Planada resident Britany Sapien thought she'd never see her dog again.
It was more than two years ago that the 20-year-old's Yorkshire terrier -- a birthday present from her boyfriend -- was stolen right out of her back yard.
After weeks of searching for the dog, there was no luck. Buddy, her beloved companion, was gone -- and the family lost all hope.
A phone call last week changed everything.
"My mom and I thought it was a prank," Sapien said. "We were just so shocked. None of us could believe it."
Buddy had been found, and he was more than 200 miles away in Reno.
"They were in disbelief and shock," said Barry Brode, Animal Services director at the Washoe County Sheriff's Department. "They couldn't believe he was alive or that he was in Reno."
Three days later, the family packed up the car and made the five-hour trek to Reno to bring Buddy home.
They wondered if Buddy would remember them, if he had gotten big, if he'd been homesick -- the questions built up, and so did their anticipation.
It all came down to one moment.
Sapien, her sister, boyfriend Lupe Diaz, 21, and her parents sat inside the Washoe County Animal Services office, anxiously awaiting Buddy's arrival.
When they were finally reunited, it didn't take long for the 6-pound pooch to recognize his owners.
"The minute he saw us, he was shaking with happiness," said Sapien's mother Martha Mayo-Garza, 43. "My daughters were calling him and he was so excited. Just jumping and shaking."
His hair had grown out and changed color slightly, but it didn't put a damper on Buddy's excitement.
"He was just so hyper," Sapien said. "He couldn't stay still. He was running around in the car before he ended up falling asleep."
Brode said he believes the person who took Buddy from his Merced County home sold him online to the owner in Reno.
The dog got loose from his Reno home and was dropped off at the shelter's night drop kennel by a good Samaritan. The staff scanned Buddy for a microchip, which helped reunite him with his Planada family, he said.
Buddy's owner in Reno checked on him every day, Brode said, but was gracious in giving him back to his original owners.
After battling a snow storm, Sapien and her family got Buddy back to California, where he had a new big brother waiting -- a 16-week Doberman pinscher named Magnus.
Although he's triple Buddy's size, Sapien said the two dogs are getting along well and sharing lots of play-time.
The family treated Buddy to a mini-make-over, including a new collar and leash, new clothes and a trip to the grooming salon for a haircut. "He's adjusting well and we're already spoiling him," Sapien said.
The entire experience taught the family the importance of microchipping their pets. Without it, Buddy might never have found his way home.
"It's changed my belief. It's a process, but it made me believer," Mayo-Garza said. "It just gives us peace of mind."
It also proves ownership, Brode said, as long as the information is kept updated.
"The microchip is only as good as the information that's out there. It's permanent identification," he said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.