SANTA CRUZ -- After going missing more than two weeks ago, Honey the pit bull terrier is back with her rightful owner.
"I'm very happy," Ernestina Saldana said Wednesday.
Saldana uses a wheelchair and has trained Honey to help her open doors, get out of bed and perform other tasks. Her faithful service dog was taken from her van on Feb. 1 while Saldana and her daughter were inside the Bagelry in downtown Santa Cruz.
After searching for nearly two weeks, her physical therapist encouraged Saldana to reach out to the public for help. It worked.
Tuesday afternoon, Saldana received a phone call from a police officer who told her to expect a call from someone claiming to have her dog. The officer advised her not to agree to pay any sort of ransom. A few minutes later, a man called and said he had Honey. He told Saldana to meet him outside the Bagelry.
Soon after, Saldana saw a man in the restaurant's parking lot with her missing dog, who immediately jumped into her van.
"I didn't ask any questions," Saldana said.
She didn't know who the man was or why he had Honey, but she said she didn't want to scare him off by asking. She doesn't want to press charges or get anyone arrested. She just wanted her dog.
Honey seems a little skittish since her return, but appears to be OK physically, Saldana said Wednesday. She planned to take her dog to the veterinarian later that day for a checkup just to make sure.
She received numerous phone calls about reported sightings of her missing dog as well as many calls from people offering their support.
"It was amazing. I was a bit overwhelmed," she said.
Having her dog back also gave her a new appreciation for her community.
"I love Santa Cruz," she said. "This is like a fairy tale."
Some people wondered why Saldana hadn't just brought Honey inside the Bagelry with her in the first place. She left Honey in the car that day rather than try to struggle with the leash and her bagels while her daughter used the restroom. She also said sometimes she gets questioned about bringing her service dog into some businesses -- it is illegal to question the status of a service dog -- because of the breed.
"I'm never going to leave her in the car by herself again!" Saldana said.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmpasko96.