By Ralphine Major

We named them Caesar and Cleo. The playful pups would often take a running leap and jump into the pond. While they had the markings of a black Doberman pinscher, they were not registered. Caesar was given to a friend who lost his Doberman. Cleo stayed with us. It mattered not that she could not have pups or that she was not full Doberman. She was our beloved pet.

It was on a Sunday night while we were at church that someone opened the barn door to the stall Cleo shared with Bonnie, our older beagle, and stole her. We posted fliers, ran ads, and made phone calls. Social media did not exist then. We followed up lead after lead, but none of them proved to be our dog. On a Saturday evening in the fall, a friend handed us his matchbook. Written on it was a phone number that he had heard on the radio. We called the number and got directions to go see this dog. The setting was a farm much like ours, but it was in northwest Knox County. The couple’s little girl had been feeding her daily. When we arrived, we could see her standing up by the fence and knew immediately it was Cleo! Forty-one days had passed since she was stolen, but we knew our dog. And she knew us. Those 41 days suddenly evaporated into the fall air as Cleo hunched down—like she so often did—and started running toward my brother. He took off his belt and used it as a makeshift leash. We gave the couple a reward, put Cleo in the back seat of the car, and headed for home. As we turned up our driveway, Cleo raised her head. She knew she was finally home.

The vet came to see her the following day. He looked at her paws and determined she had traveled a long way. The tissue on her nose was much thinner where she had been digging. While we were searching desperately for her, she was trying to find her way back to us. We were extra thankful that year that our prayers had been answered, and Cleo was found. Our mother had been our most diligent prayer warrior. Cleo was seven years old when she was stolen, and she lived out her life for seven more years on our farm. She died in our father’s arms. He held her gently and said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Today, we still call it a miracle that Cleo was found. And, I still have the matchbook.