By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer
A Georgia man who drove to Kokomo Saturday for what was meant to be joyful reunion with his long-lost golden retriever ended up clearly disappointed after realizing the canine wasn’t his dog who ran away last year after a traffic accident near Plymouth.
Dave Vitali lost his dog “Max” in November when he was driving from Georgia to Grand Rapids, Mich., after he lost control of his pickup and rolled along U.S. 31 in Marshall County.
Vitali was hanging upside down, bleeding profusely, and the golden retriever was laying beside him. But the wailing sirens of the approaching ambulance spooked the dog, and he ran off into the countryside.
Vitali contacted media outlets and the Marshall County Humane Society to get help finding Max, but all his attempts failed.
But hope returned last Monday when he received a text message from a 37-year-old Galveston woman saying she believed she’d found his dog.
Ann Miller said she adopted a golden retriever from the Cass County Humane Society last Sunday after animal control officers picked up the dog Feb. 5 at a gas station in Galveston. She named him “Roscoe.”
A friend posted the canine’s photo on Facebook the next day, and within eight minutes, Miller said someone responded by saying it looked like the dog Vitali lost in November.
After tracking down his phone number, Miller texted Vitali that evening, and the two exchanged messages for over three hours trying to determine if the golden retriever was really Max.
Did the dog have a bushy tail like a squirrel? Yes. Did he walk with a limp? Yes. Did he howl like a coyote? Yes. Did he love cats and being around kids? Yes.
“I got goosebumps, because everything he was describing matched perfectly with this dog,” Miller said last week.
On Tuesday, she sent Vitali photos of the golden retriever.
“By that time, he was 99.9 percent sure this was Max,” she said.
Vitali told Miller he wanted to drive from Georgia on Saturday to pick up his dog, and the two decided to meet at Petco Animal Supply in Kokomo.
A crowd of local supporters and camera crews from area new stations met Vitali as he rolled into town. His 11-year-old daughter, Gabby, also made the trip from Grand Rapids, Mich.
But once Vitali met the dog, it didn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t Max.
The dog’s fur coloring wasn’t quite the same, and Max was a little smaller and younger than the adopted golden retriever. In addition, Miller said the dog showed no signs of recognizing either Vitali or Gabby.
“I was just heartbroken,” Miller said. “Dave was so sure this was Max, and when he realized it wasn’t, my heart just sunk.”
On Saturday, Miller said she asked Gabby if she should keep the name Roscoe for her dog, or continue to call him Max. Gabby said she thought Max was a good name for the golden retriever.
Vitali drove back to Georgia on Sunday, and family friends drove Gabby back to Michigan. The two said they still hope to find Max someday.
Miller said local volunteers plan on hanging posters of the still-missing dog around the area.
Although the golden retriever wasn’t the real Max, Miller said he’ll have a good home at her residence in Galveston, where she lives with her husband, young children and four other dogs.
She said her family has grown to love Max over the last week, and the canine gets along well with everybody.
“He loves the other dogs, the cats, the kids and anybody that gives him treats,” she said Sunday with a laugh.
Miller thanked the community for supporting Max. She said local businesses donated dog food, toys and rabies shots for what was meant to the reunion on Saturday.
Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He can be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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