Bosco the beagle mix has an unmistakable howl.
“He doesn’t have a bark or howl or growl. It’s kind of all three together. You hear it and it stands you up straight,” his owner Bill Ballato told The Dodo.
Hearing that call was a sure sign to Ballato that the dog on the other end of the phone was his long-lost friend.
Bosco was 9 years old in January 2014 when he slipped out of his collar and took off from Ballato’s home in Westerley, Rhode Island.
Even when the dog didn’t return after a particularly cold winter with three huge snowstorms, his owner refused to give up hope that they would one day be reunited. He searched the entire area on foot and by car, using social media to spread the word even farther.
But three winters passed before Ballato would see Bosco again – in the meantime, the dog lived on the streets, somehow evading rescue (though clearly finding enough to eat).
On March 2, 2016, Sheilah Graham got a Facebook message from a friend from Missing Dogs of Massachusetts asking for help. Graham works at the Department of Homeland Security but in her spare time, she’s a volunteer “pet detective” who tries to reunite lost pets with their owners.
She’s helped reunite more than 70 pets and their families.
“I place pins on a map to monitor movement,” she told The Dodo. “I place cameras out to study the pup and his approach and I make adjustments. And I give MacGyver a good run for his money.”
Graham was up for the challenge and spent 3 hours on the phone with Ballato asking questions about the dog’s demeanor and the circumstances behind his disappearance.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. Before he was adopted, Bosco came from an abusive home and wasn’t terribly trusting of people. Years on the streets certainly wasn’t going to make that any better.
They did, however, have a clue to follow. A dog matching Bosco’s description had been repeatedly spotted around a bar in the same town. He could often be seen padding out of the parking lot with food in his mouth.
Graham realized that she could use burgers, steak, liver, pork, and fries to lead the dog to a cage to see if it was Bosco.
It turns out that food was a great motivator.
Not only did she catch the pup very quickly – the fastest she’s ever discovered a dog that had been gone so long – but Bosco was the first dog she tracked down that had actually gained weight while living on the streets.
When Graham got on the phone with Bellato, the dog’s unique howl was all he needed to confirm that she had the right dog.
But there was one catch – Bellato had moved to Lafayette, Colorado in the years between Bosco’s disappearance and discovery. Back issues prevented him from driving across the country to fetch the dog.
There was also the matter of reacclimating Bosco to being around people and taking care of a (luckily) benign tumor that he had developed while on the streets.
Thankfully, Bosco’s story went viral and a fundraising campaign to raise the money for the surgery and transportation was successful.
After a couple of weeks at the Glocester Animal Shelter learning to trust humans again and recovering from his procedure (as well as going on a little diet), Bosco was largely himself again and enjoying running zoomies around the facility and indulging in some chew toys.
Next up was a long car ride with Graham herself offering to make the journey from Rhode Island to Colorado and back. And it was quite an eventful trip.
“We went through two snowstorms with whiteout conditions and heavy rains traveling west,” she told The Dodo.
But they made it. The last hurdle was the press waiting at Ballato’s house to see the reunion (after all, the story had gone viral, people donated money, and they wanted to get a glimpse).
But everyone was worried that Bosco might freak out with all the attention – and Ballato wasn’t sure the dog would give him a warm greeting.
Bosco didn’t react much at first. But then Ballato said the magic word that jogged the little dog’s memory into remembering his old owner.
“From that point, it turned around,” he said. “Obviously, it was familiar and it was pleasing to him.”
Everyone was relieved. After 764 days on the streets (albeit eating burgers and fries), Bosco was finally back with his owner.
Graham updated fans on a Facebook page that chronicled Bosco’s story, saying the pup even recognized his furry siblings and was acclimating nicely.
Be sure to scroll down below to see an interview with everyone involved and scenes from the sweet reunion.
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