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Mark and Christy Whiteside of La Salle knew their only hope of being reunited with their German shepherd, Duke, was his implanted microchip. Three years later, after Duke was stolen, the microchip information led to a recent reunion for the happy family.
Christy Whiteside of La Salle was talking to her grandson and he happened to bring up Duke, the Whitesides’ German shepherd that was stolen from them almost three years ago.
“I couldn’t believe that just a few days later Duke would find us again,” she said.
Duke was reunited with his rightful owners Saturday through a combination of luck and the Whitesides’ due diligence of making sure the information on their microchipped dog remained current.
“After all that time you do think about him and hope, but after so long you move on and forget. But then one day...” said Christy’s husband, Mark Whiteside.
Stolen Dog Labor Day weekend in 2011 the Whtiesides decided to spend a few days at a friend’s house in Elgin.
Their then 18-month old German shepherd, Duke, was too young to be left alone for an entire weekend so he came along.
During the weekend late at night, Christy went for a walk. Duke, who always followed her everywhere she goes, ran off to catch up with her. It was something that happened all the time back in La Salle.
But this time something went terribly wrong.
Christy returned from her walk without Duke and never realized the dog had chased after her.
As they searched the neighborhood a man nearby said he saw a woman open her car door and Duke got in. She drove off before he could get a description.
The Whitesides called every police agency and animal shelter in the area. They left Duke’s bowl and leash with their friend in case he came back. But they knew he was gone.
“We didn’t want to leave Elgin but we had to go back to work,” Christy said. “Our only hope was the microchip.”
Animal sanctuary Mary Hielkema, the office manager at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Rockford, said Saturday morning an unidentified man knocked on the front door as they were opening up that day.
He explained he found the dog roaming his neighborhood so he brought it to the sanctuary.
“Sometimes people make up stories so they don’t have to admit they are abandoning their dogs,” Hielkema said. “But you could tell there was no real bond between them.”
Sanctuary personnel did the normal routine when new dogs are brought to them. They checked the animal for signs of abuse or injuries and then scanned the back of its neck hoping to find a microchip.
This dog had a microchip. After a quick call to the microchip company, Hielkema discovered the dog was reported missing in 2012 and belonged to Mark Whiteside, a resident of La Salle. There also was a cell phone number.
“I called the number and I texted it too because some of our younger staff said no one checks their cell phone messages anymore,” she said.
At around noon, Hielkema received a phone call from Mark. She described him as “speechless,” only able to tell her that he would be up there as soon as possible.
An hour or so later, Mark and Christy arrived at the sanctuary.
“We were actually worried but excited,” Hielkema said. “It’s been two years so we didn’t know if the dog would remember them. So everyone working there that day followed them to the kennels. We were all hoping.”
As soon as Duke caught sight of Mark and Christy his tail vigorously slapped back and forth. He spun around inside the cage until an employee opened the door, Duke bolted out and ran circles around everyone, paying especially close attention to Christy.
Duke had found his pack.
“It was just very exciting,” Hielkema said. “We’ve reunited dogs with their owners before but this was something different. It had been two years and no one knew what to expect.”
Back Home When Duke was a pup, Mark would take him out every morning while he smoked a cigarette. Each day, he would say, “Let’s go have a smoke” and Duke would excitedly get up and follow him outside.
On the ride back from the sanctuary, Mark said it to Duke again: “Lets go have a smoke.”
Duke jumped excitedly in the car and began “talking.”
“That’s how we knew he knew us,” Mark said.
When Duke arrived back home he sniffed all around the yard, rediscovered the wading pool in the back and then found his favorite toy, the Incredi-ball.
He also made friends with the newest addition to the home, another German Shepherd named Thor the Whitesides rescued from Illinois Valley Animal Rescue.