ATLANTA -- Brandon Patterson was serving in Iraq, when he got the heartbreaking call. It appeared his dog Alfaba had found a gap in the sitter's fence and wandered away.
Helpless to do anything from so far away, Patterson asked his friends to post flyers and ads on Facebook, but Alfaba had disappeared.
"It's been very difficult just for closure. Just not knowing where she was at, if she was still alive?" said Patterson.
Patterson says he never stopped looking for Alfaba, keeping an eye out every time he saw another dog, and he certainly couldn't bring himself to adopt another.
"I think that I wanted to wait until I kind of have a peace about this and I never really did," he said.
Now he knows why. Cobb County Animal Control says Alfaba was one of nearly 40 dogs pulled from the house of an elderly woman, who also had dozens of cats and birds, all stuffed in cages inside her tiny house.
"Her back is black fur, but it was just dense with dirt and grime. You could tell she hadn't been brushed in a very very long time," said Judy Price, a volunteer with Atlanta Pet Rescue & Adoption.
Price was one of the first rescue volunteers called to the house to help. The shelter couldn't take them all, but wanted to find as many good homes as possible.
"The wire cages (were) stacked double high, very dimly lit. The shades were pulled down so no one could see in. Cats (were) perched on any surface imaginable. The smell of old urine was almost caustic," Price said, describing the conditions inside the house.
Price took three of the dogs and called Erika Dillingham for help in finding the right place for Alfaba, since she had experience with his breed, a Welsh Terrier.
Dillingham volunteers with Society of Humane Friends of Georgia and American Fox Terrier Rescue.
Dillingham says she could feel Alfaba's microchip in her shoulder, even though a vet checking the dog out, said she didn't have one.
The next day she went to another vet to have it checked out. Unfortunately, the information didn't lead her directly to Patterson so she tried to track down the chip's maker and where it was purchased.
"It took a lot of internet searching and a lot of phone calling," she said. Even when she did get a number for Patterson, it was disconnected.
Finally, the company where the chip had been purchased called back with another number. It was just the number she needed to reunite Patterson with Alfaba. It came just in time, because plans were already in the works to send Alfaba to a home in Montana.
"She started bouncing in the air and her tail was going a million miles a minute," said Dillingham.
Patterson says Alfaba is already up to her old tricks.
"Whenever I got out of the shower she would always lick my legs. She continues to do that," he said with a smile.
Dillingham says the story is a great reminder to all pet owners to update the information associated with their pet's microchip. She also encourages pet owners to register their animals with several services, and use several numbers for good samaritans trying to reach you!