NAVARRE, Fla. (AP) — John and Nancy Robertson had just settled into their chairs along the white sands of Navarre beach when they received a frantic phone call from their new dog-sitter.
Teddy, the Massachusetts couple’s small 3-year-old black and white Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had escaped from the sitter after being dropped off a few hours earlier and was nowhere to be found.
“As soon as that phone rang, our vacation was over,” John Robertson said. “He’d somehow gotten out and she couldn’t get him to come back.”
The couple raced over to the sitter’s house, a young couple who was recommended to them through the dog sitting company DogVacay, and immediately began searching around the house and the nearby wooded areas. The group searched for more than eight hours, calling to Teddy, holding food and treats, and knocking on neighborhood doors, but never caught a glimpse of him.
To this day, John said he has no idea why Teddy didn’t come to them.
The sitter and the pet sitting company, along with other concerned citizens and neighbors, posted lost and found ads on Facebook community pet pages, and began making fliers for the lost dog.
After flooding the neighborhoods with fliers and posters, the Robertsons received dozens of calls from residents, saying they saw Teddy in their yard, or on a nearby street.
With each call, the couple would drive to the location of the last Teddy sighting, to find nothing.
John and Nancy both explained Teddy was like a child to them, as they’d both had children in previous marriages, but none together — with the exception of Teddy. They sacrificed their remaining vacation and focused only on finding their small furry family member.
After a week of following false leads and extensive searching, the couple had no choice but to return home to their jobs in Cape Cod.
“When we got in the car to go home, we were both just sobbing,” John said. “It was just such a sad thing to experience. There was no closure. It wasn’t like he’d been hit by a car or found dead. We just had no clue where he was or what happened to him.”
Even after the Robertsons left, dozens of Navarre residents continued the search for Teddy on their own for months.
Saundra Ingram of Navarre checked the lost and found pet Facebook pages daily, even hourly, in hopes of catching a lead on Teddy. The entire community of Navarre was constantly watching for any signs of him, searching the roadways as they drove to and from work or errands, Ingram said.
During the week of July 4, she saw a picture of a small black and white dog posted to the lost pets group online by Navarre resident, Rebecca Walkup.
Walkup used her live game cameras to capture an image of the dog, and after Nancy was notified, she was able to confirm the picture was of Teddy. Ingram and friend Kaitlin Williams were notified that the dog was identified as Teddy.
“I mean, everyone in Navarre had been looking for him. He was a very recognizable dog and almost a celebrity at this point,” Ingram said.
Once Nancy knew Teddy was still alive and was in Navarre somewhere, she caught a flight into Pensacola in hopes of finally being reunited with her beloved pet.
On a recent Saturday, Ingram, Walkup, and Williams and Robertson devised a plan in hopes of catching Teddy in Walkup’s yard, but were unsuccessful. The next day, John hopped in the car and drove straight to Navarre in hopes of bringing Nancy and Teddy home.
The day after that, a picture of the same dog came through on the Facebook pets page, only this time he wasn’t running through a backyard, but was lying motionless in a resident’s front yard close to Walkup’s home.
“I immediately jumped in my car and drove in the direction of the home where the picture was posted,” Ingram said. “I knew it was Teddy when I got out of the car and I picked him up and he just went limp in my arms and I was terrified he was just giving up.”
Ingram and Walkup were able to get Teddy into a pet carrier and then Williams drove Teddy to the Soundside Animal Hospital in Navarre, where Nancy was anxiously waiting to meet them.
He was immediately treated for tick paralysis, extreme dehydration and worms.
“We’d really given up hope of ever seeing him again, thinking he was either dead, or he’d been taken home by some other family,” John said. “And the miraculous thing is that he collapsed from the tick paralysis in someone’s yard. If it had been in the woods, we’d probably never have seen him again.”
Teddy was lethargic, and had dropped 15 of the 25 pounds he’d weighed the last time the Robertsons saw him, but he was happy to be back with his family.
After receiving treatment from the vet, Nancy took Teddy back to the hotel with her to wait for John’s arrival. John opened the hotel door and Teddy walked shakily over to John and dropped a small toy at his feet before John scooped him up into a hug.
“I knew I would cry. It was just so good to have him back in my arms again,” John said.
After more than four months of searching, crying, and rallying together with dozens of Navarre citizens, the Robertsons returned home with Teddy in tow.
“We’re so thrilled to have him home,” Nancy said. “Every time we look at him it’s hard to believe we’re not dreaming.”