When their mixed-breed dog Kanga escaped from a kennel in November 2012, about 10 miles from their home, the Koprowski family spent months searching for her.
The northwest-side family searched neighborhoods, checked in with local kennels and scoured lost-dog postings on Craigslist. All to no avail.
“She had to go through the winter of 2012. She had to go through the summer, which was really hot, monsoons, rattlesnakes, so we weren’t very hopeful,” Nancy Koprowski said about Kanga.
They hoped for the best, that a kind family had taken her in, but knew that after being lost in the desert for so long the odds were against her.
But it wouldn’t be the first time Kanga beat the odds.
Kanga and her brother, Oso, already escaped an uncertain fate. They were part of a litter found with their mother in the desert in the summer of 2010.
“He almost died. He was super-dehydrated,” daughter Emma Koprowski said of Oso. “Kanga was the runt of the litter and, of course, no one expects them to stay (alive), but she did. She’s a fighter.”
With Kanga missing, it became habit for the 17-year-old to pull over whenever she saw a stray. “I try to get them because I know that feeling of having your best friend gone, somebody that’s there every day,” she said.
So two Sundays ago, when Emma and her father, John, were headed to a movie and she saw a tan dog digging on the side of the road about a mile from their home, near Interstate 10 and Pima Farms Road, she asked him to pull over.
The dog looked familiar. And when she caught sight of her blue eyes, Emma knew it was Kanga.
Emma and John began calling out her name, but the skittish dog scampered off.
They spoke with property owner Bob Holder, who told them Kanga has been hanging around his 30-acre spread since he moved there in July.
She played with his dogs and slept in a mesquite thicket on his acreage. Kanga did have a microchip, but anytime Holder got close to her, she’d run away.
Holder left food and water out for her.
“I’ve got two dogs that are missing right now, so I would hope that somebody would do the same for mine,” he said.
That first day, Kanga wouldn’t come near the Koprowskis. Holder promised to call when he saw her again. And he did the following day.
After school, Emma and a friend went back to the property and tried to coax Kanga close enough to get her leash on.
“She kept teasing us. She would come close and then run away,” Emma said.
Then, after about three hours, Kanga sat down beside Emma, and she was able to leash her.
After months of having dreams that her best friend had come home and waking up crying when she realized it wasn’t true, Emma couldn’t believe Kanga was back.
“I was shaking. I was like, this can’t be real, after a year and two months, and I have her in my arms,” she said. “After that I was like I’m not letting you go. I just wanted to hold her all day.”
When Kanga ran off from the kennel, while the Koprowskis took a weekend trip to San Diego, she didn’t have a collar on because staff members had taken it off to groom her. She ran out of the building and into the desert.
When she got home, Emma put two collars on Kanga just to be safe.
Aside from losing 17 pounds, Kanga was in good condition. “Every night we sit here and go: ‘I can’t believe she’s here. She acts the same way she always has,” said Nancy Koprowski.
She knew where the food and water bowls and doggy beds were kept, and remembered her tricks. That first night she slept down at the foot of Nancy and John’s bed just as she always did.
“It’s like she never left in some ways,” Nancy said.