A golden retriever finds her way home.
The first time Ormond Beach resident Chara Free held Joy, it was love at first sight.
She and her family drove down to the breeder in Miami on Fourth of July, an arduous four hour ride filled with anticipation. Free has always had a golden retriever since she was 19, and after her last one died three and a half years ago, she said she felt a hole in her
heart. When they arrived, the breeder placed a squirming little puppy in her arms, and the puppy began licking her and biting at her hair playfully.
“And I knew that she was just a gift," Free said.
They named her Joy after her 9-year-old autistic son's favorite character in the movie "Inside Out."
For over six months, Free and her family strengthened their bond with Joy. She played with them, made sure they went to bed on time and provided emotional support to Free, even if she's not yet old enough to officially become a therapy animal. After her first birthday, Free plans to train Joy to become a READ therapy dog and to bring her around nursing homes.
On Tuesday, Feb. 20, at around 6:30 p.m., Joy got lost after being spooked by Free's son's scooter. Free called her fiancé John Michalman in tears, and he and his driving school student dropped their lesson and began to comb the beachside for Joy. They searched for over six hours with no sign of Joy, worried that someone could have taken her.
“I really believe in the power of the law of attraction, and so since she’s been gone, I’ve been really focused on her coming home,” Free said.
She repeated the phrase "She’s safe and sound, she’s coming home" to herself over and over. On Friday, Feb. 23, she began repeating "she's coming home today."
And she did.
Jo Ann Owens, lead community service officer for the Ormond Beach Police Department, delivered Joy back to her mom that morning. Someone in the first block of South Halifax Drive caught Joy and called it in to dispatch.
“I really believe in the power of the law of attraction, and so since she’s been gone, I’ve been really focused on her coming home."
Chara Freed, Joy's owner
When Free saw Joy, she said she felt relief and elation.
“Pure joy, right Joy?" Michalman said to the furry golden pup.
This is the reason Owens has been working with OBPD for 16 years.
“It’s great because if my dog was out and lost, I would be frantic," Owens said. "Then when they get reunited, they’re so happy and that’s what you want to feel because they’re part of your family.”
Also in attendance to witness the happy reunion were Tami Padilla and Lisa Cady of the Flagler and Volusia County Lost Dogs Facebook group. They had been planning to help search for Joy later that day before Free received the call from OBPD.
Padilla encourages others to share lost pet posts on social media because it only takes one person to recognize an animal and call it in.
“The power of Facebook is crazy," Padilla said.
Later that afternoon, as Joy naps deeply at Free's feet, Free tells stories about Joy interacting with her children. She tells Cady and Padilla that Joy curls herself on her pillow every night and gets anxious whenever they're late for bed.
“So you’re her therapy as much as she is yours," Cady said.
"She is," Free replied.