BRADENTON — When Motorworks Brewing put local shelter dogs on their beer cans, the hope was that the campaign would raise money and awareness. Maybe the cans would even help some pups find a forever home.
No one could guess that a “forever home” meant a cross-country reunion between a dog and her long-lost owner.
Motorworks released the Adoptable Dog Cruiser Kölsch 4-pack on January 19. The cans featured the photos and stories of four dogs. Proceeds will be donated to help Shelter Manatee meet its $2 million fundraising goal for a new county shelter.
Two of the four dogs on the cans were adopted during the kickoff launch at the January 19 Yappy Hour event, and Motorworks Brewery is already planning its next adoptable dogs beer can release, said Barry Elwonger, director of sales and marketing.
The story quickly went viral, spreading to CNN, The Guardian, Newsweek and the Ellen Show.
Monica Mathis was scrolling through her Facebook feed when she stumbled upon one of those stories and thought she recognized a familiar face.
“I clicked it because I was like, ‘Look how close she looks like to my dog,’" she said.
After getting a closer look at photos of the pit mix DayDay, she was sure of it: That was the same dog she had lost three years ago in Iowa.
Mathis had raised her from a puppy, although DayDay then was known as Hazel. But Hazel got loose one day in May 2017. Despite hours of driving and screaming her name, Mathis was not able to find her.
The search continued for weeks without success. When Mathis moved back to Minnesota that June, she figured she would never see the dog again.
“Had I not seen that can on Facebook ... I don’t think I ever would have found her again," she said.
No one knows how Hazel made it to Florida, said Hans Wohlgefahrt, Manatee County Animal Services outreach and events specialist. She came to Palmetto-based Manatee County Animal Services in March 2019, but the shelter was unable to find her owner. Her license and microchip had outdated contact information, and Mathis had changed her last name after a divorce.
“We would have never thought to go as far as Minnesota as a possible match," Wohlgefahrt said. “We were sort of at a dead end.”
Mathis reached out to the shelter to claim her dog and was asked to provide vet records and photographs to prove ownership. When the shelter confirmed that DayDay was indeed Hazel, Mathis started bawling.
“I couldn’t believe it," she said. “To be honest, I did not ever think I was going to find her again.”
She has already updated the microchip information, and urges other pet owners to make sure they do the same.
“It really is a reminder for people to make sure their information on their pet’s chip is accurate,” Wohlgefahrt said.
Mathis has never been to Florida, though she had recently started planning a trip to Tampa or Orlando with her husband (their first vacation together without their eight children). And after nearly three years being heartbroken about losing Hazel, she finally was open to the possibility of welcoming another animal into the family.
“Five minutes after we were talking about getting a dog, I saw that post on Facebook," she said. “It was fate. I just don’t know how else to explain the whole scenario.”
Hazel received a clean bill of health and will be transported to Minnesota to reunite with Mathis this week or next. Local nonprofit Friends of Manatee County Animal Services will pay all transportation costs to get Hazel home. Mathis plans to train Hazel to be a pet therapy dog at the hospital where she works as a certified nursing assistant.
“I’m so excited that she’s coming home," she said. “I’m so happy that I get my family back.”