ASTOR – They will never forget that big old lug, a large 18-month-old Newfoundland-pointer mix found darting between vehicles in the parking lot of Pack A Sack Food Store on State Road 40 East.
It was 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, when this adorable puppy became the traveling companion of four strangers, who took him boating and island-hopping after posting his picture on animal lost-and-found Facebook pages.
They took the happy-go-lucky puppy on a boat ride to Silver Glen Springs off Lake George and to Shell Island on the St. Johns River. It was the puppy's vacation on a hot afternoon in the Ocala National Forest.
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The pup loved his day, swimming and running around Shell Island, where he met Scarlet the Australian cattle dog, a group of dog-loving pontoon boat partiers, and ate canned chicken and kibble.
He fit right in with his new pack, occasionally offering a lick, a hand shake and happy wag of his tail. By 3 p.m., five hours after he was picked up, there was still been no word from his owner.
What is this dog’s story? His collar appeared to, at one time, have the words “Service Dog” written on it. The 70-pound pup was soaking wet. He was well trained and trusting, probably too trusting.
I know firsthand about this story. I was one of the four strangers who welcomed this caring shipmate onboard the Chasin’ Dawn on a perfect sunny, though windy, day.
It was the pup’s vacation from, well, the good life, we later found out. And, thank goodness, there is a happy ending. It was happy because the power of social media helped lead this special dog back to his owner.
How it all began
It was busy on that Saturday at the small Ocala National Forest store, located at SR 40 and Southeast 183rd Avenue Road. A Jeep club had just rolled in for drinks and ice.
My wife, Leslie, and I were riding in a pickup with our good friends, Jeff and Michelle Norman, heading to Astor for fun in the sun. They were treating us to a boat trip on the St. Johns River and Lake George.
Michelle first noticed the beautiful black-and-white speckled pup, running circles around the parking lot and getting dangerously close to SR 40 and Southeast 183rd.
Michelle announced she wasn’t leaving until we caught the dog and either found the dog’s owner or handed him to someone to keep him safe.
I finally was able to grab his collar, which had torn vinyl wording. The first letter was “S” and the last two letters were “og.”
We figured the canine, which recently took a swim, was likely a service dog, though possibly a search dog. No matter the case, we knew his owner had to be missing this well-trained puppy, which would sit and shake hands by command.
Is this your dog?
For the next 20 or 30 minutes, we drove into a nearby neighborhood to see where he came from, even stopping at blind man’s home. The man said he didn’t have a large service dog.
After we struck out trying to find the owners in person, Michelle and Leslie posted pictures of the adorable pup on Facebook lost-and-found animal pages and began sharing, as did many of our friends.
Instead of waiting around, we decided to take the good boy with us on our boating journey to Silver Glen Springs and Shell Island near Astor.
Living the life
The pup didn’t bat and eye when told to jump off the dock and into the boat, a 2017 Tidewater. We set out north along the St. Johns River, eventually into Lake George and then to Silver Glen Springs for a short while.
Then we traveled back south and ended up at Shell Island, a scenic small island that was cleaned up by a local veterans group. There's no dock; you just pull up and jump off. It turned out to be the perfect place for our new companion.
The pup ran in the water’s edge, often playful biting at the water, and ran along several short paths on the very small island.
Soon several pontoon boats full of passengers headed our way. All these partiers fell in love with “our” dog’s sweetness. In fact, after we shared his story, nearly everyone told us they would take him off our hands.
That was where Yang met Scarlett, an Australian cattle dog. Everywhere Scarlett went, he followed. It was, in fact, puppy love. Soon, our boating companion stayed close to us, delivered menacing barks to anyone who approached.
By 4 p.m., we decided to cancel dinner plans at the Blackwater Inn at Williams Landing. Worn out from his day, the content canine curled up in the back seat between us and fell fast asleep.
Reunited and it feels so good
At about 2 p.m. Sunday, a flurry of poignant comments came streaming on one post shared on one of the animal lost-and-found pages.
The Normans had taken the puppy to their Ocala home until they could find the owner. If they couldn’t, they had decided to make him one of the Norman pack.
