“At least you can see he has a pretty face now,” said Sindy Cooper, noting they had to clip mounds of matted and knotted hair from Tugger to reveal his eyes and snout. (Roxanne Hooper/Langley Advance)

B.C. couple reunited with dog three years after disappearance

A purebred Pomeranian is back with his parents, likely after years in a puppy mill.

Tugger is back home with Mom and Dad after three years in possible captivity.

It’s suspected Tugger spent at least part of the past three years in a puppy mill, as evident by his rather aggressive sexual drive, said John Van Elswyk.

He and his partner Sindy Cooper lost the pup when he escaped their Murrayville yard one April evening.

They went door to door asking neighbours. They plastered the area with posters. They visited the SPCA and Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS) frequently in the weeks that followed. But there was no sign of Tugger.

After a few months, they gave up the search, assuming he “had dinner with the coyotes” in their neighbourhood.

They gave up hope.

“We cried our eyes out,” Van Elswyk said.

Fast forward to the end of June 2018, and Tugger was found wandering the streets of Fort Langley. LAPS was called, and an ID check revealed Tugger was microchipped.

Although Cooper had changed her cellphone number since Tugger disappeared, Van Elswyk was still listed as a secondary emergency contact. So he took the “jaw-dropping” call.

Over breakfast at a Turkish cafe a few Sundays ago, the astonished couple learned that Tugger was in fact alive, and in the care of LAPS.

“It was like watching those IKEA commercials,” Van Elswyk said. “She just yelled ‘start the car’. Don’t even bother calling back.”

They were at the Aldergrove shelter 20 minutes later in tears of shock and disbelief.

“I could hardly breath,” Cooper said, her shaking while Van Elswyk said he was covered in goosebumps.

What they found was a three-and-a-half old purebred Pomeranian who weighs all of less than four pounds. He was incredibly nervous, filthy dirty, matted, and had to a few rotten teeth that needed removing.

But the second the couple made the clicking noise they used to get their dogs’ attention, Tugger seemingly recognize them immediately.

It was, as LAPS executive director Jayne Nelson described, a “very emotional” reunion.

“They had given up ever seeing him again so were very grateful to have him back,” she elaborated.

Cooper concurred.

“I could never have fathomed this happening… we’re just so grateful.”

.

A working theory

“It would have taken him four years to walk to Fort Langley” from their home in Murrayville, Van Elswyk said, noting there’s no way he made it there on his own.

So, after discussions with the veterinarian, they’re convinced Tugger was snatched up – because he was a young, unneutered male worth a “pretty penny” – and likely thrown in a crate or small cage and contained for breeding purposes only.

With Pom pups selling for $1,500 to $2,500 each, this little guy could was likely bringing in thousands a year, Van Elswyk interjected.

“Our theory now… we think he was in a puppy mill,” he elaborated. Cooper insisting that seems more credible given his disposition.

“He even wants to do the cats… Anything on four legs, he thinks it’s fair game.”

Thankfully, there will be no more breeding in Tugger’s future, Cooper explained, anxious to correct some of the aggressive habits he’s picked up while being away.

“We just want to make sure that he’s well taken care of and knows he’s loved,” Cooper said.

“The first week, it was like oh my god, I have a rotten kid… I was ripping out my hair” with him no longer house trained and constantly trying to mount their other dog, Babe, as well as their cat.

The second week, he calmed down, and started eat properly after the removal of two rotten teeth.

Now, as each day passes, he’s getting better and better.

“It was like getting a problem child and getting him some therapy. He’s actually really good. He’s really calmed down… I think it’s going to take a while just to get him calmed down.”

It’s already cost the couple $600 in vet bills.

The focus for the next few weeks will simply be acclimatizing him back into his life, working on his behavioural issues, and then get him fixed, said Cooper, who compared herself to a stressed mom with a colicy child.

“He hasn’t left my side… I move, he’s there,” Cooper joked, picking him up for another cuddle.

Tugger had been a gift only a few months before he went missing.

Cooper’s coworkers at a Burnaby traffic control company pooled their money – $3,000 – and ordered the pup from Ontario. They did it all in secret, and dispatched Cooper to the airport to pick up a package that turned out to be the little Pom pup.

At the time, she had recently lost her 18-year-old all black toy Pom, Cutie, and Tugger was a birthday gift to help fill the void in her life.

“They got together and decided I needed another puppy because they all missed Cutie. She was just everybody’s sweet little baby,” Cooper recounted.

She and Van Elswyk only had him a few months before he disappeared. But it was enough time to become attached, and the couple say they’re excited and relieved to have Tugger home again.

It goes to show that marking a pet – whether it be a tattoo or a microchip – is imperative. They’d never have Tugger back, if it hadn’t been for the chip, a story that Van Elswyk is quick to share with almost anyone who will listen.

“It’s great having him back. It’s just swell,” he said, picking him up and giving him another hug and words of assurance.

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“At least you can see he has a pretty face now,” said Sindy Cooper, noting they had to clip mounds of matted and knotted hair from Tugger to reveal his eyes and snout. (Roxanne Hooper/Langley Advance)

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