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JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — A heartwarming story that fits a Hallmark film that recently unfolded when a stray dog in Chester County was returned to her New York owner after being separated for five years.
The land-traveling dog, named Azzurra Diamante, disappeared from Jen Costa’s home in Nassau County, New York in 2016 and was found by Henderson resident Abbie Bayless in October 2020.
“That was just crazy!” Bayless laughed. “I had just moved in with my roommate – literally days before – when Azzurra showed up on our doorstep. We opened the front door and she just walked in like she lived there!”
AZZURRA THE ENGLISH BULLDOG
The English bulldog was not in the best condition and obviously over-bred. But Bayless was determined to nurse her back to health.
“I’ve been rescuing animals all my life — when I see an animal I feel like I need to take care of it, at least until I find a good place for it,” she said. “She wasn’t in the best of shape, but we tried to nurse her back to health and got her medicine and stuff like that.”
However, according to Bayless, it was obvious that Azzurra came from a loving owner.
“It’s insane now knowing everything she’s been through and how far she’s traveled,” Bayless said. “Because she was so gentle and gentle and just the cutest girl ever. And we could definitely tell someone missed her – we just didn’t realize someone was in New York!”
After caring for Azzurra for a few weeks, the girls knew they needed more help.
“We’re two college-age girls and we already have a small dog in the house and they got along well, but we just knew we weren’t ready for another dog,” Bayless said. “We were more than happy to nurture her until we could find her somewhere to go. But she was definitely a busy person — and she kept escaping, and we live in the middle of the city, so we were a bit worried about that.”
FROM NEW YORK TO TENNESSEE
Bayless contacted her mother, who recruited her friends at Henderson Animal Control. Animal shelter workers made the discovery of a lifetime – the precious pup had a microchip that belonged to a woman in New York.
“They nursed her back to health – seeing her pictures just made me so happy because she looks so healthy now,” Bayless said. “Then we found out she was a little world traveller! That’s the craziest thing ever.”
An email was quickly sent to Jen Costa who thought it was a mistake.
“I was sitting there the other day and I got an email saying ‘Your pet has been found!’ I thought I’d see things, honestly,” laughed Costa. “I thought it was a mistake. It was a confusing feeling – I was just speechless.”
Costa, who doesn’t question miracles, called the number attached to the email and forwarded it to Henderson County Animal Control.
“At first it sounded like they were confused. I thought maybe it was a mistake,” she said. “And then they said, ‘Yes, we have a dog here,’ and then they confirmed that it’s really happening!”
Admittedly, the location surprised Costa.
“I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was so happy (they found her),” Costa said. “And I didn’t even know it was in Tennessee until I called them and they asked where I was staying. I was like ‘New York?’ And they say, “We’re… in Tennessee…”
“I was so confused. I had never heard of this city before!”
Costa went to Henderson to pick up Azzurra on January 14 and the duo – now a trio as Azzurra joins Costa and her dog Pancake – are happy as ever.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Costa said while driving to pick up Azzurra. “I think this is the happy ending I was hoping for. After everything I’ve been through, God just gave me a gift and I’m happily ever after.”
Azzurra holds a special place in Costa’s heart after the bulldog disappeared during Costa’s cancer treatment in 2016.
“I’m a stage four cancer survivor,” Costa said, describing a cancer that started in her tongue and spread to her throat. “They had to perform a 19-hour surgery to remove my entire tongue.”
Costa’s story ended almost that day — after the surgery, her windpipe “became plugged with tissue,” stopping her breathing and eventually her heart.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone,” she said. “I was clinically dead for a few minutes. I was in a coma for three days.”
Costa was also struggling with depression and a drug addiction at the time, caused by becoming bedridden after being hit by a bus at the age of 19. While bedridden, she weighed nearly 700 pounds.
The cancer that was once considered a death sentence turned out to be a life-giving miracle, according to Costa.
“I ended up losing over 500 pounds over the next few years,” she said.
However, after Azzurra returned home from the hospital following her surgery, she disappeared. When Costa got the call to come to Tennessee, she was more than ready to go.
“The most amazing thing for me, honestly, is that I had her and my dog Bruno when she ran away,” Costa said. “And Bruno just passed away from cancer in August 2020. And just a few months after that, they found Azzurra.
“Here’s the crazy part – the shelter sent me a video of them giving the dogs Christmas dinner and the dog that was in the pen next to her was called Bruno!”
Costa couldn’t believe the coincidence.
“I asked her about it. I said, “That’s my dog’s name, he just died,” and she said that the dog didn’t have a name (when he walked in), and that was the first name that came to mind,” Costa said . “She didn’t even know me then. Nothing short of a miracle.”
Now Costa runs an online community for cancer survivors called Strongheart Nation, which is currently crowdsourcing for support.
“Sometimes I find that God allows your heart to be broken so that new light can shine in and the darkness can be driven away,” Costa said. “And I feel like that’s what happened to me. I could be unhappy right now, but I’m not. I’m so grateful to still be here and excited to share my story online – I started this a few years ago and have been doing it ever since.
“I am so grateful.”