Rod Buck loved his bulldog. But after returning from his ninth tour of duty in the Middle East and retiring from the military, Buck somehow was reminded by Wini too much of the military life he had left behind.
So in March, Buck decided to give her to the Humane Society of Pinellas, despite the protests of his wife and son.
About four months later, the family missed her so much it contacted the animal shelter's director, wondering if it could recover their dog.
Wini, though, had already been adopted. Twice, in fact. The first new owners had returned her to the shelter earlier this month because she was so lethargic. A few days later, someone else adopted her.
Buck explained his change of heart to executive director Barbara Snow. She called the new owner and asked him whether he would consider returning Wini. Legally, he was under no obligation.
But Wednesday, the family and its beloved Wini were finally reunited.
"They had no reason to do that," said Buck, 40, of Redington Beach. "It was legally their dog, and that could have been where the story ended."
It is uncommon for someone to want a pet back, but it does happen once in a while, Snow said.
Usually, new owners are sympathetic. The Humane Society does not pressure anyone to return an animal.
Buck wondered about the reunion. Snow had said there was a chance Wini would not recognize him.
But when she saw him at the shelter, Wini broke the grip on her leash and bounded to her old master.
She "plastered him with wet kisses over his neck, his face, his ears," Snow said.
The staff was teary-eyed.
"There were no words that needed to be said," Snow said. "The dog said it all: 'I love you and want you back.' "
Buck had struggled with depression after his retirement in 2007. He knew that while he lived in comfort in Florida, many of his colleagues were risking their lives in the Middle East.
Wini had been an occasional work companion at Fort Benning, Ga. Maybe not seeing Wini would make him feel less guilty, he thought.
"In my state at the time, it made sense," he said. "In a search for answers, I was willing to try to give that dog away."
Time passed, and he told his wife, "I feel horrible, too. It's one of the worst mistakes of our lives. I'm sorry."
Wini was so loved when she lived with them that Buck and his wife Malena, 39, called her "daughter." She was a surprise birthday present to Buck when he returned from a tour in Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2004. They named her Winifred.
The couple and their son Andrew, 10, missed her so much on their wedding anniversary on July 8 that they broke down and contacted the Humane Society.
The next day, their dog was back.
Wini adores her family. No one can enter the house unless her owners are present, the family said. Arguments cause Wini to bark miserably until they end.
The English bulldog also loves to play. She cannot pass a Gatorade bottle without chewing it to bits, or let a soccer ball roll by without sinking her teeth into it.
Despite the time away, Wini soon fell into her old routines. She's gone through three Gatorade bottles since coming back.
Seeing her dog for the first time when she came home from work, "it just felt like she had never left," Malena said. "She's a great dog."