ENCINITAS, Calif. — In late August, News 8 brought you the story of Charlie the Mastiff. He was the dog that had been at the animal shelter the longest after his original owner died. It was hard to understand how someone could pass on the snuggly, so-called, “Charlie Big Head” month after month.
Once the story aired, it took on a life of its own. Some News 8 viewers even wrote in and offered to pay Charlie’s $75 adoption fee. Dozens of adoption applications poured in, according to John Van Zante, the public relations director at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society.
"True happiness isn’t going to come until he gets a home, so there will be a lot of tears when he gets adopted,” said Kathy Zerkle, the Medical Director at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, during our first interview. “I know for one I’ll be crying.”
Fast-forward to the beginning of September and there’s a new character in our story, but he isn’t new to Charlie. Tim Yanitor met Charlie as his neighbor’s puppy in Chula Vista.
“The paws on this dog were just incredible,” said Tim. “They were huge! And I mean, I just thought to myself, ‘God, this is going to be a big dog.’”
And big he became. Charlie weighs in at a modest 174 pounds of couch potato.
Tim offered to help build his neighbor a dog-friendly fence, and before you know it, Tim became her caretaker - and Charlie’s. However, that lady died late last year. She was only in her 60s. Suddenly, Charlie and Tim both needed a place to stay.
“When they came to get him, it was a horrible day,” said Tim. “I mean I was - because of her death - I was going to have to move. He trusted me, and I climbed into the back of the truck where they keep him and he followed me in. We sat in there and I didn’t want to get out. It was rough.”
However, Tim said he was unable to care for Charlie on his own at the time, so animal control took Charlie.
“I had to close that metal gate on him and lock him in there and as I walked away, he was just barking that - that bark that he just didn’t understand and I cried. And that was the last time that I saw Charlie.”
Tim appeared teary-eyed as he recalled his fond memories of Charlie’s protective yet playful nature.
“I mean, to this day I’ve wondered - did I do the right thing?” said Tim.
But where one dog leaves this story, another dog enters. Tim went on to become a caretaker for another woman named Lisa and her dog. You guessed it - Lisa had a mastiff, too. This one was named Burt - and just like he had with Charlie, Tim loved Burt like his own.
Sadly, Burt died at the end of August, but that’s where this story becomes somewhat unbelievable. Exactly one week after Burt died, we aired our story on Charlie. Lisa’s friend sent her the story, and Lisa knew she wanted to adopt Charlie - not knowing that Tim once raised him.
“The neighbor across the way told the neighbor that used to live next to me that they had seen Charlie on TV - and he was okay!” said Tim.
Lisa is recovering from a car accident and was not feeling well enough for an on-camera interview at this time.
“It's a very strange story, because my girlfriend contacted me knowing that I had just lost my dog,” said Lisa to News 8. “Even though I wasn't looking for one just yet, she said I have to see the piece that was on the news. So I looked at the video and fell in love with Charlie. Not an hour later, Tim contacted me to see to tell me that his long-lost dog had been found.”
The news also spread to Tim, who ran home from the grocery store, and watched the News 8 story. Sure enough, it was his long-lost Charlie.
“It was like watching it in slow motion,” said Tim. “I mean, without that show, I would’ve never heard about this.”
There was lingering anxiety in the air - would Charlie remember Tim? Charlie had been at the shelter in Encinitas for nine months.
“He might be a little upset with me for locking him in that truck that day,” said Tim. “I think when he sees me, he’ll know that he’s found his home - again.”
Employees and volunteers at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society watched in the wings, hoping that it would finally be Charlie’s turn to find a home.
“Come here good boy!” said Tim when staff at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society walked Charlie outside.
The two reunited with pets, belly rubs, kisses and connection.
"It was meant to be - all the time that he spent here," said Kathy.
“That’s divine orchestration because there are no such thing as coincidences and the odds of all those events happening in that manner?” said Tim. “There’s only one way that could happen and I think it comes from above.”
“Charlie knows him! He knew him - almost immediately remembered him,” said Kathy with her as-promised watery eyes. “You saw him - [he] took him down! He took him down and kissed him and Charlie doesn’t do that to a lot of people.”
It’s a one-in-a-million story.
“He’s just a one in a million dog,” said Tim. “He’s got the personality of your best friend. What he does best is protect and look after someone he considers special and it used to be that lady, and now I believe it’ll be this lady.”
“I’m just happy,” said Kathy. “I’m just happy for him.”
"We will all be together and Charlie will be reunited with Tim and I will have him here for love and companionship," said Lisa. "He will never have to know another place to live."
Then Charlie, who sat in a kennel for nine months, headed home - a place that’s both new and familiar at the same time.
Kathy pet Charlie on the head with a final message as the car window rolled up:
“Bye Charlie! We love you. You be the best boy, okay?”
There are plenty of pets available for adoption at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Appointments are available by appointment only.
Bonus video exclusively at cbs8.com: