This is a lost dog story with a happy ending.
On Thanksgiving Day, Smoochy, a ten-year-old Shih Tzu who belongs to the Ritter family in West Orange, escaped from his yard and ran away.
"When I finally noticed we panicked and went searching around the neighborhood," said Pree Ritter. "A man told me two women had pulled up and asked around if this was anyone's dog and instead of leaving him to wander the streets, they decided to take him in."
In the meantime, the heartbroken family called local police stations, visited all the shelters in Essex County and notified all vets but could not find him. They also posted a notice on Craigslist.
Meanwhile, cut to Lisa Lert, owner of Puppy Love grooming in Maplewood, who was driving to Thanksgiving dinner at her sister's house in Montclair when she spotted a stray dog.
"My friend Danielle and I had been arguing about what street to take and it was completely random that we turned down this street," said Lert.
Lert said that since the dog had no tag, she took him back to her store in Maplewood, where she gave him a haircut, food and water and tucked him away for the night.
"I thought, if somebody really loves this dog, they'll find us," said Lert. "Everyone at work fell in love with him."
The next day, her friends told her about an ad on Craigslist that described a lost dog that sounded like the one she had found.
"Lisa called me to notify me that she had my dog and my children and I went to pick him up the next morning," said Ritter.
A grateful Ritter offered Lert a reward, which she refused. However Lert told her she would use that money to help rescue animals left stray by Hurricane Sandy.
In the spirit of paying it forward, Lert hopes that some kind soul will adopt Emmett, a cat she took in just before Sandy struck (see photos of Emmett attached to this article).
"It is nice to know that there are selfless people out there like Lisa and Danielle," said Pree. "I was lucky she found my dog I am eternally grateful and touched by her kindness and concern for animals."
Finally, in a coincidence that can only be described as serendipity, Lert said that her mother's longtime nickname for her is -- wait for it -- Smoochy.
Puppy Love is moving to new and larger quarters at 1835 Springfield Avenue (the former Maplewood Market) in January. Lisa Lert can be reached at (973) 761-0330.