It was a July day in Anna earlier this year, and Catherine Nicolella was getting settled into her new house. A transplant from Southern California, she had just moved to the area when her brother let out her dog Saki in the back yard. It happened to be her neighbor’s birthday, and to celebrate they were shooting off fireworks. She was also getting the floors in her house replaced. The cumulative noise caused her dog Saki to bolt out the open gate, and he hasn’t been seen since.

“It was just too much noise,” Nicolella said. “There was drilling going on, they were putting in floors in the house, and then the neighbors also had fireworks at the same time; and I think he just went nuts and my brother opened the door and let him out. I never would have done that; I would have put him upstairs in the closet or in the bed.”

Saki’s owner, Nicolella, searched all night, driving around Throckmorton Road and Highway 75 where she lives, but her Shiba Inu was nowhere to be found.

It’s a story that many dog owners can relate to — a loud noise causes their normally docile dog to get scared, runoff and not be able to find their way home. But for Nicolella there’s a twist to this tale. A few days after Saki went missing, she said she got a call from the Anna Water Department.

“So somebody called the water department of all things and said they had my dog and left a phone number,” she said. “Well the water department didn’t want to hand out my number so they just called me and gave me a message — and the number they gave me was disconnected.”

Saki has a microchip and a scanable dog tag with Nicolella’s information on it, though she said having just moved from California, the information could be dated, but it has her current phone number listed. What confused her was why the person who found her dog would call the water department to find her, because her name isn’t listed on the account.

“The only reason they (the water department) had my last name, because the bill is under my mom, is because I’d been in there a couple times and I’d talked to them and they had my name, but my name is not even associated with the account,” she said. “So obviously somebody had my dog.”

With renewed hope Nicolella went to the water department to find out more about this mysterious woman named Jean Black, who claimed to have Saki. While she was there she also stopped by the Anna Police Department to talk to them about the odd ordeal.

Nothing came from that visit, she said. In the end she didn’t get any closer to getting her dog back, and decided to put up flyers around town, hoping the woman would see them and contact her.

It’s been months since her dog went missing, but Nicolella’s determination to find Saki is as strong as ever, she said. The dog helped her through chemotherapy and radiation treatment when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2009.

“He did get me through chemo,” she said. “That dog pushed me to the bathroom, he stepped on me. He never left my side.”

She’s been through 10 surgeries and a staph infection on top of her cancer diagnosis, but she said the daily affection from Saki helped keep her spirits up, and she’s not about to give up on him when he didn’t get up on her.

“I really miss him,” she said. “It is like losing a kid.”

Nicolella has posted on local Facebook pages and Craigslist, has contacted veterinarians, rescue groups and the Collin County Animal Shelter but nothing has worked. Shiba Inu’s by nature all tend to look alike, having rusty red fur on the top of their back that fades into a light cream color on their belly.

Over the past few months she said she visited shelters several times after being tipped off that a Shiba Inu was there, but each time it turned out to not be her Saki, and she comes back to that phone call left by the mysterious woman.

“I just can’t imagine that he couldn’t find his way home,” she said. “And then the fact that someone called me and said they had him.”

This Christmas all Nicolella said she wants is her dog back. She’s offering $100 reward for any information leading to him, no questions asked.

“It would be a miracle, and I’m not giving up,” she said. “I’ve heard of people getting their dog months later and I just, I know he’s out there. I hope he’s not sick, I worry about his allergies. You know the dog slept with me for 10 years — that’s hard to get over.”

Saki is a 10-year-old neutered Shiba Inu, he has a fatty tumor on the inside of his thigh, a skin condition on his tail, and had a microchip inside him and a scanable dog tag. Anyone with information on the missing dog is asked to call Nicolella at 714-916-8093.