Marisa Martinez and her dog Rufus celebrate their reunion Monday at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. Rufus, a deaf blue heeler, was given to Martinez as a gift after she lost her 9-year-old daughter to a brain tumor in 2017. He wandered from his Santa Fe home in September 2021 and had been missing until he was found this month by Team Frijoles, a lost pet recovery service. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)



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SANTA FE – Recognition started at Rufus’ nose and rippled rapidly through the 5-year-old blue heeler until his whole body vibrated with unrestrained joy.

Eleven months ago, Rufus, who is deaf, went through a gate that had not been properly latched and wandered away from the Santa Fe home he had only known for a few weeks.

On Monday, at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, Rufus, who had been found earlier this month, was reunited with Marisa Martinez, a Santa Fe teacher, who had searched relentlessly for her dog even as hope for his safe return diminished.

“Marisa called us every day for 10 months,” said Murad Kirdar, the animal shelter’s public and business relations officer. “For a dog to come to us after 11 months is very rare.”

Kirdar led Rufus on a leash into the room where Martinez, sitting on the floor, was waiting to see him for the first time since September 2021. The dog was distracted by all the people gathered around to witness the reunion. He did not at first look at Martinez, even though she was directly in front of him.

Then suddenly, Rufus’ body went rigid with attention. He sniffed the air a few times. He moved closer to Martinez and sniffed again. And then the party was on, as Rufus jumped on Martinez, rubbed against her, rolled on the floor in front of her, barked and grinned like only a dog can.

“I’m trying not to cry,” Martinez said. “It’s a miracle.”

A new wound

Martinez is from Albuquerque originally, but she lived in San Francisco for 15 years. It was in San Francisco that her 9-year-old daughter, Zamora Moon Martinez, died from a rare brain tumor in June 2017.

An Albuquerque friend gave Rufus, then just a few months old, to Martinez in hopes that the dog could fill a small part of the huge hole the death of her daughter had left in her life. Rufus was 1½ when a veterinarian confirmed he was deaf, something Martinez suspected.

“He would sleep through anything,” she said. Although Rufus can’t hear anything, Martinez said he understands some sign language.

Rufus lived with Martinez in San Francisco for several years and moved last year with her and her daughters, Xavia and Estrella, now 13 and 3 respectively, to Santa Fe. A month later, Rufus disappeared.

“He was with me during a very difficult time,” Martinez said. “(Losing him) was like a wound opening again.”

The Martinez family distributed hundreds of “lost dog” posters and employed social media to get the word out about Rufus. Team Frijoles, a volunteer-based Santa Fe pet recovery service that gets 50 to 70 lost-pet calls a month, started working the case.

“We would get a few sightings, but nothing panned out,” said Michelle Lord of Team Frijoles.

100 percent Rufus

Lord, her husband, Paul, and Wendy Katzman, represented Team Frijoles at Monday’s reunion.

Michelle Lord said Team Frijoles recommends that pet owners microchip their animals and have good pictures of them in case they get lost. Rufus has a microchip, but the family did not have a good, recent picture of him.

On July 3, however, a man took a picture of a dog running loose about a mile and a half from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. He posted the picture on social media. That caught the attention of Team Frijoles, which set up humane traps and cameras in the area.

On July 11, Rufus was safely secured in a trap and taken to the animal shelter.

Kirdar said the dog was in excellent health when he was found and may have been finding food at a dump near where he was recovered.

Michelle Lord texted Martinez, who was visiting her father in Barcelona, Spain.

“I think this is Rufus,” the text read.

“It is 100 percent Rufus,” Martinez texted back.

The microchip confirmed that.

“This story shows that microchips work and that you should never give up,” Kirdar said.

Faith restored

Martinez said she planned to spend the rest of Monday cuddling with Rufus. She said finding him restored her faith in life.

“I’m a deeply sad person, and this makes me happy.”

Kirdar watched Martinez walk Rufus to her truck.

Marisa Martinez and her dog Rufus are all smiles and grins as they drive away from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter on Monday. Rufus had been missing for 11 months before he was recovered and returned to Martinez. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“Adventures are fun to go on,” he said. “But it’s always good to go home.”

As Martinez drove away, Rufus sat in the truck’s passenger seat, upright but at ease, as if he had been in the vehicle just the day before.

He didn’t look back.