Azzurra Diamante, an Olde English bulldog that disappeared from Long Beach five years ago and somehow ended up about 1,000 miles away in western Tennessee, is headed home.
"She was a little bit confused at first, but she gave me her paw and licked my face … and she kept licking my face," said Jen Costa, 37, a survivor of stage 4 metastatic cancer who drove all the way from her Queens Village home for the uncommon reunion, only made possible by a microchip.
"She jumped right in the car; she’s standing in the car like she always did," Costa said Friday from Tennessee.
The Chester County Animal Hospital had scanned the dog's microchip and contacted a stunned Costa on Monday. Henderson City Animal Rescue had taken the dog to the clinic to be spayed, and her rescuers saw to it that she was scanned for a microchip — she was too valuable not to have belonged to someone.
Absent that microchip, said Dr. Sarah Box of the Animal Hospital, the dog "would have been rehomed ... and the owner would have been left wondering for the rest of her life what had happened to the dog and how she was."
Box added: "It was really an uplifting moment for a lot of us."
As a reunion video shows, Azzurra — Italian for "blue diamond" because of her blue eyes — has instantly bonded with Pancake, Costa’s young male French bulldog.
Jan Morris, the mainstay volunteer at the Rescue, which has cared for Azzurra since Thanksgiving, said, "Oh, they’re going to have a blast together. She is happy; we’re going to miss her."
"It's just such an unusual, rare event," Morris said. "I’m confident that she remembers her, and of course, Pancake seems to be very excited that he has a big sis."
Robert W. King, the mayor of Henderson — population 6,500 and known for its annual late September barbecue festival — said police are probing the dog’s journey and will talk with the couple that apparently had her. "As of today, there have been several attempts … they will eventually get to interview them," King said.
Costa and Azzurra both have been through the wringer. Costa, permanently disabled at 19 in a crash, in 2017 survived a 19-hour operation to remove her tongue, only to have Azzurra go missing when the dog was 2.
As a few recent dognappings on Long Island reveal, bulldogs are targets; Costa paid $3,000 for Azzurra at 8 weeks old. How many litters Azzurra has given birth to is unknown: "Quite a few," Box said.
Costa's faith led her to her calling. Through a Facebook group, StrongHeartNation, she encourages other individuals hit hard by life. Her dream is to buy an RV so that she can keep meeting her followers.
She has been living with her grandmother, but there is no room for both dogs, so one might have to be temporarily fostered, or they all may have to stay in hotels while Costa tries to raise funds for her mission.
In Henderson, about 90 miles east of Memphis, Morris and some of Azzurra's rescuers are putting Costa up before a weekend snowstorm. "We'll all stay in touch and everything; there's a plus to everything," Morris said.
Costa, having already bested so much adversity, expressed confidence in her future.
"Whatever was meant to be will be," she said.