PLANT CITY (FOX 13) - A heartbroken dog separated from his family for more than three weeks because of Hurricane Irma is finally back home, after a long trip to and from a shelter in Tennessee.
Just days before Irma made landfall in Florida, many Bay Area shelters began evacuating animals to shelters further north.
But not every evacuated dog was truly a stray. A lab-mix named Meco was picked up one day before the shelter he was taken to was evacuated.
Meco was found on a street in Plant City with no collar, no microchip, and after just one day in the shelter, he was put on a transport with other dogs bound for safety 700 miles away.
Meco was one of seven dogs and 31 cats to land in a Blount County, Tennessee shelter.
But right from the start, people at the SPCA there could tell that he was different from the other Florida dogs that arrived with him. Here's how volunteer Kellie Bachman described it:
"When I went into [Meco's] kennel I held him and rocked him. He cried and I tried not to... He was missing someone and he was emotionally devastated. Soon, it became apparent to anyone who met him that there was a difference between the emotional expressions of [Meco] from the other dogs. [Meco] was grieving."
The shelter said it was also clear Meco had a loving family. He was clean, had no fleas and was even a little on the chubby side. Volunteers didn't know exactly how to find his people, but they knew he'd been picked up in Plant City.
So a call went out on the Lost and Found Pets of Hillsborough County's Facebook page.
The shelter already had a list of people ready to adopt him, but just a few hours after the post went up, someone recognized Meco and called to claim him.
The person explained Meco is a big part of their family. He walks the youngest siblings to their bus stop every day. He usually comes straight home, but sometimes, they explained, he goes around and greets other dogs in the neighborhood. When he didn't come home before the storm, the family worried they'd never see him again.
"We heard the little brothers in the background [on the phone] and they just kept shouting, 'We want him home! We want him home!'" said Bachman.
A volunteer, Amber Edwards, stepped up to drive Meco all the way back from Tennessee to reunite him with his Plant City family and on Friday, Meco was home.
"I had the window cracked as I came down the road, and he kept trying to climb out the window as soon as he saw the boys," Edwards told FOX 13 News just after letting Meco out of her car to be reunited with his people.
Edwards says she didn't hesitate to hop in her car - with no air conditioning - and drive from Rockford, Tennessee to Plant City, Florida to reunite this family.
"I just, I knew I had to help," she said. "I had a cat get out back in February. She broke out a window screen and she hasn't come home, so I know exactly what that feels like."
She says their smiling faces, both human and canine, were well worth the nearly 12-hour drive.
"Seeing him be so happy with his family just, it made it all worth it," she smiled.