The Tucker family thought they had lost her forever.

Some six years ago, the Lauderdale County family's beloved red heeler, Skittles, ran away. They had the dog for about a year and became attached to her, so much in fact that they never gave up on finding her.

Skittles was a rescue that Ron and Teresa Tucker took in as a gift to their son, Kaleb, who was 10 at the time.

But Skittles wasn't one to just sit around, especially living in the Tuckers' Greenhill residence where there are cows nearby.

"We had put a chip in her because she likes to go off and herd cows," Ron Tucker said.

The chip is identification that is placed beneath a pet's skin and can be scanned to call up the owner's contact information.

The Tuckers also had Skittles wear a shock collar to keep her from wandering off. In fact, they did the same for a stray that frequently came around. However, that backfired, thanks to some canine ingenuity.

"Skittles and the other dog would take each others' shock collar off and go herd cows," Ron Tucker said. "They would take turns removing the collar."

One day, Skittles never returned. 

"Teresa was always looking for her when she would leave for work," Ron Tucker said. "We never quit looking for her."

That was six years ago, and despite clinging to hope, the family knew it was not realistic to think they ever would reunite with Skittles.

Until Ron Tucker received a phone call a few weeks ago.

"I was on the treadmill and they left a message saying, 'Mr. Tucker, we have your dog,'" he said.

The message was from the Athens Limestone County Animal Shelter. Tucker immediately called back and a worker at the shelter said someone had found a dog and put a photo of her on the shelter's website.

From there, the shelter got Skittles, scanned her to see if she had a chip, and Tucker's name and number popped up.

"I couldn't believe it," Tucker said last week while sitting on the front porch of his home, petting Skittles. "It was a miracle, really. There was a girl who took a picture of her on a barge and put it on the site. I don't have a clue as to why she ended up in Athens or how she ended up on a barge."

He said he drove to the shelter after the call and there was Skittles.

"She didn't recognize me when I first walked in but when she smelled me she got up and crawled on my lap," Tucker said. "She tried to sit on my lap all the way home."

When Skittles arrived home, Teresa Tucker and Kaleb, now 16, were beside themselves with joy.

"Teresa laid on the floor with her for about an hour, just rubbing her," Tucker said.

Skittles has made herself right at home again and that's just fine with the family.

"Anybody who loves their animals, you never give up," Ron Tucker said, momentarily taking a break from petting Skittles, only to have her nudge him again to let him know more petting would be required. He laughed and started petting her again.

"She'll let you rub her as long as you want," he said. "She's a good dog."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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