ELKO — Willie got his Christmas present a little early this year, and he’s going to be home in time for the holidays.
It was a heartwarming moment for Elko Animal Shelter workers on Wednesday when the Shetland sheepdog was reunited with his family after being missing for six-and-a-half years.
David and Alison Marks of Las Vegas were shocked to discover he’d been found after all this time, more than 200 miles from where he was last seen. Willie was brought in as a stray on Monday, and a microchip scan identified his owners.
“It looks like he’s ready to go home,” David Marks said.
In spring 2009, the Marks had pulled up to their vacation home outside of Pioche. David Marks said he let Willie and his brother, Waylon, out of the truck. Both were about 4 years old and had been raised by the Marks since they were puppies.
“They took off chasing an imaginary rabbit,” Alison Marks said.
Waylon returned. Willie did not. David Marks recounted how he looked for the dog all afternoon and evening in a snowstorm.
“I was lost in the mountains,” he said.
His wife, meanwhile, called the sheriff’s office. When David returned at 9:30 p.m. that evening after a deputy found him walking back, he still hadn’t found Willie.
The couple posted advertisements and reward signs, and continued searching for the dog for days, with no sign of him.
“We had no chance but to give up,” David Marks said.
Alison Marks, however, isn’t sure she ever did.
“Every time we drive up that road, I look to see if Willie is coming home,” she said. “And here he is.”
It’s unknown where Willie has been living all this time, but shelter manager Karen Walther and shelter worker JoAnn Kyriss said it appears he’s been well cared for. Walther testifies the success of reuniting him with the Marks as an example of why microchipping your animal pays off.
“Anything that comes in here, we scan them for a microchip,” said animal attendant Vickie Cooper.
It was actually the microchip company, Avid, that first called the Marks on their home phone and left a message, just minutes after the dog had been identified by the shelter.
“I thought I misunderstood,” Alison Marks recalled about listening to the voicemail recording. “I didn’t know what the woman was saying.”
At the same time, David Marks got a call on his cellphone. The couple came running up to each other to inform one another about Willie. Two days later, they made the drive to collect their missing family member.
“Who, at six years, gets their dog back?” Cooper said in amazement. “It’s something you read on Facebook.”
Willie was timid, at first, when being reunited with the Marks. His pleasure, however, was apparent in the wagging of his tail as he gratefully accepted loving caresses and was asked if he was ready to go home.
“His eyes literally lit up,” said Lori Gilbert, who was reporting on the reunion for KENV.
After a few minutes, the Marks took the dog outside to get re-acquainted with his brother Waylon. The brothers sniffed each other, tails wagging.
“He may not remember us, but he remembers Waylon,” Alison Marks said, laughing.
Willie also met his younger brother for the first time. The Marks got a pup from the same parents after Willie had disappeared. Both Alison and David Marks are retired, and had planned to head back to their Vegas home Wednesday afternoon.
Alison Marks said it’s exciting that Willie will get to meet her grandchildren, who were much younger when he was lost. The story of the dog being found has already been on social media, where family members from Washington to Texas are rejoicing in the tale.
“He will be home for Christmas,” Alison Marks said.
While no one at the shelter knew who Willie’s other parents might have been during the time he was missing, Walther said as far as the animal shelter is concerned, the Marks are the only identifiable owners.
“We talk about microchips,” she said. “… This is the almost foolproof way of being able to identify a lost animal. Thanks to Willie’s wonderful parents who have never given up on him.”