Seconds after the crash, Vitali was hanging upside down, bleeding, and Max was lying next to him. But as the sirens from first responders got close, Max took off.
After he was released from the hospital, Vitali and his family searched for Max and contacted news outlets all over northern Indiana to try and spread the word about the missing dog. At first, Vitali heard from a few people who found strays they thought might be Max, but it always turned out to be another dog.
Then Monday evening, one of Vitali’s friends received a text message from Miller, reading: My name is Ann and I am from Indiana, trying to find Dave Vitali. Do you know if he has found Max? I adopted a dog yesterday and it looks just like him.
A few minutes later that friend replied: Hello Ann, no he has never found Max. This would be amazing if there is still a possibility that it is him.
That man gave her Vitali’s number.
“[Vitali] asked me to send pictures, and I did and then almost right away he called me and said, ‘That’s Max,’” Miller recalled.
But after all those calls from others who also thought they might have Max, how could Vitali be sure?
The golden retriever had several distinguishing features Vitali was able to describe, Miller said, including the type of collar he was wearing and the thickness of his tail that the family often said resembled a squirrel’s tail. Also, Max loves cats and kids. Miller noticed this retriever did, too.
Somehow, Max ended up in Galveston, Ind., 50 miles south of where the crash happened and he disappeared. Animal control officers picked him up at a gas station in Galveston and took him to the Cass County animal shelter February 5.
Miller and her daughter noticed Max at the shelter a few weeks ago while they were there to adopt a cat.
“He kind of reminded me of, kind of looked like Old Yeller,” she recalled. “And you just kind of looked at him, and he was the perfect dog. He was just sitting there looking, not barking.”
When she returned the crate last weekend, she saw Max was still there and asked if she could take him home, too.
More than 3 months after the dog disappeared, Vitali is planning to drive from Georgia to Indianapolis later this week to pick up his dog.
“I asked him if he believed in miracles, and he said yes, his daughter was a living miracle because she was born premature. And then he had the accident and he doesn't see how he survived it, and then with Max, it's just like a dream come true,” Miller said.
In an email to WSBT Tuesday morning, Vitali said his daughter “is about to be the happiest little girl in the world.”