He's only 5 pounds. But Max the Maltese left a big hole when he disappeared from a Brandon yard nearly a year ago.
This weekend, the little white dog will head home to his master. Somehow, he made it from Brandon to Chicago, where rescuers identified him through an implanted microchip after he was left at an animal shelter.
Owner Richard Gonzalez said he never gave up hope that Max, 2, was still alive.
"The longer it went, I wondered whether I'd ever see him again," Gonzalez said Thursday. "But I kept my hopes up. I didn't buy another dog."
The appliance repairman originally bought Max for his daughter, Mariuxi, 5, who lives with her mother in Brandon. Gonzalez, 46, lives in West Palm Beach.
Max had gone back to Brandon with Mariuxi for a visit when he disappeared. One day, while in the back yard with other dogs at the Londonwood Street home, he escaped under a fence. His family put up signs. But Max was nowhere to be found.
Months went by. Then on Oct. 18, Gonzalez got a phone call. Max was nearly 1,200 miles away in Chicago. He was a matted mess, but in good health.
To return the dog to Florida, Gonzalez contacted Mary Palmer at Northcentral Maltese Rescue in Racine, Wis. Palmer arranged for Max to come to her home, an hour outside Chicago. "It was obvious that he had been kept tied up in his own urine and feces," Palmer said. Max got a haircut and a visit to the vet. Since then, he's been nothing but tail wags and kisses.
He's scheduled to fly into Orlando Saturday, where a volunteer will pick him up and take him to Davenport. There, he and Gonzalez will be reunited.
The story has a good ending, but no knows how Max wound up in Chicago. "I asked him, but he won't tell me," Palmer said. "He just wags his tail."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.