For a while, you couldn’t talk to Laura Sissoko without hearing about the gaping hole in her heart for a dog named Buddy.

He wasn’t even her dog — but a stray who used to show up on the edge of her two-acre property in suburban Atlanta.

He would just as quickly skitter off when Sissoko’s own dog, Ellis, appeared.

“He would avoid us,” she tells MNN. “Any time I went out with my dog in the field, I would see him slinking off. And watching us from afar.”

But when Ellis died about a year ago, Sissoko stepped up her efforts to befriend the tattered stray.

A dog standing in the woods. This stray dog got his name naturally, as Sissoko kept saying, 'Here... buddy.' (Photo: PAWS Atlanta)

She would leave food for him in the field behind her sawmill. Eventually, Buddy would let her stand nearby while he ate. By November, the dog would even let her pet him.

And in December, he disappeared. Then it was Sissoko’s turn to be in tatters.

“I shed more than a few tears,” she recalls. “I would talk incessantly about him. I even talked to my therapist about him.”

“I was at one of my friend’s birthday parties — in February — there was a circle of people around me while I was just lamenting about missing Buddy.”

Sissoko had seen what too often becomes of stray dogs in her area, where teeming traffic often took a brutal toll.

"I had seen dogs hit as roadkill,” she says. “So I was really concerned.”

Little did she know, another big hearted-woman had taken in Buddy. Laura McKelvey, the manager of the PAWS Atlanta animal shelter down the street, had patiently coaxed the dog into her care.

“She just does so much. She has so much heart and passion for animals,” Suzie Sloan, director of development at PAWS, tells MNN.

A new name for a new beginning

Buddy the dog posing in woods and wearing bandana It turned out several people were trying to lure the dog to safety. (Photo: PAWS Atlanta)

Indeed, McKelvey lured Buddy back to the shelter, where the matted, hungry dog was immediately treated for a heartworm infection. To go along with his new beginning, he was given a new name — Publix.

This month, one of Sissoko’s friends recognized the dog from a photo the shelter shared on social media.

Say, isn’t that Buddy?

Sissoko knew it had to be him.

It was rush hour. Sissoko didn’t have time to drive.

“I dropped everything,” she says. “I literally ran down the road. They were closing. They were locking the gates as I ran up.”

She sounded frantic: “You just posted a picture of a dog called Publix,” she breathlessly told shelter staff. “I’ve been feeding him. I haven’t seen him since December.”

They let her inside. A moment later, the dog they called Publix emerged. And it was immediately clear that he was also her Buddy.

“I was literally sobbing when I saw him,” Sissoko says. “He flipped out. He just lit up and ran right up to me and we cuddled. The lady at Paws said she had never seen him so happy.”

Getting Buddy back

Sissoko started the adoption process right away. And not long afterward, Buddy returned to the sawmill he used to haunt — this time, not as a ghost. But as family.

“We have been two peas in a pod ever since.”

But Buddy’s story doesn’t quite end there. It turns out, his adoption fees had already been donated — by a woman who wanted to honor her daughter, Maddie, who had passed away.

“The daughter had always called her dad Buddy,” Sissoko says. “I had wanted to rename him Hickory for the woods, but he only answers to Buddy. It’s like the whole thing has gone full circle.”

Buddy the dog laying in front of wood pile. Buddy is back at the sawmill he used to haunt. But this time as family. (Photo: PAWS Atlanta)