Aug. 21, 2014 at 5:35 PM ET
LaShena Harris had only left her dog, Fatcat, outside her Memphis home for a few minutes while she went to get the dog's new collar inside. But by the time she came back out, she saw a truck speeding off down the street and her pure white, two-year-old English bulldog was gone.
"I knew whoever had her would probably breed her, and I would never see her again," Harris told TODAY.com. "I knew in my heart she was gone."
Though Harris littered the neighborhood with signs promising a reward for the dog's return, there was no still no sign of Fatcat. And when Harris moved back to Arizona a few months later, she gave up any shred of hope of finding her little bulldog.
But that all changed two weeks ago, when Harris got a phone call from her mother while she was at work: A couple had surrendered a white English bulldog to the West Memphis Animal Shelter, saying they could no longer take care of it. Staff had scanned the dog's microchip, and her mother's information had come up. Harris quickly called the shelter.
"The lady's like, 'I think I have your dog,'" Harris said. "I burst into tears at my desk."
A colleague asked her if she was okay, to which she replied that they had found her dog. "They were like, 'Oh, I'm sorry,'" Harris said. "I'm like, 'No, I haven't seen her in eight years!'"
But after talking to Kerry Sneed, an employee at the shelter, it became clear that Fatcat, now nearly 11 years old, was in pretty rough shape. "She had heartworm, her teeth were bad," Harris said. "And she had been bred a lot."
And there was another problem, too: Fatcat was in Tennessee, across the country from Harris in Arizona. After speaking to a friend who's an airline representative, Harris was told Fatcat was too big to sit with her on a plane and would have to ride in the cargo hold, a situation that would be far too stressful for the dog in her current state.
Unable to pick her dog up, and knowing that she was in poor health and stressed out at the shelter, Harris considered putting her down after Sneed suggested it may be the humane option. But Harris didn't want to give up on her long-lost friend. "What's the purpose of me finding her," Harris asked. "if I'd have to put her down like this?"
Just when it felt like all hope of a reunion with Fatcat was gone, she received a phone call from Sneed. "She said, 'I was at a friend's going-away party last night. Are you close to Scottsdale?'" Harris said.
It turned out Sneed's friend, Lisa Marlin, and Marlin's husband were relocating from Tennessee to Arizona, close to where Harris lived. And better yet, they agreed to drive Fatcat out with them.
Just two days later, Harris drove to a hotel parking lot to pick up the dog she thought she had lost eight years ago.
"I just broke down in tears because I never thought I'd see her again," Harris said, adding that she was so grateful for what Marlin and her husband had done to make the reunion possible. "How do you thank someone who does something like that for you?"
Since coming home, Harris said Fatcat has been adjusting well. And she's now receiving the critical medical attention she needs, mostly thanks to donations from a GoFundMe page Harris started to pay for Fatcat's medical bills, which include extensive dental work and surgery. So far, she's managed to raise over $6,500.
"It's been crazy, insane," Harris said. "I'm so appreciative of it. These people don't know me, they only know my story, and they still felt compelled to help me."
But as for Fatcat's incredible return to her original owner, eight years and 14,000 miles later? Harris credits her beloved bulldog with that.
"I know there's a lesson in this, and I think it's that determination will outweigh everything," Harris said. "And she was determined to get back here."