Family visits shelter to adopt new dog, finds beloved pooch lost in Sandy aftermath

After Hurricane Sandy damaged their New Jersey home, Reckless escaped the family’s property and lost his collar. (Photo credit: Bill Denver/New York Daily News)

A year and a half ago, the James family of Keansburg, New Jersey, was thankful to be alive and together after Hurricane Sandy plowed through their town.

But then, as Chuck and Elicia James were cleaning up storm debris, the unthinkable happened: Reckless, the family’s beloved 3-year-old Pit Bull Terrier mix, escaped through the broken backyard fence. Chuck, Elicia, and their children — Kelsey, Liam, and Alexandra — were absolutely devastated.

“It was like losing a family member,” Chuck James tells NBC New York. “My kids were upset, my wife was upset, I was upset.”

And what’s worse, the family knew from the get go that finding Reckless would be a very difficult task because of a discovery they made after their dog’s disappearance.

“I saw his collar sticking in the fence,” Chuck remembers. “It couldn’t have been a worse-case scenario.”

The Jameses spent the better part of a year scouring the area for any sign of their missing dog, but Reckless was nowhere to be found. Though they never lost hope that they’d find Reckless safe and sound one day, after nearly 18 long months, the family played around with the idea of adopting another dog — not to replace Reckless, of course. Alexandra James’s tenth birthday was around the corner, and her parents knew how much it would mean for their daughter to have a dog in her life again.

“You keep searching, but eventually you have to move on,” Chuck explains.

The Jameses decided to take a trip out to the Monmouth County SPCA and check out the shelter’s Homeward Bound Adoption Center, hoping they would find their new furry family member there.

But as Chuck and Elicia walked into the kennel room, they saw a very familiar tan and white face looking back at them.

“Literally when we opened the double doors, the first cage we walk up to I thought ‘that looks like Reckless,” Chuck tells Delaware Online. “He was a little heavier and it’s been a little while, but then my wife saw the scar on his head.”

“My wife said, ‘That’s our dog. That’s Reckless,” Chuck remembers.

Chuck was in shock — what were the chances that the dog they’d been missing for a year and a half was suddenly right there in front of them, the very day they’d set out to adopt a new dog?

“But then he was laying on my wife’s feet, and I knew it was him… I was in disbelief. I know this dog is meant to be with our family,” Chuck tells the Associated Press.

Chuck, Elicia, and Reckless were overcome with emotion throughout their happy reunion.

“We both got teary-eyed. The dog was licking us to death, he was jumping three feet in the air. He was home. He knew the ordeal was over,” says Chuck.

Monmouth County SPCA President and CEO Jerry Rosenthal tells CNN that he believes Reckless must have been taken in by a family and cared for after Hurricane Sandy. A shelter employee spotted Reckless wandering down a street nearby and brought him in last November, and he’d been there ever since.

“We love happy endings,” Rosenthal says. “I always tell people our goal is to prevent animals from coming into the shelter except when we can get them back to their original owners.”

Rosenthal says Reckless’s story should serve as a reminder of the importance of microchips.

“If Reckless had been microchipped, we could have reunited him with his family much sooner,” he explains.

Though Chuck and Elicia were able to prove that Reckless was indeed their long lost dog, they were happy to pay the shelter’s requisite $180 adoption fee anyway.

“They took care of the dog, microchipped him, he saw a vet regularly, and [they] sheltered him,” Chuck says, grateful for the TLC shelter staff had given Reckless all this time. “It was like bailing my dog out of jail,” he jokes.

All of the Jameses, especially the kids, are ecstatic to have their best buddy back.

“I’m just glad that he’s home,” Elicia tells USA Today of Reckless. “The kids are happy and this whole thing has been an amazing experience.”

To celebrate, the James family — Reckless included — all went on a fun camping trip together.

“This is our first family vacation in a really long time, and we get the whole family on vacation,” Chuck says.

Getting Reckless back is “like winning the lottery without buying the ticket,” he adds.

Sources: USA Today, CNN, Associated Press, Delaware Online, NBC New York