An Indiana man is counting his Christmas blessings after a fortuitous reunion with his long-lost pet pooch - stolen an astounding five years earlier.
Bandit, a now-10-year-old shih tzu, was discovered by New Castle Animal Control as a stray in the eponymous Indiana town in late November.
"This is my little buddy," said the man, identified only as 'Mike,' after the tearful meeting with his pet. "I’ve been missing him for five years."
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Bandit was reunited with Mike through the aid of a 'Home Again' microchip embedded under the dog's skin and containing info about his original owner.
The heartwarming story almost ended with a far worse conclusion.
Bandit was scheduled to be put down at a New Castle shelter, when animal control officers instead ferried him on Friday to a nearby rescue service called 'reTails,' which assists strays in the same mortal straits as Bandit.
Upon arrival, reTails' staff scanned Bandit for the microchip, even though they believed the dog had already been scanned at the shelter.
The group phoned Mike and reached the stunned pet owner, who initially thought the phone call was a prank.
Mike high-tailed it to the adoption center, arriving just 10 minutes later, scooping the pooch into a bear hug as volunteers joyfully looked on.
Mike purchased Bandit when the dog was just a palm-sized pup in 2002. He was last seen in 2007, when he escaped from Mike’s yard and was snatched by an unknown man in a car.