Sheryl Jans was driving home along Route 60 in Lake County on June 27 when her cell phone rang, truly changing her life, with a call she was certain she'd never receive.
It was her best friend calling who immediately told Jans that, if she was driving, she had to pull over, at once, and was adamant.
"I thought my house burned down, was [burglarized], or something happened to [my cat] Rummie," Jans said.
Instead, Jans' friend had received a phone call from Avid Microchip. They called her after they were unable to reach Jans, and the friend was Jans' emergency contact.
Koki had been at the Kona Humane Shelter on the Big Island in Hawaii.
Koki was Jans' dog who has been missing for eight years.
"I was hysterical. I started crying and freaking out," Jans said. "I called the shelter and spoke to a worker at the shelter. She told me that Koki was brought in by a good samaritan who found her running around the Kona Airport."
Jans was emailed a photo of Koki and quickly launched "Operation Bring Koki Home."
Jans, 46, lives in north suburban Round Lake Beach and is a teacher in Lake County. An open lesbian, she is in a committed relationship.
"As sometimes happens in relationships, my relationship ended after nine years, and Koki was 3 years-old back in 2005," Jans said. "I was going to take Koki with me, but my ex would not allow me to. She took Koki and ran her down to her grandma's [house], locking Koki in there. I was unable to get her, [and the] police wouldn't do anything. I had to concede that I could not have her.
"I was devastated. There is something heartbreaking over losing an animal you love. It is not like losing a relationship. It is easier to comprehend if the animal passes away, but if the dog in this case is still alive, it makes it more difficult. You think you see her in every animal. I had her microchipped. I thought that if anything ever happened to Koki, I would be the person who would be contacted because I am the registered owner."
But, she admits, "I thought I would never hear anything about her again."
Jans has since June 27 been working nonstop to get Koki back to Illinois. That has been a challenge, though, because of a flying embargo on snub-nosed pets. "They cannot fly in cargo until temperatures drop below 75 degrees and no airline allows animals in cabin from Hawaii," Jans said. "We found that Hawaiian Airlines will allow Koki to fly in cabin, but I have to be with her. Once we get to the mainland, I can fly her American Airline in cabin. But, again, have to be with her."
Jans is fundraising for her reunion.
In the meantime, "I found a sweet woman and her husband who are watching Koki at an undisclosed location, to keep her safe and help me get her home. They are working as hard as me to do so," Jans said.
Jans got Koki in October, 2002. "My dog, Ally, had passed away. I was crying every day because of the loss of Ally. My partner at the time could not handle it anymore. So, I found a breeder for Boston Terriers and got Koki when she was eight weeks old," Jans said. "Koki ended up in Hawaii because my ex and her mom moved there when her grandmother passed away."
Koki, ironically, has direct Hawaiian ties.
"I am fanatical about Hawaii, having traveled there four times," Jans said. "I wanted her name to [have] a Hawaiian name, so I googled 'Hawaiian Pet Names.' There was the name Koki; it meant 'Snubby Nosed Bulldog.' Since Koki is a Boston Bull Terrier, it seemed appropriate.
"[Hawaii] is my favorite place in the world. I am happy and peaceful when I am there. My favorite place is the Big Island of Hawaii because of the hiking, snorkeling, and [more.]"
Jans admits she never thought she'd see Koki again. "I never expected to be the person to love her until her life is complete," Jans said. "There is no doubt that lesbians love their pets more than anything. I know that they offer something to all people. I don't think that lesbians are any different than anybody else when it comes to animals. We just see them as our four-legged children."
Koki was the runt of the litter when Jans was hooked. "Nobody wanted her because she had a little kink at the end of her tail," Jans said. "I liked it because she did not have to be perfect for me to love her.
"One of my funniest memories is Koki playing with Rummie, my Himalayan. She would grab Rummie by the tail and drag him down the hallway. Rummie never did anything back; he just let Koki use him as a play toy. I would also watch Koki curl up with Rummie and sleep with him. Another time, I decided that Koki needed to wear dog boots in the Chicago winter. I needed to train her from a puppy. So, I purchased booties and put her outside with them on. It looked like she was walking in two feet of tar. The boots got lost in the snow and I had to shovel to retrieve them."
Koki has touched so many, Jans said, including her nephew, Tyler, now 14. Tyler has cerebral palsy and is deaf. He knew the sign for dog [and] would use it to get Koki; she would jump on him and lick him. [Since] he couldn't walk, he couldn't run away from her. He would laugh and laugh."
To help Jans reunite with Koki, go to this website: tinyurl.com/GetKokiHome