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Mike Creger and John Lundy, Forum News Service , Published January 13 2013

Dog found in Wisconsin 2 years, 1,500 miles away from home

SUPERIOR, Wis. – A dog named Endo, currently residing at the Animal Allies Humane Society shelter in Superior, is a jowly, drooling mastiff. “If you’ve seen ‘Turner and Hooch,’ he’s just like that dog,” owner Denise Hartzog said.

And he’s big: 115 pounds. But thanks to a very tiny piece of technology, he’ll soon be returning to the Hartzogs in Cape Coral, Fla., after being away for a year and a half.

A microchip embedded in Endo’s shoulder told shelter workers in Superior that the big, friendly dog had a home – 1,500 miles away.

“Microchipping is so important,” said Betsy Bode, the Superior shelter manager. “This is a perfect example.”

It seems remarkable for a dog to have worked its way from Florida to northwestern Wisconsin. But Hartzog said she doesn’t consider it very surprising.

“Everyone comes south for the winter,” she said. And people who come south sooner or later head back north, perhaps with a dog in tow.

But for more than a year, Denise and Tommy Hartzog thought Endo had made it only as far as the canal across the street.

“A lot of people lose their dogs to gators in the canals here,” Denise Hartzog said in a telephone interview on Saturday afternoon.

The dog hadn’t been theirs originally, she said, and they don’t know why it’s named Endo. Tommy Hartzog had seen a notice at a convenience store in December 2010. An older woman from Kentucky who was in town owned the mastiff but no longer could afford to feed him. He was available free to a good home.

Tommy Hartzog had owned a mastiff before, and the Hartzogs like dogs. They already had a pug and a yellow Labrador. Endo, with a laidback personality, quickly became part of the Hartzog household, which also included son Hunter. Denise Hartzog was pregnant at the time with Gage, now 15 months.

“He’s a big teddy bear,” she said of Endo. “He would lie on the floor, and Hunter would lie on top of him. You could play with his jowls and flip his ears up.”

Endo seemed like part of the family, and they never thought he’d run off, Denise Hartzog said. But one night in May 2011, he broke through the fence surrounding the Hartzogs’ yard, and disappeared along with the Lab.

A neighbor saw the Lab get attacked by an alligator, and they assumed the worst about Endo as well.

“We were so heartbroken when he was gone,” Hartzog said. “I never imagined that he’d turn up.”

Long journey

Animal Allies officials have pieced together, as best they can, the circuitous route that brought Endo to Superior. Apparently the dog was found by someone in Florida who made efforts to find his owners, to no avail. That person brought Endo to the Twin Cities, but a change in circumstances forced them to give up the dog to someone they knew in Duluth. And when that person had to find Endo a new home, he went to someone living in rural Superior.

It was from there that Endo escaped, again. He was found by a Superior resident and brought to the shelter on Jan. 2, with a collar but no tags and in good condition.

“He’s very friendly,” said Anna Sjodin, lead adoption counselor at Animal Allies’ Superior shelter. “It’s obvious that the people who had him in the meantime took good care of him.”

Endo has a playful personality and has been somewhat fascinated with a cat living in a cage near the shelter’s front entrance. Offered treats on Saturday, he gave a few hearty barks to indicate that, yes, he wanted them.

One of the first things the shelter does when taking in a stray is to find out if they have a chip, Bode said. A scan turned up an ID number, which led to a company that keeps records on animals and then to the Hartzogs. The key is to stay current on the registry no matter how long a pet has been missing, Bode said.

Animal Allies is planning a 9 a.m. send-off celebration for Endo on Wednesday at the Duluth shelter on Airport Road. Bode, who also volunteers for Lost Dogs of Minnesota, put out a call for anyone willing to transport Endo to Florida because the Hartzogs said they weren’t able to make arrangements.

“We found out some people were heading to Florida and were willing to give him a ride,” Bode said.

Animal Allies takes great pleasure in reuniting pets with their families, but Endo’s long-distance case is certainly a first, Bode said.

“This is very rare,” she said.

The Hartzogs said they are looking forward Endo’s arrival in Cape Coral, on Florida’s west coast near Fort Myers. Endo may be looking forward to it, too – it was a balmy 75 degrees in Fort Myers on Saturday evening, and just 14 in Superior.

He’ll be welcomed home not only by Denise and Tommy and their two young boys, but also the pug and a Great Dane, which has been part of the household for 3½ months. The two big dogs should get along just fine, Denise Hartzog said.

“The Great Dane has the same personality as the mastiff,” she said.

And the fence around their yard, she said, has been reinforced.