MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — On April 26, 2017, Walter Watkins returned to his Memphis home from work, let his three-month-old dog Hennessy out to use the bathroom and went back inside the house to make her meal. When he went back out to get her, she was gone.

“I was doing this for three months with her, from six weeks old when she started going outside. I’m letting her outside so she can be housetrained,” Watkins said.

A woman told him she had seen a man pull Hennessy over the fence, so Watkins started running through the neighborhood looking for the American Bully to no avail.

Watkins and his son, who was 10 years old when Hennessy was stolen, looked for her for more than two years before finally giving up. But then last week, almost six years to the day the dog was stolen, Watkins got a call from the Olive Branch Animal Shelter.

Hennessy had been sold to a family in Olive Branch and the animal shelter had found Hennessy after she had gotten lost. The shelter was able to connect Watkins with Hennessy because Watkins had chipped her when she was a baby and kept his contact information updated. A microchip is a small, electronic chip that is injected under the skin of the pet using a hypodermic needle. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, while a microchip doesn’t act as a GPS tracking device, having one will make it more likely for an owner to be reunited with a lost pet.

“It was a bad situation at the time. A lot of tears were shed because of this dog,” Watkins said. “After two years we gave up, we gave up looking. But I never stopped updating my information as far as the chip. When I got that call the other day, I really thought it was a joke. I was like look ‘is this a sick joke? Why would you call and tell me this when it’s been six years?’ But he was like ‘man, we’ve got your dog.‘”

When Watkins told his son, now 17, that Hennessy had been found, he wanted to immediately leave school to come see her, but Watkins told him to finish the day and then come straight home.

“When he came home, I mean my son’s 17, you know how when they get 17 they think they’re grown and all that,” Watkins said. “Man, I seen the kid come back out in him. That was his dog. He looked for that dog day and night. And it was really him, like saying ’daddy can we go look for Hennessy?” I wanted to give up a long time ago, but my son, we were out there every day for two years, looking for the dog.”

Watkins is thankful he had microchipped Hennessy and is now pushing for others to do the same for their pets.

“When an animal is found and taken to a shelter or veterinary clinic, one of the first things they do is scan the animal for a microchip,” the veterinary association said in a written Q&A. “If they find a microchip, and if the microchip registry has accurate information, they can quickly find the animal’s owner.”

Watkins had spent somewhere between $95 and $200 to chip Hennessy in 2017 but said it can be done for much cheaper now. It cost five dollars to microchip a pet at the Memphis Animal Shelter and in July 2022, the shelter told the Commercial Appeal that it encourages owners to microchip their pets as a way to prevent animals from coming into the shelter. There are microchip scanners at every single fire station in Memphis allowing people who find a lost dog to scan them.

“It’s unbelievable how many pets are in the animal shelter right now,” Watkins said. “I believe that with a simple microchip, a lot of people would have their pets back. This right here goes to show that it works.”

As for Hennessy, she is now called Princess Hennessy. The Olive Branch family that purchased the dog four years ago named her Princess. Watkins has conflicted feelings about having her back now and has been talking with the people who had her about how to set up a situation where they can still see Princess Hennessy.

“I let the guy (who had her for four years) know ‘she’s got two families now, she got two homes now, I want you guys to know, this is your family,‘” Watkins said. “I even asked the guy ‘do you want her back’ and, on the other hand, it’s like, I really don’t want to give my dog back.”