Perhaps it was coincidence that Zeus the dog came home on a morning marked by peals of thunder. Or perhaps the dog gods were laughing.
Either way, Melody Harworth was crying.
“Hi, puppy,” she kept saying and sobbing Friday, as Zeus emerged from a car and greeted his long-lost family. “Hi, puppy, hi, puppy.”
Her husband Ben Harworth’s eyes were red-rimmed; until last month he believed his dog was long dead. Friday, he accepted slobbery kisses and woofed at the old friend he hadn’t seen in three years.
Zeus, unable to fly because of a medical condition, had been ferried crosscountry from Fort Bragg in North Carolina, his old home. The ride came courtesy of Rachel Overby, who works with Banfield Pet Hospital, a partner with PetSmart stores.
Harworth, a chief warrant officer, had been stationed at Fort Bragg until 2011, when he transferred to South Korea.
The dog couldn’t go; the family had adopted him only a year earlier. Zeus was about a year old, a mellow sort, loving and fond of playing catch with pine cones in the front yard.
The Harworths left him with a friend.
In 2012, shortly after Thanksgiving, the friend called and said Zeus was dead. The family was heartbroken.
But reports of Zeus’ death were exaggerated, it seems; to this day the Harworths say they don’t know exactly why. They haven’t spoken to the friend in three years.
In the interim, Ben, 37, returned from his deployment and transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, along with Melody and the couple’s two sons, Adam and Dakota. The family settled down in Lacey.
Last month, Ben was in California for military training when he got a phone call from the Banfield hospital in North Carolina: Zeus was alive.
At first, he didn’t believe it.
“My thought in my head was, ‘Is this a prank? Is this a joke?’” he said.
Zeus had a microchip, implanted when the Harworths adopted him. He’d been found wandering in the wilderness around Fort Bragg, and taken to Banfield, where employees checked the chip. It matched.
However, the dog had heart worm, which prevented him from flying. Ben was still in training, and Melody had too many obligations at home to drive across the country.
Overby, the Banfield employee, volunteered, backed by her employers, who recognized a public-relations opportunity when they saw one.
Zeus, once a wanderer, became an online celebrity, identified not with a dog tag but a hashtag: #GetZeusHome. The Harworths watched his cross-country progress on Facebook and Instagram.
Friday, they waited and waited, along with a crush of media cameras. Over and over, they thanked Banfield workers and all the strangers who were supporting them online.
“I’m just completely blown away and amazed at how this this is going and how many people were just willing to turn and help a dog they don’t know and a family they don’t know anything about,” Ben said.
He answered the same questions again and again. Zeus was late. The traffic on southbound Interstate 5 was bad.
His white van finally pulled into PetSmart/Banfield parking lot in Lacey, just as fat drops of rain began to fall and thunder rolled, nature scoring the grand entrance.
The dog stepped out tentatively. His family cheered, rushing in, Ben holding the leash, Melody embracing him, the two sons rubbing his head.
Through it all, Zeus’s tail wagged. He even licked photographers, before licking Ben over and over.
Next came selfies at the counter of the animal hospital, with a cluster of grinning employees standing by.
Then a short checkup at the vet, and then a ride to Zeus’ new home and the one family member he hadn’t met yet: Bear, the nine-pound chihuahua.