, and when she arrived, she was stunned to find the dog described to her was, in fact, Miguel! Unbelievably, the dog had traveled from Andrea’s home in Paradise and had been picked up by another local rescue organization.
Andrea was overjoyed when she heard the news about Miguel, but Shayla wasn’t satisfied with finding just one of the two pooches. And so, loading up her car once more, Shayla headed for Paradise.
The roads were barely navigable as Shayla made her way through the once-vibrant town, a graveyard of charred homes and vehicles peering out at her from beneath the ashes of burnt treetops. Forget dogs for a second: with so much destruction, was it possible anything could’ve survived out here?
Upon reaching Andrea’s burned-down property, however, Shayla got her answer. As she surveyed the scorched earth, Shayla noticed movement in the pile of rubble that was once the hundred-year-old home. She approached, her heart beating wildly…
It was Madison! Apparently, the faithful guard dog had returned after the fire had been extinguished and was now sitting watch of his former home! But even with the dog alive and well, there was still one challenge that Shayla would have to face.
Being that Madison was no lover of strangers, the wary dog immediately took off when Shayla approached him (some guard dog!). Shayla knew, if she wasn’t able to catch Madison, the dog would surely perish from a lack of food and water. Shayla needed a plan.
So after leaving some fresh water and a bowl of food out for Madison, Shayla returned to Andrea to share the good news and relay her difficulty in catching him. The pair was stumped over the predicament but devised the perfect method for luring the protective pup back home.
Using an article of Andrea’s clothing, Shayla used the smell to calm Madison and draw her back to the property. And when the guard dog returned, he found his owners and brother waiting there for him!
The tearful reunion was marked by excited licks and yelps from Madison, who was then fed a hefty bag of his favorite treat — Wheat Thins. Even in the face of catastrophe, Madison stayed loyal to his family and protected the home at all costs.
In all the destruction, this loyalty was not lost on Andrea. “You are the best dog,” she told Madison through joyful tears. “The best.”