Kaiser, a 5-year-old king shepherd, disappeared from Ashby, Massachusetts, in June 2018. He was reunited with his owner, Tom Woollacott, on Friday in South Paris, 175 miles away. Credit: Courtesy of Morgan Miles

No one will ever know how Kaiser, a 5-year-old king shepherd, made his way from Ashby, Massachusetts, to South Paris over the past eight months, but Tom Woollacott and his two small children don’t really care. They’re just enjoying their first weekend back together again.

Kaiser disappeared in late June 2018 after jumping over a 6-foot wall at the home of a woman who was caring for him, Woollacott said Sunday.

Eight months later, through the unending efforts of Woollacott and the volunteers and employees at an animal shelter and missing dog groups across three states, Woollacott drove 175 miles through the snow on Friday to South Paris to retrieve his pooch.

On Sunday morning, Woollacott and his children, 4-year-old Connor and 16-month-old Leah cuddled and played with the gentle giant.

Woollacott said he never quite gave up hope Kaiser would be found, if only because no body had been found or reported.

Credit: Courtesy of Tom Wollcott

Woollacott, who was hosting his brother’s wedding at his home that weekend and had asked a family friend to dog-sit, was heartbroken.

“I spent like three or four weeks just putting 1,500 miles on my car. Every day. He’d been seen around here for like a month, and then at Mt. Watatic about a half-hour from my house, then up in Greenville, New Hampshire, 12 hours later,” he said. “Then he was seen in Pepperell [Massachusetts]. I talked to a lady who had walked into her horse barn. She said, ‘I thought it was a wolf.’ But by the time I got there, he was gone.”

Woollacott even had a drone searching for the 130-pound dog, to no avail.

After a Bethel woman’s freezer broke in January, she stored $160 of meat on her porch, but discovered the next day that half of the meat was missing, thanks to a visiting dog, according to Missing Dogs Massachusetts.

For a few weeks, she continued to feed the dog, but was unable to catch him until she called Bethel Animal Control Officer Sue Milligan. Milligan took him to Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills in South Paris, a no-kill shelter, board member and volunteer Morgan Miles said Sunday.

“We scanned him for a microchip like we always do, and checked-the collar for tags, nothing!” the shelter wrote in a post on its Facebook page. “Then his picture was posted on Facebook. We called him ‘Grizz,’ and Grizz is a looker!!!! So we had A TON of comments, shares, likes and people who are willing to give this giant, magnificent animal a new chance at life. But, we had to wait to see if he would be claimed or not.”

The dog arrived at the shelter on Feb. 6 “timid” and “shy,” according to Missing Dogs Massachusetts. Under Maine law, shelters hold stray dogs for six days before releasing them for rehoming.

Early last week, Responsible Pet Care posted about the dog on its Facebook page, said Miles, who also volunteers at Maine Lost Dog Recovery. Folks at Missing Dogs Massachusetts and Missing Granite State Dog Recovery saw the post and someone contacted the woman from whom Kaiser had escaped.

When she sent photos and called the shelter, Miles said, “It was funny. We said, ‘It’s not the same dog. The pictures don’t even look the same.’ … When I went out to the intake area, I was like, ‘Hey, Grizz,’ and he kept his head down. Then I said, ‘Kaiser,’ and he just looked me dead in the eye. I went to the office and said, ‘I think that’s him.’”

Woollacott called the shelter Thursday afternoon and was able to identify “pretty much every lump and bump” on his dog, Miles said. Photos of his dog’s teeth matched “Grizz’s” perfectly, she said.

Woollacott drove up to the shelter Friday afternoon, through the snow, to retrieve his pooch. Miles said the dog was overjoyed, and Woollacott held back his tears.

“He had taken off once before for like 12 hours,” Woollacott said of a Fourth of July celebration. “The fireworks started going off and he bolted out, but he found his way back. But clearly he can get out of anything.”

“He clearly is the only one who knows truly what happened,” Miles said. “Somebody could have picked him up or he could easily have traveled that distance himself over eight months. Honestly, I think he meandered all the way by himself.”

Miles said that for all the bad press Facebook has gotten recently, it has been “extremely helpful” in reuniting lost pets with their families.

“Just from experience here in Maine, Maine Lost Dog Recovery has created 1,253 of those flyers of dogs reported missing to us, and of those 1,253, 1,073 were brought home safely, 153 are still missing and 47 are deceased,” she said. “It’s an 86 percent home safe rate.”

CORRECTION: Tom Woollacott’s name was previously spelled incorrectly.