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Family fights to regain dog belonging to daughter with autism

Posted at 6:30 PM, May 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-30 18:28:38-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- For the Kolk family, their dog Xena was more than a pet or member of the family. They say she was a service dog and comforted 4-year-old Lilly Kolk who has nonverbal autism.

"[Xena] was raised and trained with an autistic baby to be a companion and to help her get through whatever may come in her life," Amanda Kolk, Lilly's mother, explained.

But their lives changed suddenly in April 2016.

"Xena was devastating to lose," Kolk said.

They said someone stole Xena from their backyard in Grand Rapids. The Kolks said they haven't seen her since.

"Since the day she started missing, I didn't stop [looking]," Kolk said.

She said her search online led to a breakthrough. After that, one of her posts about the situation generated a combined 10,0000 comments, likes and shares on Facebook.

Kolk said she received a message from the woman who adopted Xena and found her a new home. The message came last month.

"She was really nice," Tony Kolk said.

Amanda added, "She was very helpful. She continues to try to help."

"Her exact words were that 'Xena... you could tell that Xena missed her family,'" Amanda recalled.

According to Kolk, the woman who adopted Xena claims the dog somehow ended up in Northern Michigan. The woman adopted Xena from a shelter and then re-housed Xena with a family with children in Antrim County.

Kolk said the woman encouraged the new and current owner to reach her. That new owner eventually contacted Kolk and told her she 'apparently' has her dog. But the relief for Kolk quickly faded when she said she realized the new family had no intention of returning Xena.

"That she couldn't willingly put her family through that kind of pain and that I should be happy that she's happy and healthy and let it go," Kolk recalled.

But the Kolks won't let go and decided to reach out to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers to tell us about their fight for Xena and what she's meant for Lilly.

"She learned that Xena was a friend that she could count on her to be there with her," Kolk stated.

"If she's sad, the dog will be able to sense it, go to her. If she wanders off, Xena can follow her," she explained.

The Kolks are offering to give the new owner money and said friends have even offered to give the new owner a puppy in exchange. Kolk started a Gofundme as she prepares to go the legal route, if necessary. But Kolk prays she doesn't have to.

Kolk said, "I've heard stories from people that they've found their dogs after three, four years and the owners returned them and their dog remembered them. It's amazing the stories you hear when you tell them your story."

"Hopefully we can figure it out. If not, then we will go to court and they can figure it out," she said.

FOX 17 called the new owner and sent her a Facebook message. However, we have not heard back. Kolk said she is willing to do a DNA test using Xena's baby teeth to prove she is Xena's original owner.

If there's any takeaway for other dog owners and potential owners, this is an example of why it's important to get your dog chipped.