MESA, Ariz. – Elizabeth Starnegg wrestled with the loss of her beloved husky, Sokka, for almost three years, until the check of a microchip this week revealed he was alive and well, six hours away, in Mesa, Arizona.
Starnegg, her partner and their two other dogs made the trek from Fallbrook, California, to reunite with Sokka on Thursday at Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue in Mesa.
Sokka, who’s about 4 years old, ran away in Yuma about Christmastime in 2016, while Starnegg was off serving in the Air Force. Starnegg’s pet sitter tried to chase Sokka down, but couldn’t catch him and he was gone.
The pet sitter, and eventually Starnegg, never realized a Yuma man had found Sokka, just one street over from where the dog had run off. The man cared for Sokka for almost two years, but reached out for help when he couldn’t afford to care for Sokka’s sarcoptic mange, a highly contagious skin condition found in dogs.
Kerri Ruehs, owner of Paw it Forward Husky Rescue, got the call about Sokka. She, in turn, asked her friend Debbie Varner to help. Varner is founder and owner of Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue, which provides adoption services, medical treatment and foster programs.
Varner agreed to help. So Reuhs called up Dewey Clark, a fellow husky fanatic living in the Phoenix area who had previously adopted two huskies from Paw it Forward. Clark offered to drive to Yuma to pick up Sokka and bring him back to the Valley. He ended up fostering the dog, skin condition and all, for more than two months.
Clark said he, his wife and their 13-year-old granddaughter fell in love with Sokka. They were all visibly moved on Thursday night during the highly anticipated reunion.
Clark admitted it would be hard for him and his family to say goodbye to Sokka.
My granddaughter “has been crying for two days,” Clark said. “But, of course, we were happy to hear they’d found his owners.”
Varner said that because of Sokka’s skin condition, they hadn’t been able to thoroughly check him for a microchip until Monday. That’s when they connected him to Starnegg.
“Basically, she dropped everything to drive here and get the dog,” Varner said of Starnegg. “She said she’s been waiting three years for this phone call.”
Starnegg said a medium once told her that she could sense Sokka fading away from this life. The medium said she could feel his presence at a trailer park near an Indian reservation in Yuma.
So imagine Starnegg’s surprise when she learned Stokka had initially been found in a Yuma trailer park — two years ago.
Starnegg said she couldn’t believe Sokka was “right underneath her nose” the whole time.
Starnegg came back to Yuma several times to search for her beloved missing husky after returning from her short deployment in the Air Force. But since no one had checked Sokka for a microchip, she had no way of knowing where he was or if he was even alive.
“I have a lot of resentment towards that aspect of my life, because of what happened with Sokka,” Starnegg said. “But now that he’s back, I feel like I’m starting to get healing in that part of my life.”
She said she was delighted that Sokka seemed to immediately recognize Riley, her other husky, who had previously been Sokka’s best friend.
“They did a lot of growing up together,” Starnegg said of the two huskies.
When she saw them starting to play together, Starnegg described it as “Disney magic.”
And there was another dog for Sokka to meet, too: Starnegg’s 6-month-old Shiba Inu, Vash. All three of them would be in for a long road trip back to Fallbrook, Starnegg said.
Starnegg said she hopes this unlikely reunion story reminds people of the importance of microchipping.
“I want people to realize, when there’s a dog missing, please, please, just get the chip scanned,” she said. “I had to wait three years for that.”
She said if everyone gets in the habit of microchipping dogs — and having missing dogs checked for microchips — future situations such as hers can be avoided, and “heartbreak can stop happening.”
Starnegg said she is now studying animal behaviorism, and wants to one day work as a dog handler. She said she’s excited to see which old tricks Sokka remembers. And she can’t wait to make him a special bone broth, to help his fur keep growing back nice and thick.
She marveled at how big Sokka had grown in the time since she’d last seen him.
“Sokka you’re older, wow,” Starnegg said. “Is this what it feels like when you ship your kid off and they come back after they’re all graduated?”
Varner said in the world of animal rescue, Sokka’s tale stands out.
“In dog rescue, usually we deal with just the horrific stuff,” Varner said. “So to actually be able to deal with something beautiful and wonderful — today’s a very good day.”