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Missing from Mississippi, found in Florida

For the past week, 10-year-old Austin Watson of Brandon, Miss., has added this line to family's nightly supper prayer:

Please, Lord, bring Abbie home to me.

The child's father, Dr. Mike Watson, a veterinarian, knew his family of five might never see the dog again.

Abbie, a Lhasa apso mix who likes to sneak out, had disappeared from the Watsons' house.

Mike Watson knew 12-year-old Abbie wouldn't survive long on her own; she had arthritis, deafness, cataracts, chronic kidney disease and "a haircut that wasn't done very well."

He prepared his son for the worst, saying, "Now Austin, you understand that God may have different plans for Abbie."

Such as a trip to Florida.

Pinellas County Animal Services called Watson on Thursday with the happy news that Abbie had been found in Florida, turned in by a woman from St. Petersburg. Workers identified the dog using a tiny computer chip that Watson himself had implanted in her.

"You supposedly hear about things like this happening, but to actually live it is unbelievable," Watson said.

How did Abbie trek to the Sunshine State?

"She's the only one who knows," says Greg Andrews, operations manager for Animal Services.

Jeraldine Wall can account for part of the journey.

She was driving Sunday from Missouri to her home in St. Petersburg when she turned off at a rest stop on Interstate 75, just south of Interstate 10, and saw the 11-pound dog. She said the dog had no tags, so she had no way of knowing Abbie already was roughly 550 miles from home.

Wall said she approached a security guard at the rest stop and "he told me nobody wanted the dog and I didn't want it to get hit by a car . . . it was such a sweet little dog and I've got a big heart and I can't see a dog get hurt."

But after she brought the dog to St. Petersburg, it stopped eating, and Wall got worried. She took her to Animal Services, where the workers discovered her chip. Abbie and the Watsons were identified through a registry of dogs with implanted computer chips.

Wall said she was "very, very, happy, because I know if it was my dog, as well-behaved as it was, I would want her back."

Dr. Kenny Mitchell, Animal Services director, said it's an example of how effective the technology can be, especially if people keep updated information on the registry.

"We were shocked, but pleased that we were able to make a success story out of it," Mitchell said.

On Friday, Abbie boarded an airplane at Tampa International Airport to fly back to Mississippi. Watson is paying the $225 to $250 to have her shipped back to Mississippi and reunited with himself, his wife Laurie, sons Austin, Eric and Joseph and their menagerie of four more dogs, assorted horses, hamsters, fish and other pets.

For Austin and his older brother Eric, trick-or-treating on Friday was put on hold until they could get to the airport in nearby Jackson to pick up Abbie.

"I know that Abbie's getting to be a senior citizen," Watson said, "but she never discussed with me retiring to Florida."