No one knows how a blue-eyed husky named Sinatra made his way from New York City to the Tampa, Florida suburb of Seffner, but for the Brooklyn family that named, loved and lost him, it was nothing short of a miracle.
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For the Willis family, Sinatra is a life-affirming reminder of their daughter, Zion Willis, who died at the age of 16 in a tragic gun accident in November of 2015.
“They had a close connection,” her father, Lesmore Willis Jr., told ABC News. “They were both tenacious and full of energy.”
Willis said the dog – which the family adopted when he was two months old — is the closest living thing he has to his daughter, and that finding Sinatra allowed his family to once again feel the presence of the daughter they would never see again.
Willis said Sinatra has always been something of an escape artist.
“Sinatra was known for sneaking out of the gate,” he said. “When we got a delivery [in March, 2017] he made his move.”
However, Willis told ABC News the excited puppy would return home in less than an hour. When the dog didn’t find his way back the family plastered posters around the neighborhood and at local animal care centers.
After 18 months of looking the search slowed and grew ever bleaker.
We saw he was in Brooklyn and thought it was a long-shot. We said, ‘just for giggles we will reach out to him.’
Meanwhile, Rose Verrill, 13, was running towards her bus stop in Seffner when she was greeted by the energetic husky.
Her mother and sister took the dog home and started searching for the husky’s family.
For two weeks, Sinatra cooled his heels at the Verrill home, where he took to the family’s three cats and a black lab named Lucy. Even 1,200 miles away from Brooklyn, Sinatra made himself right at home.
“The first night he got in our bed,” Verrill said. “He made himself at home. I hope we didn’t teach him any bad habits.”
At a local shelter the family discovered the dog had a chip, but the number and name attached was wrong.
The only name associated with the chip was Willis Les.
After searching Facebook, Denise Verrill, found a Lesmore Willis Jr.
“We saw he was in Brooklyn and thought it was a long-shot,” she said. “We said ‘just for giggles we will reach out to him.’”
The message read, “Do you have a husky?”
But to her surprise, she received a response from Willis.
After sending Verrill a picture of Sinatra and learning that it was actually him, Willis “was so excited,” Verrill said. “He could barely speak. He kept saying how much it meant to him.”
For his part, Willis remains stunned to get his dog back.
“The last thing I thought was that he would end up in Florida,” Willis said. “He’s a husky,” he added, “so I thought he would end up North.”
Willis said that Sinatra’s return meant a lot to him and his family.
“It really feels like getting a piece of her back,” he said.