A dog stolen from a Bristol, England family four years ago has finally returned home where he belongs after a family friend spotted the dog for sale on Facebook.
Cotton, now a 6-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was taken from the Martin family home in 2008. Joanna Martin and her daughters stepped out one afternoon to visit Joanna’s mom, and when they returned home not more than an hour later, Cotton was gone.
“My first thought when I got home was that he had escaped as there were no signs of a burglary or anything,” Joanna remembers. But when she looked around, nothing else was missing — only Cotton was nowhere to be found.
“I got the impression they were looking to steal the dog because there were lots of items they could have taken and they didn’t,” she explained.
Joanna believes that Cotton’s unusual black-and-white markings, including freckles on his ears and a patch over one eye, made him a target for the dognapper.
After Cotton turned up missing, his absence left a hole in the Martins’ hearts. “When he was taken the whole family felt the loss,” she said.
“He was my baby boy — after having girls, he was one of the kids,” Joanna explained. “Cotton is just three weeks older than my middle daughter Katie, who took it hardest when he was away” Joanna told The Daily Mail. “They were always with each other.”
Desperate to find Cotton, Joanna canvassed the neighborhood, called local animal shelters, and posted “missing dog” fliers every place she could. She even created a Facebook page for Cotton to get the word out, hoping that social media could help bring her four-legged kid home.
As weeks turned into months, and months turned into years with no sign of Cotton, Joanna refused to give up on him.
“I never wanted to give up hope,” Joanna said. “I would check that shops still had posters up — they wanted to take them down after a year but I would say how dogs are sometimes found after two years.”
Even four years later, Joanna still kept an eye out for Cotton and encouraged her friends and family to do the same.
That’s when Joanna got the call that she’d been waiting for: her friend, Cotton’s former dog-walker, had spotted Cotton in a “for sale” ad on Facebook.
“When I saw his picture I burst into tears,” Joanna said, “I couldn’t believe it after all this time.”
Joanna called the woman who’d posted the ad, pretending to be an interested customer. When she arranged a meeting to purchase Cotton from the woman, police went along for the ride. The woman, who is in her 20s, has been arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods.
Before Joanna was allowed to take Cotton home, the police had to verify that she was in fact Cotton’s real owner. Luckily Joanna had been preparing for those questions for four long years.
“The police were fantastic,” Joanna said. “They came out and asked me for any identifiable marks he had and I explained that there was a scar across his left leg from where another dog had attacked him.”
“If it wasn’t for that scar I don’t know if we’d have got him,” she added.
Cotton was reunited with the rest of the Martin family, including 12-year-old Kira and 6-year old Katie, Wednesday evening. The police officers that assisted in his return were also present for the happy homecoming.
“I just hope that Cotton can now enjoy being pampered and the family can make up for lost time,” said Officer John Shaddick. “They look very happy together.”