MARYLAND

Vito, missing search and rescue dog, found

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(WJLA, AP) - A search and rescue dog that went missing on the job has been located.

Vito, the search-and-rescue dog, has been found after going missing when he ran after a fox. (Fairfax County Fire and Rescue)

Vito, a 3-year-old German Shepherd, was performing a search-and-rescue exercise with his handler, Sonja Heritage, in Bowie on Thursday afternoon. The dog got distracted by a fox and ran off.

Heritage says she got a call late Saturday from Oscar "Omar" Rodriguez who found her dog. She picked up Vito early Sunday morning. Rodriguez works at Bowie Motors Co., across the street from the search site.

"Everybody was scared of [Vito] and he came up to me and I started playing with him," said Rodriguez. "[Vito and I] got really close to each other."

Rodriguez said he fell for Vito and took him home and cared for him. But after a couple of days, a flier surfaced that reported Vito missing.

"I would be happy to give him back to the owners," he said. "It's like a kid that got lost and I have to give it back to the parents."

Vito's owner, Jim Wiggins, was thankful for Rodriguez's good care.

"I know [Rodriguez] was told to put [Vito] back out in the woods so the owners could find him," Wiggins said. But thank god he didn't do that as there are many roads around here, he said.

The auto shop where Rodriguez works is on an island between two busy highways.

"The things that could have gone wrong were immense and the odds were not in favor in a lot of different ways," Heritage said. "But we gt him and he found an angel--Omar."

The only reward Rodriguez wants to collect is an occasional visit with Vito. Vito's owners say "no problem."

Vito is a member of the urban search and rescue team in Fairfax County, Va. The dog will return to training on Monday.

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