Marie Bennett had given up on finding Bear, a chocolate Labrador retriever apparently stolen from her yard in southern California four years ago.
Then last month came a stunning call from the animal control office in San Diego: Bear had been found alive and well, wandering the countryside in northern Michigan.
"I absolutely could not believe it," Mrs. Bennett said Wednesday.
How the dog made it halfway across the nation remains a mystery. How to get her back was shaping up as another, until sympathetic pet lovers started talking on the Internet.
Bear disappeared early in 1995 from the Bennetts' fenced-in yard in Campo, Calif., 60 miles east of San Diego. The gate had been pried open.
In mid-February, animal control officer Al Benson of Osceola County, Mich., picked up a stray dog roaming around the small town of Evart.
The faded tag numbers on the dog's collar led him to San Diego's animal control office, which traced the license. Mrs. Bennett telephoned Benson a few days later. "She said they didn't have the means to have the animal shipped out there," Benson said.
He consulted local pet groomer Bev Neiber, who posted a notice on an Internet mailing list for groomers and breeders. A relay ride to drive Bear home couldn't fill all the gaps, so Mary Lemp, another groomer in Salinas, Calif., contacted Northwest Airlines.
The airline waived shipping costs, which would have been around $200, spokeswoman Debby Burroughs said. A kennel in Mecosta County donated a shipping crate and a veterinarian in Reed City updated Bear's shots.
Bear was on her way home by Feb. 22. "It's wonderful having her back," Mrs. Bennett said. "It amazed me how many people got involved in this. If they hadn't, we'd have never known that Bear was still alive."