Animal Services flies stray microchipped dog to Las Vegas home
Gorda certainly took a gamble when she left her home in Las Vegas.
While she may have wanted to escape the city lights for a while or may have lost her way, it seemed that the odds were against the Chihuahua returning to her owner and her hometown, after somehow winding up in Santa Barbara County.
However, Gorda’s microchip changed all of that, and allowed for a heartfelt, tear-filled reunion Thursday afternoon between her and her owner that consisted of a lot of snuggling, petting and loving.
The 13-year-old Chihuahua went missing in July 2020, and her owner filed a lost dog report, but had no luck. Less than a week ago, Gorda was picked up as a stray by Santa Barbara County Animal Services, and staff members used the microchip technology to determine the email address of the owner, who delightedly responded in less than five minutes, writing, “My baby!”
Michelle Maltun, the community outreach coordinator for County Animal Services, was the liaison between the owner and her long-lost Chihuahua.
“She (the owner) said that she let the dog out to go to the bathroom for five minutes in her son’s yard and never saw her (Gorda) again,” Ms. Maltun told the News-Press.
Gorda was found in good condition, healthy and stable, which leads Animal Services staff to believe Gorda was taken care of by somebody somewhere for the past year. How the small Chihuahua managed to survive interstate travel, Ms. Maltun said, “We have no idea.”
However, Animal Services didn’t hesitate to return Gorda to her surprised owner. Using Pilots N Paws — a nonprofit with volunteer pilots and plane owners who arrange the rescuing, sheltering, transporting and adopting of animals — Gorda was onboard a flight out of the Santa Maria Airport by noon Thursday, free of charge, headed home.
“It’s odd, but it happens,” Angela Yates, the director of County Animal Services, told the News-Press about finding a stray animal from another state. “We often joke among ourselves — if only these animals could talk. Tell us the story about what happened!”
The director said Animal Services has utilized Pilots N Paws in the past, transporting dogs to Colorado and other locations. Staff is also currently working on flying a long-term pitbull to Montana.
“I don’t know what we would do without them (Pilots N Paws volunteers). It’s a really special service that saves lives,” Ms. Yates said.
She also pointed out that Gorda’s story highlights the value in microchipping pets, a cause Animal Services not only supports but encourages. Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a measure in September 2020 requiring shelters and animal control agencies to microchip all dogs and cats with information before releasing them to adoptive owners, which is reportedly going into effect at the start of 2022.
“We have no idea what happened to Gorda. Somebody could have taken her, somebody could have found her and picked her up off the street,” Ms. Yates said. “This is the miracle of microchips and how we are such strong advocates of getting every animal microchipped and making sure microchipped information is updated.
“Microchipping is the No. 1 way that you can ensure if your pet gets lost accidentally …. your pet can find its way safely home. We can reunite the owner with his/her animal in a matter of a few hours if we have that microchip and the registration is up to date.”
The director said that pets can run away and get lost as a result of many different things, from kids accidentally letting animals outside to smaller pets slipping out the screen door to someone setting off a firework and scaring a pet away. In addition, she expressed the importance of keeping the microchip information updated, because “it’s really heartbreaking when the animal has a microchip and has no information with it.”
“She (Gorda’s owner) had just lost hope,” Ms. Yates said. “It’s just devastating. When an animal goes missing, you don’t know. It’s just this unanswered question … You don’t know if it’s alive or not, but to have your animal come back after all this time is just really special.”
County Animal Services is in the process collaborating with local nonprofits to launch a free microchipping initiative this summer for Santa Barbara cats, dogs and bunnies. The target date is sometime in June, before the Fourth of July, as fireworks season is when the highest number of animals go missing, according to Ms. Yates.
“Someday, we want every single owned animal companion — dog, cat, rabbit — in the county microchipped. It’s an ambitious goal, but an achievable goal in the community with enough outreach and partnership,” she said. “We believe that strongly in microchipping.
“It’s a way to keep animals out of the shelter. If we make sure they can go back to their parents, back to their families that love them, they won’t wind up lost, rehomed in the shelter or worse.”
Visit projectpetsafe.org/microchipping.php to learn more about microchipping and where pets can be microchipped in the county.