Mandi Smith's 5-month-old puppy disappeared from the family's Fort Campbell, Ky., yard 18 months ago. So when Smith got a call saying Pooka had turned up in northern New Mexico, she says she was more than a little surprised.
"At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me," the 26-year-old Smith said Wednesday, adding that she played the voicemail from the Espanola Valley Humane Society more than once.
"I thought I'd never see her again."
But it was no joke. The now 2-year-old Chihuahua-dachshund mix, also known as a "chiweenie," was found wandering the streets in Espanola on Jan. 12. She was traced back to her military family by a microchip that Smith says had been installed just days before she went missing.
Smith and the dog were reunited Wednesday at Albuquerque's airport.
Surrounded by cameras and reporters, it was unclear if Pooka recognized Smith. But she clearly looked content to be snuggled in her arms.
Pooka has been staying with a foster mom, Melanie Lopez, who brought the dog to the airport for the reunion. Also on hand was Claudia Inoue, a Santa Fe animal lover who donated Southwest Airlines frequent flier awards to Lopez. Southwest Airlines waived the $75 fee for Smith to carry the dog home on the plane.
Smith says she had Pooka for just four months when she disappeared after the family let her out to do her business.
"I don't know if she got out through a hole in the fence or what," Smith said.
Smith planned to head straight back to Kentucky, where she said the now full-grown dog would be welcomed into a much larger household.
With Pooka missing, Smith got two new dogs, a German Shepherd and a German Shepherd mix, because "I was depressed."
And Smith recently gave birth to a fourth child.
Nina Stively, community outreach manager at the Espanola Valley Humane Society, said Pooka had recently given birth herself and was still nursing when she was found. Attempts to find her puppies were unsuccessful.
The rest of the dog's story and how she traveled more than 1,220 miles to New Mexico, however, will likely forever remain a mystery.
"I have no idea," she said. "And she's not talking."