In the early morning of May 1, a couple in southeastern Tennessee woke up to a mysterious dog sleeping in their bed – snuggled between them.
What at first was a strange, furry intruder quickly became a new friend. But it was still a surprising arrival.
"(My husband) says 'Julie, Whose dog is this?' In a very urgent but calm voice," Julie Thornton Johnson told USA TODAY, adding that she originally thought the pup was one of their own three dogs, who often sleeps in the bed as well.
But when Thornton Johnson turned around, she saw a 90-pound, red nose pitbull-labrador mix that she didn't recognize.
"It never crossed my mind that was somebody else's, (but) I rolled over and me and my husband locked eyes – and sure enough, in between us was absolutely not our dog," said Thornton Johnson. At first they were "taken aback ... (but) it was obvious then that she was of no harm to anybody. She was just a pup having a spend-a-night party."
So they turned to Facebook. Thornton Johnson took some pictures and selfies with their new house guest and shared them on social media.
"This is the weirdest post I have ever had to make," she wrote on Facebook. "Is this your dog?"
Within hours, Thornton Johnson found the owners, Cris Hawkins and Felecia Johnson, and learned the dog's name: Nala. Nala had escaped from about 2 miles away.
According to Hawkins and Johnson, Nala slipped out of her collar the night before while Johnson's father tookher for a walk.
"She slipped out of the collar and ran into the woods. And he tried to get her, but she just she's like, 'Nope, we're gonna play a game of tag and you're it," Hawkins told USA TODAY.
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Later that evening, Nala returned home but wouldn't come back inside, and they decided to wait until the morning – thinking she would stay nearby, Hawkins added.
How did a dog sneak into the Tennessee home in the middle of the night?
It's still unclear.
But Thornton Johnson thinks she might of just pushed a door open while looking for a place to stay during a storm that night. Thornton Johnson's husband, Jimmy Johnson, had taken their three dogs outside tbefore going to bed, and thinks the door didn't shut completely.
"She definitely did not use the key under the mat. She did not come down the chimney, she did not break-in through a window," said Thornton Johnson. "We've had some people asking us like, 'Well, did she come in through the air conditioning vents? How did this dog get in the house?' Nope, she walked right in the front door."
Nala made herself at home right away – jumping into bed. Thornton Johnson said that she noticed what she thought was one of her own dogs in their bed when she got up briefly at 4 a.m. It wasn't until 6:30 a.m. that Jimmy Johnson made the discovery in the sunlight.
After Thornton Johnson found Nala's owners on Facebook, Johnson came to pick up their pup – but it took some convincing. Nala was still snugglingin her new home-away-from-home.
"She's almost as big as I am, but since she's been a puppy, I carry her on my hip like she's a little kid. And now that she's grown, she's still expects me to do that," said Johnson, laughing. "It's a lot harder now, but I had to carry this big dog out of (Julie and Jimmy's) house. If it wasn't crazy enough. ... I had to carry her out like a child."
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As unusual as the night's events were, it led to an extended family of sorts for Nala – who not only enjoyed snuggling with her new human friends, but has also got along well with their three dogs.
A few days ago, Hawkins said that the families had a fun "puppy playdate."
"We never honestly never would have thought that Nala would you know invite five other amazing beings into our lives," said Hawkins, who added that thousandshave responded to their story on social media. "I feel like other people need to share in this laughter, so I reshared the post with that Julie had originally had posted and it just it blew up."
"It's just been an amazing experience ..." Thornton Johnson said. "I hope that people will take from it that there's always room to show a little love."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tennessee couple wakes up to find lost dog in bed