Friday, April 13th didn't seem a particularly inauspicious date to Irene and Marinus van Wijk, but it turned out to carry all the traditional bad luck for their Jack Russell terrier, Roxy.
“We were up north, leaving neighbours to keep an eye on our property and feed the animals,” says Irene. “But on the Saturday morning the neighbours rang us, very concerned that they hadn't seen Roxy.” The van Wijks live on a rural block near Patumahoe. It's an idyllic place for a dog to roam around, hunting rabbits in the bush and kiwifruit orchard and playing in streams. Roxy had lived there for five years and loved it. “She knew the property really well and had never shown any sign of straying. We always left her running free and she'd been fine.” While Irene and Marinus were enjoying beautiful weather in the Bay of Islands, the Franklin area had been enduring massive storms, with torrential rain, gales, thunder and lightning. “We'll never know exactly what happened, but we assumed Roxy must have been frightened by the thunder. We knew she hated storms and this one was really severe, so maybe she panicked and ran out on the road.” The van Wijks were devastated. She had been their beloved companion since joining the family as a puppy seven years previously. When they moved from a town section into the country Roxy couldn't have been happier.
“Jack Russells are high energy dogs and love space to run around. When we moved here she was over the moon. She spent so much energy exploring the place that she lost a lot of weight at first. This whole property was all about Roxy. “She was always going around the orchard with Marinus, but losing her affected us all. We looked everywhere for her, put out flyers, listed her on the Lost and Stolen Dogs NZ website, put notices on Facebook and the Grapevine, checked with all the vets.” Their efforts were fruitless. The family combed the roadsides, hoping not to find a little body. Gruesome as that would have been, not knowing what had happened to her was worse. Small dogs are often rumoured to be stolen for bait in dog fights, and the idea that that could have been Roxy's fate didn't bear thinking about. “We had several calls from people who thought they'd seen her, but every time our hopes were raised it turned out to be a false alarm. “As time went on our hopes of ever seeing her again faded. We felt a huge hole in our lives without her happy presence. Our previous Jack Russell had lived to be 16 and with Roxy only seven, we thought of all the years we should have had with her. “About a month after Roxy's disappearance I was scrolling through Trade Me one day to see if Roxy was advertised, and came across a listing of a litter of abandoned puppies. So many dogs don't find homes, and we have plenty of space. We felt a need to have a dog back in our lives – and so Molly came to join us.” Molly quickly fitted into the van Wijk household, enjoying the rural freedom, learning to pounce on pukekos and rark up the rabbits. She shares her new home with the two resident sheep and one six year old chook, the latter inherited from the property's previous owners and still laying eggs – which can be hard to find for humans, but not for Molly, who found a nest full one day and devoured the whole lot. Seven months after Roxy vanished, the van Wijks had resigned themselves to life without her. So the phone call in late November from a vet in Royal Oak, Auckland, completely stunned them – and this time it wasn't a false alarm. Roxy had been found, alive and well, identified by her microchip. Marinus takes up the story. “A man had brought her in for a check-up after purchasing her from somebody in a Hamilton service station. Apparently the person he bought her from said they were going overseas and needed to find a home for the dog. “It's so fortunate that the guy who bought her did the right thing by taking her in to the vet, but obviously whoever had her before hadn't bothered to have her checked for a microchip or make any attempt to trace her owners. Roxy was listed in numerous places as missing – you wouldn't have had to look far to realise she belonged to someone. “We feel really sorry for the man who bought her in the service station. He was in tears when the microchip showed Roxy already had owners. “We're so happy to have her back, but we do wonder what sort of life she led in the previous seven months. She's not the dog she was; she's never been so clean, but she was really obese and lethargic and had lost all her muscle tone. She was four kilos overweight, a lot for a little dog.” Roxy is now on a weight loss programme and pleased to be back home, albeit with a new companion. At eight months old Molly has already grown into a much bigger dog than Roxy, so the two were introduced carefully to each other. But they quickly became friends. “Molly is very gentle with Roxy,” says Irene. “The two dogs get on well together and love being free to wander about the property on rabbit patrol. I take them for a walk around the neighbourhood every morning – it's one of our happiest times of the day.”
To ensure Roxy doesn't get spooked by thunder again Irene has invested in a Thundershirt, a snug fitting garment specially designed for dogs. “The theory is that the close fit provides comfort, in the same way babies are swaddled and held close to calm them. “We can't believe our luck getting Roxy back. This whole experience demonstrates the value of microchipping – without her microchip we would never have been reunited, and we're so grateful the man who bought her from the Hamilton service station took her to a vet where she was scanned. “And for anyone who's unfortunate enough to have their pet go missing, never give up hope. Miracles can happen. The return of our missing girl was the best early Christmas present ever!”