In 2008, Indiana resident Jennifer Koczan arrived home only to make a tragic discovery — her dog, a then 3-year-old Rottweiler named Sasha, had been stolen. Koczan says she was devastated, and had really never stopped grieving for the loss of her dog.
“I never thought I would see her again,” Koczan tells ABC News 7 Chicago of Sasha. “I thought about her all the time. I wondered what happened to her. I still have pictures of her. She was a part of our family.”
Though Koczan believed her best friend was gone forever, fate had something else in mind. A couple of weeks ago, Koczan’s phone rang — it was a member of the staff at the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) in Phoenix, calling to tell Koczan that her long-lost dog Sasha had been found. Thanks to a microchip embedded in the Rottie’s skin, the AHS was able to contact Sasha’s last-known owner.
The unexpected call came as quite a shock to Koczan, who had long given up hope.
“I was kind of like, ‘I haven’t seen her since 2008,” Koczan tells ABCNews.com. “I went into the specifics that I came home from work one day and she wasn’t there. I guess it had been so long, it didn’t occur to me that she was still my dog.”
Finding out Sasha was alive and well was the good news. The bad news — the AHS could only hold Sasha at their overcrowded facility for a maximum of five days. If Koczan couldn’t find a way to come to Arizona and claim Sasha, the Rottie would have to be euthanized.
That’s when volunteer organization the Kindred Hearts Transport Connection came to Sasha’s rescue. Determined to get Sasha back home to Koczan, Kindred Hearts posted a message on their Facebook page, hoping to recruit volunteers to drive Sasha from Phoenix all the way to South Bend, Indiana. The response was overwhelming — 26 total volunteer drivers would split the trip into smaller, more manageable segments, ensuring Sasha would be returned to her family.
Still, the cross-country drive would be a lengthy one. Everyone involved — from Koczan to the drivers of each leg of the journey from Arizona to Indiana — was concerned how Sasha, now 8-years-young, would handle such a long trip.
“[For older dogs], being in the car is really difficult,” Rexroad explains. “They have no idea what’s going on. They meet someone new every hour.”
Luckily the Kindred Hearts crew included a contingency plan for the aging Rottie.
“When it’s a really long drive across the country, we try to do a week-long foster somewhere,” says Rexroad, explaining that Sasha would be fostered at a home in Oklahoma City for a week before continuing on to Indiana.
Twenty-six drivers and two weeks later, Sasha arrived in South Bend Sunday for a reunion five years in the making. Koczan admits she was nervous, wondering whether or not the dog stolen from her so long ago would even remember her.
“We’ve had separate lives for five years,” Koczan says. “Who knows what she’s been through?”
But Koczan says as soon as Sasha looked around and spotted all the things familiar to her — Koczan’s car, the same one she had in 2008, all the furniture in Koczan’s house, the family she once knew before she was taken from them — memories seemed to come back to Sasha.
“She was like, ‘I’ve been here before, I know all of these people,” Koczan says of Sasha’s reaction to her long-awaited homecoming. “She kept looking at me with a look that said, ‘I know you. I know I know you.”
A very grateful Koczan says Sasha is home to stay. While she will likely never know what became of Sasha during those five long years, Koczan says she is focused on Sasha’s future.
“It’s like a blessing and a second chance,” Koczan says. “She’s at the end of her life and now she’ll live it out in peace. She won’t have to worry about being fed or where she’d going to live. That part of her life is done.”
Kindred Hearts volunteer driver Staci Goveia, who had the privilege of driving the last leg of Sasha’s long voyage to South Bend, was thrilled to be a part of bringing Sasha back to her family.
“It’s moments like this we do what we do,” an emotional Goveia says. “Seeing the dogs back with their owners. Great.”
Koczan says without the efforts of the Arizona Humane Society, who made sure to check Sasha for a microchip, there is no way the long-lost Rottie would have made it back home where she belongs.
As for the kind staff at the AHS, they couldn’t be more pleased with how Sasha’s story turned out.
“This is an awesome outcome,” says AHS spokesperson Bretta Nelson. “This is how it should work no matter if it’s ten or fifteen states away.”
For more information on the Kindred Hearts Transport Connection and how you can be a part of helping pets like Sasha reunite with their families, check out the organization’s website and Facebook page.