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Homeward Bound! Dog, found 1,600 miles away, will be home for Christmas

"This dog has never met a stranger in his life," owner Sandra O'Neill said fondly, about the missing dog Zeppelin. "He's a very outgoing, loving dog."
Sandra O'Neill
"This dog has never met a stranger in his life," owner Sandra O'Neill said fondly, about the missing dog Zeppelin. "He's a very outgoing, loving dog."

Zeppelin, a three-year-old German shepherd mix who's become a minor celebrity over the last few days, is about to be reunited with his family – both adopted and sired — just in time for Christmas.

The friendly pooch went missing from his home in West Sacramento, Calif., more than a year ago, said his owner, Sandra O'Neill.

"And then last week, I get a call and he's in Kansas!" she told NPR.

Through a peal of a laughter O'Neill added: "I was floored. Just shocked when they told me."

Zeppelin's mysterious odyssey

Exactly how Zeppelin — named after one of O'Neill's favorite bands, Led Zeppelin — ended up 1,600 miles away from home remains a mystery. But O'Neill said she's got a theory. In the months before the dog's disappearance, he would roam from O'Neill's vast rural spread to a construction site about a mile away, where the crew would feed him treats and give him lots of pets and attention.

"This dog has never met a stranger in his life," she said fondly. "He's a very outgoing, loving dog. So every day he'd go down there and either he'd come home on his own or I would go out to get him."

But on the evening of Oct. 19, 2021, Zeppelin was nowhere to be found. Panicked, O'Neill said she looked in all of Zeppelin's usual spots to no avail. In the days the followed she kept returning to the construction site. But again, no one had seen him. She turned to Facebook, posting on every missing-dog group she could think of. So did her friends.

In the end, O'Neill said, "I have no proof but I think somebody down there fell in love with him and took him home."

Zeppelin was found in Louisburg, Kansas, after wandering onto a woman's property a little over a week ago. His owner in California, Sandra O'Neill, was contacted by the company who makes the microchip implanted in Zeppelin.
/ Sandra O'Neill
/
Sandra O'Neill
Zeppelin was found in Louisburg, Kansas, after wandering onto a woman's property a little over a week ago. His owner in California, Sandra O'Neill, was contacted by the company who makes the microchip implanted in Zeppelin.

A whispered prayer

Over the intervening months, she didn't dare let herself consider the worst-case scenario. Instead, she focused on the fact that Zeppelin had been microchipped, and held out hope that someday a vet might figure out that the gregarious dog had a family waiting for him.

O'Neill and her husband live on a big farm with loads of animals. They have horses, goats, chickens, cats and a handful of abandoned dogs they've rescued. But Zeppelin was always in her thoughts, she said.

"Just the other night my husband and I were driving past the old construction site and I said a little prayer. 'I hope you're somewhere safe,'" she whispered to herself.

The next morning O'Neill got a call from the microchip company, telling her Zeppelin had been found in Louisburg, Kan. A woman had found the dog on her property one night and took him to the vet to get him checked out.

"I am just so grateful for all of the good folks along the way who have helped in trying to get this puppy home to us," she said.

Hero's welcome for a returning doggy daddy

Zeppelin will be receiving a hero's welcome on Wednesday morning, according to O'Neill, who describes herself as a private and somewhat shy person. A woman named Mary Hastings, volunteered to drive him home after visiting her daughter in Kansas.

"I'm sure he's going to love every minute of it. He loves car rides," O'Neill said.

"There's going be a press conference. It's going to be a media circus," she added, laughing. "But I can't wait to see him. We've missed him so much!"

Still, she's most delighted by the idea of Zeppelin's own family reunion. Before embarking on the grand odyssey, he sired a litter of puppies. They were just weeks old when he vanished, and while O'Neill gave away most, she kept two – Angus and Sweet Pea.

Now, after the equivalent of about 13 dog years, they will all be together again.

"He was the best doggy daddy," O'Neill exclaimed. "He's going to be so happy."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.