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Monday, March 26, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pooch detours into his past: Back with prior owner, current owners turn up

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The first phone call seemed like a miracle.

More than two years after her Alaskan malamute, Simon, vanished from her Edmonds yard, Cindy Stoehr learned he'd turned up at a Lynnwood animal shelter. The dog had a microchip imbedded beneath his skin, allowing workers to trace his ownership.

Stoehr retrieved Simon last Thursday from the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), drove him home and was just beginning to get reacquainted when the shelter called again.

A Lynnwood man had entered PAWS an hour after Stoehr left, bearing his children's scrapbook pages filled with photos of a missing dog that looked exactly like Simon. "We love our dog," read a colorful caption pasted beneath the handwritten story of how their family's beautiful pet, whom they called Yukon, entered their lives in May 1999.

It was an easy decision for Stoehr, who now has two other large dogs - a golden retriever and Gordon setter. She loaded Simon/Yukon back into her car and returned him to PAWS, where his other owner, Kevin Wentz, was waiting.

"It literally made us cry, and we're pretty jaded," said Richard Huffman, PAWS' director of advocacy and outreach. "So many animals are coming in that are just not loved, and here is a dog that was loved by two families."

People can be fiercely attached to their pets. Divorcing couples sometimes squabble over visitation rights, and legal case law is evolving over what to do with situations such as Yukon's.

In January, a Pierce County judge ruled that a mother and daughter must return a dog they had found. Yet the Vermont Supreme Court in 1997 ruled that the original owner of a hunting dog return it to a woman who'd spent a year caring for it.

When Wentz first learned of Yukon's true ownership, he despaired. How was he going to tell his girls, 13-year-old Jessica and 11-year-old Melissa? The big white-faced dog sleeps on Melissa's bed, and she'd had a tough time sleeping after Yukon disappeared last Tuesday, he said.

"Every morning I'd look out the door and see if he was there," Melissa said.

Now the girls have another photo of Yukon to add to their scrapbooks. In this one, Stoehr squats next to a younger, skinnier version of their dog outside her Edmonds house.

Stoehr adopted "Simo" in 1997 through a purebred rescue society. She met him while searching for another malamute, Ibian, who had been stolen from her front yard.

"He definitely had come from an abused home," she said. "Malamutes have really, really thick fur, and you could see his ribs through it. If you walked up to him, he'd cower and fall over on the ground. If you threw a ball toward him, he'd think you were throwing it at him, and hide."

Less than a year later, he vanished.

When her first malamute, Ibian, disappeared, Stoehr became involved with a national Internet site devoted to finding missing cats and dogs, www.missingpet.net. She agreed to be the group's Washington sponsor, creating a Web page for missing dogs and cats in this state. Until about six months ago, she included a dedication page for Ibian and Simon.

Stoehr is a big proponent of pet microchipping, which local advocates say costs $17 to $35 per animal. The PAWS shelter, which handles about 2,000 cats and dogs per year, has started to microchip all its animals, Huffman said.

About 50 percent of dogs that come into PAWS are reunited with their owners, compared with 2 percent of cats, he said.

Wentz said his family never checked for a microchip in Yukon because they thought they'd known who his most recent owners had been. The family reunited the dog with that owner by calling a pager number on the dog's collar. Then two days later, the dog showed up again. This time the man said they could keep him.

Jessica Wentz's scrapbook tells the rest of the story:

"We were very excited! We let Dad pick the name and he chose Yukon. We have been happy ever since then."

Stoehr said the dog himself persuaded her to return him to the Wentz family. When PAWS called the first time, Stoehr said, she feared he'd be in terrible shape again.

"I was really amazed," she said. "His coat was nice, his eyes were bright. He was happy."

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