SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — Christmas came early for a Barberton woman and her family after her dog Junior, who had been taken from her home in 2012 during a home invasion, was reunited with them after missing for eight years.
After 8 years, including 2.5 years at the Humane Society of Summit County (HSSC), Junior is back home for the holidays.
Julia Nemeth never gave up hope that Junior, who she raised as a puppy, training him to be both her companion and protector, even teaching him hand signals so she could communicate with him so he wouldn’t wake her sleeping infant, would be reunited with her.
Over the years, she searched local shelters and lost-and-found pet groups online, but her searches always came up empty. One time, she thought she found him on Craigslist for sale, but the seller never responded to her email.
In July 2018, Junior, who went by Buddy when he was surrendered to the shelter, was an immediate staff and volunteer favorite. He was in fair health upon his arrival at the shelter and was treated for tape worms before he was made available for adoption.
Junior was adopted three times over the years, but none of the families was the right fit, according to the humane society. Shelter staff knew the right family was out there, but they didn’t know he already had a family who was searching for him.
Then one day in mid-December, Nemeth came across Junior’s picture and called the shelter right away. Staff compared photos of Junior to Buddy and thought there might be a match.
During the initial meeting, Junior connected with Nemeth almost immediately, licking her face and even obeying hand signals she had taught him years ago. Nemeth, who is married and the mother of four children, brought her family in to meet Junior to ensure the dog she lost so many years ago could fit in, and the rest is history.
"I just couldn't believe it's real. It's one of those things, I'm touching him, I'm loving on him, but it's not real. How can it be real? It has been so long," Nemeth told News 5. "I balled. I was over the moon."
Now at 11 years old, Junior is settling in his forever family. Junior likes to snuggle on the couch with family members and is happiest when he can see everyone and keep a watchful eye. Junior is bonding with the children and loves to play catch with Nemeth’s son.
“I keep asking my husband to pinch me because I can’t believe this is real. I can’t believe Junior is home. He carried me through the challenges of my life and to have him back means everything to me," she said in a news release.
While the HSSC mainly serves animals that are victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment, it does take reports of missing pets and reunited dozens of pets with their families each year. The HSSC said the best way to ensure your pet can find their way home if they become lost is by wearing a collar with contact information as well as having your pet microchipped and ensuring the contact information on your microchip is up to date.
In 2021, HSSC is launching a new partnership with FindingRover.com to help reunite families with their missing pets.