When a woman took Sissi, a Maltese, to a veterinary clinic in Mississippi, her paws were matted with dirt, her skin was flaky, and her fur was knotted. The guests in the waiting room gasped and stared at the malnourished dog, which was said to have been missing from their home in South Florida since 2014.
Brigitte Bourgoignie, a 65-year-old artist and writer, said she was overwhelmed with emotion when her long-lost pooch was brought back on her Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a miracle, I just can’t describe any more,” she said.
Using the 14-year-old dog’s microchip, Bourgoignie was able to contact the woman who found her and locate a shipping company willing to drive about 900 miles to her home in Coconut Grove.
Sissi, named after a 19th century Austrian empress, became a close companion of Bourgoignie after her daughter went to boarding school in 2008. Sissi poked her head out of Bourgoignie’s handbag when running errands or traveling internationally to Canada and Paris.
Bourgoignie lost her not in a foreign destination, but in her own home.
When Bourgoignie returned from a grocery store in 2014, she said she couldn’t find it. Her Maltese was not prone to fleeing, like her fox terrier Lea. She searched every crack in the house and posted signs in the neighborhood with a listed reward for several months.
“My first thought is that she is dead because she is so small,” she said. “It is impossible to survive.”
But about seven years later, a Mississippi woman spotted the emaciated Maltese on a street in Rankin County east of Jackson, Mississippi. She posted photos on a Facebook lost-and-found group and later took Sissi to the Hometown Veterinary Hospital.
Allana Brunson, a 24-year-old receptionist at Hometown Veterinary Hospital, said the dog was infested with fleas and bathed her as soon as she arrived. After health checks and blood tests, the vet found the dog had cataracts but was healthy for their size and age, Brunson said. The vet next scanned Sissi’s microchip, which was implanted under the skin between her shoulder blades. Each microchip contains a registration number and the phone number of the chip brand.
“We have seen similar cases with the microchip, but this is the first time in 7 years that we have seen this particular type of incident,” said Brunson.
Brunson said the veterinary clinic took in lost pets from surrounding states and saw an influx of pets that fled after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Landing so many miles away without someone evacuating it is just unreal,” she said.
After Bourgoignie received a call from the microchip company, she reached out to Word of Life Transport, an animal and furniture transport company, to get her home.
Brandon Tyler, the co-founder of the shipping service, has five pets of his own and started the business in May. He said unite Bourgoignie with her pet has restored hope of finding his cat Thomas, who he lost in 2016.
During the 16-hour drive, Tyler shared photos and videos of Sissi cuddled in a Scooby-Doo blanket accompanied by a pink sloth plush toy. He told of the moment he turned into her driveway.
“When I curled up I could tell she was emotional and she was just so overwhelmed and so happy and so relieved to finally have her baby back,” he said. “When it was all said and done, I cried too.”
Bourgoignie said she did not know how Sissi landed 900 miles away, but plans to document her travels in a children’s book.
“I got the idea to write a book to explain to children that when you lose a loved one, there is always hope and a positive aspect,” she said.
Bourgoignie, who speaks French, said the bitch did not remember her name yet and was unsure if she would respond to her French sentences, but was looking forward to squeezing Sissi in her pocket and returning to her old adventures.
This story was originally published October 1, 2021 3:58 p.m.