CRESTVIEW — April Hight says that microchipping Maggie, her Lhasa Apso, meant the difference between never seeing her again and reuniting with the wayward dog after nine and a half years.
Maggie was found Wednesday near Bone Creek Road in Holt, when a Panhandle Animal Welfare Society animal control officer responded to a call about another dog.
"She was just in horrible shape," PAWS animal control supervisor Mary Rudder said. "She was matted to the skin."
Fortunately, Lhasa Apsos are renowned for their hardiness, according to the Dog Breed Info Center.
Plus, Maggie had another factor in her favor: She'd been microchipped.
"We bought her from a pet store in Fort Walton," April said. "She was already chipped and neutered. I never gave it a second thought ... It ended up being one of the best things that could've been done. Now I see the importance of it. We're very thankful."
When Maggie vanished from April and Nathan Hight's Crestview home in February 2005, the couple's daughter, Abigayle, now 13, was just a toddler.
Maggie's return reinforces the life struggles of the Hights' foster children, April said.
"How Maggie got back here is kind of a reminder of what we're doing as foster parents," she said. "We don't know what she'd been through the last nine years ... and it's the same with some of the children. We know some, but we don't know everything."
The Hights' two biological and three foster children are excited to have Maggie home, she said.
"My daughter was 4 when Maggie went missing, but she remembers her," April said. "She was just in tears realizing that Maggie was back home, and it's just hitting home that she's been through a lot."
Maggie is already recovering rapidly, given loving surroundings, April said.
"She's a completely different dog than she was Wednesday," April said. "She remembers her name. We call her and she looks at us. She recognized my husband right away. When he came home Wednesday and said her name, she started wagging her tail ... She's skin and bones but she's acting like a typical little puppy."
For Abigayle, Maggie's return brought her pet's odyssey full circle, April Hight said.
"One of (Abigayle's) fond memories we talk about a lot is when she was little, my husband would sit on the couch and play this tune we called 'The Maggie Song,'" April said. "It's something from her childhood coming around to her teenage years. She can put the gist of it all together.
"... For Maggie to come home after what she experienced is bittersweet for us. That she's safe and she's home, that's what I've been reflecting on. Our goal is to see children go home, too."
PAWS microchipping service
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society animal clinic offers pet microchipping similar to that which brought Maggie home to the Hight family.
When: 9 a.m. to 12:30 sign-in, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
Where: 752 Lovejoy Road, Fort Walton Beach
Notes: Walk-ins only, no appointment. Information: 244-0196