An autistic boy's beloved Labrador retriever that went missing last week has been returned to his family by a woman who says she found it wandering and took it home.
The boy's mother, Emily Fontana, said the family was "beyond thrilled and grateful" that Echo the dog was back home. Echo has been a best friend to 5-year-old Mark Fontana, who cannot communicate with words.
The family had waited a year to get the dog from a nonprofit, and she arrived on Mark's birthday.
"There's something about Echo that has brought a calm and peace to Mark, and by extension, our whole family," his mother said.
But the pup went missing on Nov. 6, last seen about a block from the Fontanas' home in Rye, N.Y.
After more than a week and a half of searching for Echo, the family got a phone call Friday.
"They said 'I think I might have your missing dog,' and my heart stopped," said Emily Fontana.
The woman who returned the dog told the family she saw news stories about the missing pup and brought her back.
"A good Samaritan found her and gave the dog to her sister in the Bronx, and the sister had Echo safe and sound," said Fontana. "She was on a couch, she was warm, she was fed, and we're so grateful for that."
Emily Fontana walked to school with Echo Friday afternoon to surprise Mark, and NBC 4 New York captured the happy reunion. Echo licked the boy's face as he laughed and smiled, emotions his mother hasn't seen since the dog disappeared.
Then Mark was tethered to Echo, his constant companion, and the old friends walked back home for the first time in nine days.