RYE, N.Y. -- A service dog for a 5-year-old autistic boy was returned safely to her family in Rye on Friday afternoon after going missing for more than a week .
The Fontana family received Echo in September from Guiding Eyes for the Blind to help care for their son, Mark. She disappeared from their Dearborn Avenue home last Wednesday night, prompting a frantic search in Rye and the surrounding towns. According to Mark's mother, Emily Fontana, Echo was brought back at around 1:15 p.m., Friday, by a woman who said her sister had found Echo wandering near the Rye Nature Center.
"We're just thrilled. Words cannot even express how happy we are," Fontana said. She said Mark was excited to have his best friend back as well.
"She picked him up from school today, and licked him all over his face. He smiled the biggest smile," she said.
Echo's safe return was a cause for celebration among the whole neighborhood. As the Fontana family stood outside their home Friday, several neighbors driving by would roll down their windows, excitedly shouting, "She's back?" Other friends would walk up to cheerfully greet the dog.
"I just really want to express gratitude to the community and everyone who helped look for her," Fontana said.
Michelle Brier, the communications director for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, said that this was the first time she's known of a Guiding Eyes dog going missing for this long. She credited the dedicated community with spreading the word that led to Echo's safe return.
"She's not just a pet, she plays a pretty important role in Mark's life," Brier said. Mark is prone to run off, and his family waited for more than a year to receive Echo. When he's tethered to her, she keeps him safe from running away and possibly harming himself.
"This dog is priceless and irreplaceable. Today is a great day," Brier said.
Fontana said that the family is going to take steps to make sure that Echo does not get lost again.
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