Nico the dog has been wandering Southern California for four years, but when he finally made his way back to his owner, it was like no time has passed.
Melisa Manning of Palm Desert was reunited with Nico last week after the pound called her, letting her know they scanned his microchip.
"He came up, he licked my face, he shook my hand," Manning told InsideEdition.com. “It’s crazy how he added four years of life but there's still so much of the same dog there."
Manning remembered clearly that she and Nico, a pup she adopted in college, were celebrating New Year’s in 2014 in a mountain pass where they normally go hiking.
They heard a gun go off, and Nico dashed.
"He had just not been a leash dog any time we went out," she explained. "We had done horseback riding and hikes and tons of things in the desert at that point."
She lingered in the area for hours after, and persistently put out food and water in familiar areas in the following days, but eventually relied on the hope that Nico would be picked up by Animal Control, and his microchip would be scanned.
But weeks turned into months, and while Manning’s life moved on — settling down with her boyfriend and having children — she never lost hope that her dog would one day return.
"I continuously tried to think, 'Oh yeah, he’s going to come back.' I told my boyfriend, I told my family, ‘Hey, when I get that call, he’s going to join our family, whatever situation we’re in,'" Manning said. "I just kept saying, 'Hey, that call could come. He could figure it out.' I was probably slightly delusional sounding, but to me, he was my first dog, he was my everything — my first kid."
All of those hopes became reality last week, when she got a message on her phone that Nico’s microchip has been scanned and the pup was ready to be picked up.
“My first thought was, 'No way. This is wrong. This is unreal,'" she said. "I asked them if they made mistakes like this, and they said no."
After some confusion at the pound, they discovered Nico was still living at a nearby home. They were told he wandered there while scavenging for food a few months ago, and a man took him in.
Eventually a neighbor called Animal Control after noticing Nico was underweight and malnourished.
"The gentleman explained his story and said, 'I was just trying to feed him and help him out,'" Manning said. "His only concern was [Nico] wasn’t going to be neglected or abused."
Initial scans reported that despite being extremely underweight and having broken teeth, Nico was healthy. But, Manning said she didn’t even notice any of that.
“I didn’t even know what to say at that point — I had my dog," she said. “It’s truly one of those unbelievable miraculous things that you don’t think they can happen, and when it does, you’re lost for words."
Manning said she is now most excited to introduce Nico to her family.
"My favorite thing is watching him play with my daughter," she said. "When I adopted him, that’s what I thought; he’s going to grow up to be my family dog, and now he gets to be our family dog."