'Symbol of hope': From Wilton to Greenwich, dog lost for 42 days reunited with owner

It was about 3 a.m., but sleep was the last thing on Stamford resident Jorge Velazquez’s mind. The sound of a dog barking outside was keeping him up.

“She’s in the trap,” he exclaimed to his wife.

After traveling roughly 100 miles over 42 days and visiting about seven towns, Lexi, a yellow lab-mix, was found this weekend.

Fairfield resident Brandi Solomon was visiting friends in Wilton on Dec. 7 when her 11-year-old Lexi went missing.

Solomon only knew the friend she was visiting in Wilton and was in unfamiliar territory. So she took to social media to try to find her dog.

Lexi’s journey has since been well-documented and residents throughout the area joined the search. She was spotted in the area she went missing, as well as in Ridgefield, New Canaan, possibly Norwalk and Greenwich before she was found in North Stamford.

Velazquez spotted Robin Harrington, of CT Dog Gone Volunteer Recovery Network, looking for Lexi in his North Stamford neighborhood on Saturday. When he heard Lexi’s story, he was committed to helping, especially since he had lost his own dog in November.

“I lost my dog once for a few hours. I was depressed the entire time. Six weeks? I can’t even imagine what they were going through,” Velazquez said.

As a Christian, he did what he says he and his family always do. He prayed.

“I said, God, this is your creation. She is suffering. No food. Out in the rain and snow. Please protect her and bring her home,” he said.

When he returned home from the grocery store, Velazquez got his miracle. Lexi was in his backyard.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Velazquez followed Solomon’s specific instructions to all those who spotted Lexi, cautioning people to not call out to her, chase or follow her.

Instead, he backed away slowly as Lexi walked through his yard and hopped over the stone fence to a neighbor’s property.

He immediately alerted Solomon and Harrington about the sighting. Velazquez also noted that Lexi was moving slowly and appeared to have an injury on her back leg.

“I knew she wasn’t going to go far. She must have found some kind of shelter in one of our backyards,” he said. Because Lexi had been spotted nearby, traps had already been set up in Velazquez’s neighborhood. After his sighting, a trap was moved directly into his yard.

Harrington said they were aiming not to miss with the food in the trap — using a prime rib bone.

Solomon and Harrington were on no sleep from the previous night when a camera monitoring the traps captured raccoons and possums and those had to be freed throughout the night. Solomon watched as feral cats and a possum lingered around the trap and she feared one of them would take the bait.

Then, she saw a flash.

“It was Lexi. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Solomon was not ready to rejoice yet.

“What if she walked by the trap and didn’t go in?” she wondered.

In Stamford, Velazquez said he heard a bark. Then he heard a few more.

Then, simultaneous cheers erupted in Norwalk, where Solomon and her partner were staying, and in Stamford from Harrington and Velazquez.

Amid lots of tears, they said it took merely seconds for Lexi to recognize Solomon when they were reunited.

“I was worried about that. They say sometimes when a dog is gone that long, and is scared and in the cage, it takes them a while to recover. But she recognized me right away,” she said.

Lexi is now back home and in good health, Solomon said. She’s lost weight, but isn’t emaciated, and has a few scrapes as well as what appears to be a recent back leg injury. Other than that, Lexi shows little wear and tear from her six weeks out in the wild — through snowstorms, rain and freezing temperatures.

“I really can’t believe it. It’s amazing,” Solomon said.

Harrington said while dogs are usually missing for two to three days, Lexi was her second long-time missing dog rescue in a row. Emma, a Shiloh shepherd, had also made a long journey through Fairfield County until she was found in Stamford.

Most dogs are found within a few days because they return to where they are familiar. Lexi’s case was different because she ran away from a place that wasn’t her home.

Solomon said Lexi is doing great.

“She’s in good spirits, back to her old self. It’s almost like she’s a little calmer and wiser now, like when you have this kind of life-changing experience,” she said.

She said Lexi recognized all family members and remembered where her food and treats were located.

Now, Solomon says she and her partner, Allie Falco, are trying to figure out how to return to normal life.

“We are still settling in from the shock of it all. Six weeks of non-stop, 24 hours a day, thinking about her and actively searching for her. Is everything normal now? We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We put our entire life on hold. I didn’t really have a Christmas, just a dinner with my family and then back out looking for Lexi,” Solomon said.

She remains overwhelmed with the community response to the search and now to Lexi’s return home.

“My sister went to her gym and was telling the owner that my dog was found. And someone she didn’t even know was like, ‘Lexi was found?’” Solomon said.

As to the why Lexi’s journey made such an impact, Solomon said there were a few reasons.

“I think part of it was our involvement in spreading the word. We were going door to door and stopping everyone we could see. The more people who knew, the more invested people became,” she said.

Another part of it was Lexi’s survival instinct and determination to beat the odds.

On the day a large snowstorm was predicted, Solomon said they were overwhelmed with offers of help.

“I think people thought if she wasn’t found before the snowstorm, she might not survive. Then she appeared on someone’s outdoor camera a few days later,” Solomon said.

“People really admired her resilience,” Solomon said.

But more than that, Lexi unified the community in a way that has been challenging throughout the last year, Solomon said.

“This year has been really hard. People are so isolated and separated. This united us as a community individually and collectively. It really gave people something to feel good about,” she said.

Harrington said her volunteer work has really taught her about the resiliency of dogs.

“We had a rescue where an 8-month chihuahua, a puppy really, got lost in a blizzard and was found several days later. They have no fur. But she was fine. Dogs are amazing like that,” she said.

Solomon said she was grateful to CT Dog Gone Recovery Network, a free service that runs completely on donations and with the help of many volunteers.

To show her appreciation, Solomon created a fundraiser that has already received thousands of dollars for the organization.

“They are totally volunteer-based and don’t charge any money. They help a lot of people find their dogs. I think last year, they rescued over 600 dogs. This year has been really tough financially for people and they help them during what is really desperate situation,” Solmon said.

Solomon said she’s received more than 1,000 messages via text or Facebook about the impact Lexi’s return has had on so many.

“They’ve told me their whole house was cheering, and it was the best news they’ve heard all year. They say we’ve made their day, their month, and their year, and so many were happy and crying over the news,” she said.

“Lexi was more than just a lost dog,” Solomon said.

“I think for all these communities, she was a symbol of hope.”