4 years after he went missing, 'sweetest' dog and Michigan woman reunite

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Four years after her beloved pet Jack vanished from outside their Detroit home, Desirae Cornell had long abandoned dreams of seeing him again.

Then, one morning last week, the 22-year-old woke up to a message from a stranger she could hardly believe: the shepherd mix had been found near Flint.

“I started crying instantly,” Cornell said. “I had actually recently been thinking about getting a dog … but my heart really wasn’t in it because of what happened to Jack.”

The pair reunited Thursday thanks to Cornell’s decision to microchip her pup as well as police and a dog rescue advocate taking extra steps to ensure Jack could return home. 

“It was outstanding because we find many dogs who don’t have chips,” said Bill Heatley, founder/director at Streethearts Animal Rescue in Burton, who worked to connect them. “It just goes to prove if a dog has a chip, they’ll get found out one way or another.”

Desirae Cornell and Jack reunited Thursday in Mount Morris.

Cornell took advantage of a program to microchip Jack not long after she became his owner about five years ago. The two bonded when she brought food or water to the nearly year-old canine at his former home in her neighborhood, she said.

“He looked so lonely,” Cornell said. “The face he made while he was sitting on that chain every day — he just looked like he wanted someone to pay attention to him, and I’ve always been a sucker for animals.”

Cornell already was fostering other dogs and when Jack’s owners told they no longer wanted him, she leaped at the chance to become his “mom.”

He filled her days until one warm spring night in 2017, when Cornell briefly let the pup outside in their fenced-in yard. She returned to find the gate unlocked and Jack missing.

“I was heartbroken,” Cornell said. “I searched the neighborhood and filed (a report) with police. I really never heard anything back. I had just given up hope after about a year.”

Cornell eventually relocated to Redford Township, had two children and weathered losing a job during the pandemic before finding a new one this year.

Meanwhile, Jack's whereabouts were unknown until he resurfaced late Wednesday, more than an hour north at a Sunoco parking lot in Mount Morris.

Police were called there to tend to a homeless man who had Jack and needed medical attention, Heatley said.

The man surrendered the dog, who was wearing a harness and appeared healthy, he added. One of the officers, Victoria Butcher, reached out to Heatley, whose nonprofit rescues animals as well as finds them foster homes.    

Once Jack calmed down, Heatley scanned him for a microchip and reached out to the company to learn the owner’s identity.

The company emailed Cornell, and Heatley separately connected with her through Facebook then by phone.

News of Jack’s recovery left her in “pure shock,” she said. “It was very emotional.”

Within hours, Cornell arranged to meet up with Heatley and Butcher at the Mount Morris Police Department. 

Tail wagging as he greeted her for the first time in four years, Jack quickly laid down on the pavement so they could snuggle. “I couldn’t stop smiling,” Cornell said. “I was very happy. He kind of laid at my feet and was like: Where have you been?”

Officer Victoria Butcher and Desirae Cornell share a moment with Jack.

In the short time since the reunion, Cornell has rushed to schedule a veterinarian appointment, buy treats and bring her companion to a dog park to frolic.

So far, Jack seems to be adjusting well to her 2-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter while showing the playful personality Cornell fell in love with.

“He’s the exact same. He’s the sweetest,” she said in a phone interview Friday as Jack rested nearby. “It’s like he never left and was meant to be here. It’s kind of like a puzzle piece that fits perfectly back together.”