“This is my dog,” Patrick Barber, of Dalton, Georgia, wrote on the post. “Where is he. His name is Yang.”
After writing his phone number, Barber wrote: “Please call me as soon as possible. This is my buddy.”
Yang was reunited with Barber in the Silver Springs Walmart parking lot. A selfie taken by Michelle at about 8 p.m. Sunday captured the moment.
How did the rescuers know Patrick Barber was Yang's owner?
We knew we had the right owner based on Barber’s videos on his Facebook page, including a picture of Yang. The dog has a signature mark on his right upper lip. There was no doubt they were a match; plus, Barber and Yang were clearly excited to see each other.
Barber said he immediately began looking for Yang, who had been sitting in his vehicle’s back seat early Saturday. Yang apparently had jumped unnoticed out the back window to go play. Then Barber 's search began.
Barber had just arrived in Marion County a week earlier. He is living with his cousin in the Ocala National Forest for several weeks until he gets the funds to get back home.
He spent most of the last three months with his mom in his Kissimmee hometown after his father died. Barber was so happy to find “his boy,” who he says is his emotional support dog, though not officially registered as such.
Barber was shocked when he learned that Yang had been on the water for much of the day Saturday, stating, “he’s never been on a boat.”
Four days before that Houdini act, Barber said, Yang had gone missing for a few hours. He was found playing in a ditch filled with water a mile or so away from Barber's cousin’s house. Apparently, scents lead him astray. He was born to run, Barber noted.
Yang’s unusual backstory
Yang is only alive because of Barber. Yang’s mother, Sala, was hit by a car in front of Barber’s home in fall 2019 in Dalton. When he ran to the scene, Barber found a large black Newfoundland dog, which he nicknamed Bear, protecting Sala.
Bear wasn’t letting people get close to Sala. But Bear liked Barber and allowed him to check on Sala, whose owner was unknown. Sala was taken to an animal control center. The next day, Barber found out that Sala needed medical treatment.
Barber tried to adopt Sala, but was told the dog had to be held for 10 days before she could be adopted out. Barber contacted animal rights groups, which convinced officials to let Barber adopt Sala. She was released to him that day, he said.
During a subsequent veterinarian visit, Barber learned Sala would live, though with one leg partially paralyzed. He also learned that Sala was pregnant. She wound up having nine puppies.
Barber and his ex-girlfriend kept Sala and two of the puppies, naming the brothers Yin and Yang. After a bitter breakup, which included an ugly court battle, Barber’s ex-girlfriend ended up with Sala, Yin and Yang.
Barber fought again in court and was given custody of Yang, though he lost his bid to get Sala and Yin.
Moral of the story
Barber said that he had washed Yang's vest, which was drying, when he got away from him on that day. Typically, Yang wears his vest, with a tag that has Barber's telephone number on it.
Barber was about to give up hope by Sunday afternoon when he knocked on the door of a nearby Ocala National Forest resident he did not know and showed her a picture of Yang and asked if she had seen his dog.
Barber figured it would be the same "no" answer he had received a dozen or times in 24 hours. The woman perked right up.
"She said: 'I believe I just saw him on Facebook,' " Barber recalled. Immediately, Barber wrote the poignant post about missing his buddy.
Barber said he is thankful for the four strangers, who "spent so much time with him to make sure he was safe." Barber, who is not a big Facebook person, said that this case shows the positive power of the platform in time of need.
Pet owners should have a tag with a phone number and preferably an address, Barber said. As to chipping, that seems to be a personal choice that Barber has not bought into at this time.
While social media gets beaten up for controversial posts and bullies, Barber said it can be used for good.
"My advice to readers: Social media is what we make it," Barber said. "In this case it was used as a tool to reunite a man and his precious dog."
Barber continued, stating that Michelle was Yang's guardian angel. When asked where Yang was located at that moment, Barber said "sitting beside me."
"He can't be trusted," Barber noted. "He loves to run."
Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Lost and found in NE Marion: 4 friends help Yang the dog make it home