Call her Coco, the wonder dog of the Thruway.
Coco, a chocolate lab/Weimaraner mix, had been rescued from Ohio and adopted by a family in Alden in May, only to run away. She turned up alive and well in downtown Rochester this week.
The discovery stunned Julie Garvey, executive director of Pet Connection Programs in Marilla, which had adopted out the dog and had been trying to track it after it went missing.
"I screamed and yelled so loud I scared everybody here," Garvey said when she heard from Rochester animal control officials this week.
The amazing dog tale starts all the way back in February 2008 when Coco, who was pregnant, was slated to be put down in an Ohio animal shelter, Garvey said.
Pet Connection, which rescues pregnant dogs from around the country, learned about Coco and arranged for a volunteer to pick her up and bring her to the Marilla shelter.
Coco delivered her puppies and when they were about eight weeks old, Pet Connection began putting them up for adoption.
The shelter workers wanted to find Coco a home, too. She was a sweet dog but had a tendency to be a little nervous. "She's a skittish dog, not nasty," Garvey said.
In May, shelter workers thought Coco had settled down enough to be placed with a family in Alden. Before she left, they imbedded an identification chip under her skin -- something the shelter does for all of its animals.
"The family was very nice," Garvey said of the people who took in Coco. "Unfortunately, the first day they had her she pushed open a screen door . . . and she ran away."
The shelter quickly began receiving reports about sightings of Coco.
"She's a very striking dog," Garvey said. "She's red and blue with yellow eyes... Plus she had just gotten spayed and had a big, thick Ace bandage around her waist."
But the dog eluded capture.
"No one could catch her," Garvey said.
Over the summer, Coco was spotted all around the Batavia area.
"We were finding she was going from person to person every week, week and a half," Garvey said. "As soon as they acted like they wanted to catch her, she'd leave."
The Genesee County dog warden and local volunteers tried in vain to catch the elusive Coco, but to no avail. "This was going on from June until September," Garvey said.
But after September, Coco seemed to vanish. Garvey was sad
dened and figured the dog would be found dead on the side of the road in the spring after the snow melted away.
In January, a psychic phoned Garvey and told her that Coco was alive. "She called me and told me [Coco] was making friends and getting food," Garvey recalled. Garvey didn't believe it.
Then on Wednesday, Garvey got a phone call from an animal control official in Rochester. The agency had found a dog wandering around downtown Rochester. They scanned her for a chip and it was traced back to Pet Connections.
It hadn't even occurred to Garvey that it could be Coco, but when the chip number was checked, it turned out to be the elusive dog.
A volunteer picked Coco up and she was brought back to the shelter.
Coco looked well, Garvey said. She appeared to have been eating regular meals.
Coco won't be adopted out this time, Garvey said. "After all she's been through, she'll be here for life," she said.
Garvey wonders if the dog had liked her time at her shelter and got upset when she was moved to a new home.
On Friday, Coco was acting as if she had been in the shelter all along and was taking some nice, long naps.
Coco's story is evidence of how well microchips work.
"I think people need to know how extremely important it is to microchip their pets," Garvey said. " . . . If it wasn't for that microchip, there's absolutely no way for us to think she was in Rochester."