Picture: AP

Just as in the family favourite film A Dog’s Way Home - currently showing in cinemas and telling the fictional tale of a lost dog’s epic 400-mile journey to find its owners - sometimes there are real-life happy endings, too.

Here, owners who had all but given up hope tell how, years after their beloved dogs were taken, they were reunited inextraordinary circumstances.

MY BABY WAS LEFT DUMPED BY A ROAD

English bulldog Holtz was stolen aged 18 months as she played in the garden of her home in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, in June 2011. Pawnbroker Ruth Kirby, 34, searched tirelessly for her and always held onto the belief she would find her one day.

Our home, in a leafy, quiet part of Hertfordshire, was perfect for dogs. Holtz and my other dog, a Jack Russell called Scamp, could play in the garden, which was surrounded by a six-foot wall, whenever they wanted.

One morning I came downstairs and Holtz wasn’t there. I thought she had gone out into the garden using her dog flap, but it slowly dawned on me she was gone. It was just the worst feeling.

I phoned the police, I made posters, I put adverts in magazines and the local newspaper and I used social media to help find her. I would spend hours combing websites such as Gumtree, looking for anyone selling a dog like her. Sometimes I would receive messages about possible sightings, but it always came to nothing.

I loved her so much. I’d had her since she was a puppy. She was like a child to me.

Worse still, she hadn’t been spayed so she could be bred from, and with bulldog pups selling for £2 500, I knew this would be her  fate.

The thought of her being cruelly treated was so upsetting. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I just wanted my baby back. Seven years passed, and Holtz was always at the back of my mind. When I received a call from a vet in Norfolk one day asking if I’d lost a dog, my immediate thought was that Scamp had gone missing - and I checked on him in his bed.

I didn’t think for a moment they meant Holtz. But it was! Her microchip identified her. I couldn’t believe it.

I drove the 100 miles to Norfolk immediately. Holtz had been dumped by the side of a busy road, along with an elderly Chihuahua who sadly wasn’t chipped, and had been miraculously found by a veterinary nurse on her way to work.

Poor Holtz had been through a terrible ordeal. She had been puppy farmed within an inch of her life. She had a huge tumour, severe mastitis, and her nails were so long she couldn’t stand.

She had spent seven years of her life in a pen, never loved or exercised. It was just heartbreaking — all to make money, and judging by the state of her, she had made them a lot.

Yet as she sniffed me, I saw her tail twitch as the happy memories came back.

As I now had a young family, I had a difficult decision to make. Poor Holtz needed a quiet life, so I arranged for her to live with my sister, Joanie.

I still see her regularly and my sister adores her. She sleeps a lot but is doing OK. At least she is living now and not just existing.

HOW COULD THE CRIMINALS BE SO CRUEL?

Five-year-old cocker spaniel Bella was stolen from a farm in Braintree, Essex, in October 2015. She was reunited with her owner, HR co-ordinator Francesca Debnam-Sharp, 25, after being found, along with four other dogs, dumped by the side of the road in Kent.

Bella was a working dog on my family’s farm but she was also a pet and was very loved. As a working dog, she slept in a locked kennel. She was stolen at some point during the night.

My parents and I took to social media and phoned the police. We put up posters. We did everything we could.

We absolutely adored her. She hadn’t been spayed though we had never bred her and had no plans to, but I knew that was why she was taken.

Whenever I saw a spaniel in the street, I would slow down to check if it was her, but as the years passed, we all started to lose hope. That’s why it was such a bolt from the blue when we got the call in October last year from a dog warden saying she’d been picked up and identified from her  microchip.

I was living in Birmingham at the time and drove straight to my parents’ farm after they went to pick her up from council kennels. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw her. She was so happy to be home, but the state of her broke my heart. How can anyone do this to a defenceless creature?

When I saw her, she was in a bad way. She had a severe case of mange, her skin was covered in sores, and her fur was matted and stained yellow from where she had been sat in urine.

She hadn’t been exercised at all. She was just bred and bred until she was of no use to the heartless criminals who stole her.

We are like best friends now and she’s recovered well. She is still full of energy and like my shadow.

It makes me furious that the law treats dog theft the same as theft of property.

This needs to change, especially as people are only sentenced in accordance with the monetary value of the dog. The value of a dog can’t be defined by money - they are part of your family.

Daily Mail