From Boston Herald
There were tears aplenty when Mark Dolph buried his brindle pit bull mix named Patch outside his mother’s home near Waymart on the morning of Oct. 7. The dog had disappeared about 36 hours earlier while Mr. Dolph and girlfriend, Penny Holland, visited from North Carolina. When one of mother Patricia Dolph’s neighbors called to say he had spotted Patch lying dead along a road, Mr. Dolph resigned himself to the painful reality that his beloved pet was gone.
"We already had in our heads that he was dead," Mr. Dolph said.
But in a quirky case of canine mistaken identity, the Dolph family buried the wrong dog.
It turned out Patch was very much alive, having taken refuge with Stacey and Bryan Struble, who that same day opened up their home on Belmont Turnpike - more than six miles from Mrs. Dolph’s Dutchman Hill house - to what they thought was a mere stray.
"I must have thanked them a thousand times," Mr. Dolph said Thursday in a telephone interview from his Monroe, N.C., home. "If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have Patch."
The strange tale started unfolding late on Oct. 5 when Patch was nowhere to be found when Mr. Dolph and Ms. Holland went outside that Tuesday night to bring inside their other dog, Jake. Patch had never run away before, and Mr. Dolph was concerned he might have been attacked and injured by a bobcat spotted near the home.
The family spent the next day scouring the area, alerting neighbors and leaving a description of the missing dog with the Dessin Animal Shelter in Honesdale, to no avail.
The following morning — Oct. 7 — a neighbor who was familiar with Patch called.
"He said he had bad news," Mr. Dolph said. "He found the dog, but he was dead on the side of the road, about three miles away."
Mr. Dolph drove to the area, wrapped the dead animal in Patch’s favorite blanket and brought him back to his mother’s home for burial.
"The whole house had tears in their eyes," he said.
In hindsight, Mr. Dolph said the clues were obvious. The dog on the road lacked Patch’s faded orange collar with paw prints on it, his nose appeared snubbier and, despite the identical white patch on his chest, his brindle coat seemed more uniform. In his grief, Mr. Dolph attributed the anomalies to the accident that killed the animal and the rain that had fallen overnight.
"Now, looking at my dog and at that dog, we should have known," he said. "But at the time, they looked enough alike."
Patricia Dolph said the shelter called the next day, Friday, Oct. 8, to say the Strubles had found a dog matching Patch’s description. The family was skeptical, she said, until they spoke by phone with Mr. Struble, who described Patch "to a T," right down to the faded collar.
"Now we were getting excited," she said.
But there would be one more disappointment. By the time the family got to the Struble home, Patch had gotten out and run away again. A search failed to locate him.
Around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, Mrs. Struble called again to say Patch had returned overnight and would remain safely inside until Mr. Dolph came to retrieve him.
Mr. Dolph said the owners of the dead dog are still unknown. If they are ever identified, he said he hopes they will take comfort in the knowledge their pet received a loving, tearful burial.
Mrs. Dolph said Thursday she believes providence played a role in Patch’s return, and she told her son as much.
"I said that God must have seen you were so good to that dog," she said, "and that’s why he decided to give your dog back to you."