The Times-Picayune, Richard Thompson
Days after Stephan Soleas packed his bags, and his accordion, and hitched a ride to New Orleans, his 6-year-old Labrador mix went missing near his northern New Mexico home.
In a made-for-TV twist of fate, Soleas, 26, who came to town to make music and visit with friends for a few weeks, got word Feb. 5 that his canine companion, Charlie, had surfaced on Magazine Street — nearly 1,200 miles away from where they parted ways, but only about 50 blocks from where he was now staying.
Not buying it? Neither was Soleas.
Here’s the story behind the mini-drama: A New Orleans couple traveling together in Taos, a small New Mexico town near the noted ski resort, spotted the all-white dog “just kind of running in the street, and they thought it was a stray because it didn’t have a collar,” said Teresa Gernon, who co-owns the Magazine Street Animal Clinic.
When they stopped the car and opened a door, the dog jumped right in, according to Gernon, who described the couple as longtime customers who had “the best of intentions” in helping the dog.
The couple, who, through Gernon, declined to speak with a reporter about finding the dog, spent days combing the Taos neighborhood, searching for the owner or someone who recognized the dog. A nearby veterinary clinic, not equipped with a pet microchip scanner, was no help.
So the couple, charmed by the friendly dog’s antics, scrapped plans for their return flight and rented a car to make the three-day drive back to New Orleans with the dog, whom they coincidentally christened Charlie.
Back at the Magazine Street clinic, the couple discussed plans for adoption, but when Gernon scanned the animal’s chip, Soleas came up as a match. Gernon called him the next day and was amazed to learn that he was staying just a short distance away.
Gernon said the couple took the news well. “I think they were a little sad, and a little shocked, but they were just happy that he was able to get reunited with his family,” she said.
For his part, Soleas, who plays in a band with his wife, Jemma, was relieved to have the dog back. “I’m just grateful for them,” he said. “Charlie could’ve ended up somewhere else.”
Soleas wasn’t surprised that Charlie, who he said is a certified service dog, hopped into a stranger’s car. “It’s kind of this little game that he plays,” he said, “but this time he didn’t have his collar.”
About 4 percent of dogs that arrive at shelters in the United States have been microchipped, according to figures from HomeAgain, a national recovery service. Because the chips are embedded in a pet’s flesh, they can be more effective than collars in reuniting lost pets with their owners.
The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends steps for people who find animals they suspect are strays, including posting “lost pet” notices in the neighborhood, and checking in and reporting the find with local animal shelters, newspapers and online postings.
“I think the moral of the story is that chipping is so important for animals,” said Katherine LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the Louisiana SPCA, which received 171 reports of missing pets in December.
Gernon agreed. “It can happen to anyone, anytime,” she said.
“Any animal’s collar can come right off or be taken off or slip off, and that dog can’t just tell you who it is.”
To Soleas, who said his trip had gotten off to a rocky start before the surprise phone call, Charlie was welcome company during the Carnival season.
“Literally, my dog disappeared 10 days ago in New Mexico,” he said shortly before Barkus rolled through the French Quarter. “He wasn’t supposed to be here, and now I’ve got him walking around with me, just in time for the dog parade.”