Georgia was gone. And the family needed her.
Her owner Nonna Russell knew it. Her husband Guy knew it.
Her 6-year-old quadriplegic son, Ryan, knew it most of all.
Though never trained as a service dog, Georgia, a 50-pound, 4-year-old English bulldog, is Ryan’s companion, protector and friend.
And for almost a week, she was missing.
Georgia often warned Ryan’s family if he was having any trouble with his breathing, especially in the middle of the night.
“She notices when something is wrong. She is not a certified service dog. She’s not perfect. She is a natural service dog,” Russell said. “She jumps on the bed. … She stands post.”
When Georgia, a former breeder dog with a maternal instinct, disappeared from home Oct. 17, the Russell family didn’t panic.
Georgia knew where she lived. And though she did not have a history of wandering off, they lived in a good, close-knit neighborhood.
Russell assumed a gate was left open by someone working around the house or the horse ranch they bought for Ryan’s horse therapy.
“You should see Ryan when he rides (Romeo). He just lights up,” said the horse’s trainer, Charda Lively. “It’s amazing the connection they have.”
Georgia and Ryan also have a strong connection. They thought Georgia had just wandered off for a bit.
But, by Saturday, they were frantic.
“I really, honestly did not think she’d be gone,” Russell said. “Then Saturday came. … I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Sunday was a hard day. In addition to Georgia’s obvious absence, they had to mourn the death of a beloved family dog, 17-year-old Howie, who had been with the family since before Ryan was born.
Monday, Russell locked herself in her room. She gave everyone the day off, unable to cope with everyday matters.
Ryan, who is in first grade, is home-schooled by a private tutor and was home all week while Georgia was not.
“We searched on foot. We searched by horse. We searched by car,” Russell said. “We had the whole neighborhood looking.”
Georgia’s dog-walker jumped at the chance to help by listing Georgia on Craigslist, asking Facebook friends to share the missing flier, and advertising the $2,500 reward. The roughly 50 people who work for and with Russell helped in any way they could.
Finally, KTNV-TV, Channel 13 featured the dog’s disappearance on its 11 p.m. news broadcast, which led to her homecoming.
“I thought if someone really wants a bulldog, I’d give them the money to get their own,” Russell said of the reward. “I honestly would have paid whatever was in my savings account” to get Georgia back.
Guy Russell said the reward was offered with guarded optimism, and anything higher would have drawn scammers and heartbreak.
Thirty minutes after the segment aired, Nonna Russell got a text that read, “I think I know where your dog is.”
“It really was unbelievable,” Guy Russell said. “It was such a miracle someone happened to watch the newscast late at night. Such a miracle.”
Wednesday morning, Russell learned that her sweet Georgia, who had two ACL knee surgeries and a bladder problem that required medicine, was sold for $800 to an acquaintance of the person who had texted Russell.
Russell and her husband brought Georgia home Wednesday afternoon.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Russell said, though she was assured it was Georgia. “I just wanted my dog back. I didn’t want to cause a ruckus.”
In a moving homecoming captured by KTNV, Ryan, a quadriplegic since surviving a near-drowning accident at 6 months old, managed to shift his arm until it was resting on Georgia. Tears streamed from his expressive eyes.
“While Georgia was gone, Ryan couldn’t sleep,” Russell said. “I didn’t realize until she was gone how much I depended on her.”
Ryan’s movement is so rare, his physical reaction to Georgia coming home was a small miracle for his parents.
“Something like this makes you count your blessings,” she said. “Some things aren’t replaceable.”
Contact reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt at 702-383-0381 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @reporterrox on Twitter.