LOWELL -- The 10-pound Shih Tzu was getting soaked with water and soap.

Maybe Benji didn't enjoy his bath because moments later, he slipped out the door to the backyard and disappeared into the night on Doane Street in Lowell's Highlands neighborhood.

During his bath, he had been stripped of his collar.

Beck Skahan, co-owner of the very-friendly dog, can still recall the text message almost two years later.

"My friend couldn't find him anywhere," Skahan, 18, said of the April 30, 2016 incident. "We stayed up all night.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," she added.

No phone calls or tips.

Dozens of missing dog forms.

Hundreds of flyers across the city.

Stops at shelters and veterinarian hospitals.

Nothing.

"A couple strays have matched his description, and you get all excited, but it's not him," Skahan said. "And it's crushing, and you have to restart. We've been doing that for two years."

But Skahan vows she will never stop looking for the now-4-year-old, who is white with tan patches, and has a small brown spot on his nose.

She hopes others don't have to experience this heartbreak and stress. Skahan is pointing to microchipping -- technology she did not know about until after Benji went missing -- as a way to reunite owners with their dogs.

While some owners do not get their dogs microchipped, this rice-sized chip can be the key to seeing one's lost dog again.


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"If we had known of microchips sooner, we may not still be begging for our boy to come home," Skahan said.

Beth Corr, president of Missing Dogs Massachusetts, emphasized that dogs should be microchipped. It's a small device that's easily inserted with a syringe beneath the dog's skin; microchips are not harmful.

Although a microchip cannot act as a tracking device with GPS technology, it acts as a form of ID. When the chip is scanned by a reader, a veterinarian, shelter worker or animal control unit can call the company associated with that number, and have the company contact the lost pet's owner.

This form of ID cannot be lost like a tag or collar, she said.

"I can't stress it enough," Corr said. "It's a very important part of ensuring a dog's return."

The simple procedure can be performed by most veterinarians and animal shelters. There are many low-cost microchip options available.

The Lowell Humane Society charges $20 for a microchip and registration. The shelter on Broadway Street holds several clinics for this procedure.

When a dog has a microchip, they can usually reunite the dog with its owner with an hour, said Crystal Arnott, communications and fundraising manager at the Lowell Humane Society.

It's not always successful if the owner fails to update the chip information with his/her current contact information and address. Owners need to make sure the information is updated, Arnott stressed.

"Many people don't know what a chip is, or have a mixed message of what it is," she added. "They're extremely important."

Every month on average, three animals brought to MSPCA-Angell are reunited with their families because of microchips, according to MSPCA spokesman Rob Halpin.

Every day, they take in dogs that have not been microchipped and are without a collar.

"It's fast, cheap, painless, it lasts forever, and there are no health or safety risks," Halpin said. "It increases the chances of a pet being reunited with the owner, so there's no sense not to do it."

It costs between $150 to $250 at MSPCA-Angell for the following package deal: microchip, adoption fee, veterinarian exam, vaccinations and spay/neuter.

Skahan, a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, says she believes that her Shih Tzu was picked up on the street and either kept by that person or sold to someone else.

She's not looking to press charges.

"I just want Benji back," she said.

She has a Facebook page called Bring Benji Home with pictures, flyers and messages so the community can send in images of found dogs that match Benji's description.

"I can't tell you the number of times we have been told, 'Get over it. It's just a dog,' or, 'He's long gone,' or even, 'Are you really still looking for that dog?' We always answer yes," Skahan said.

"Because guess what, until you've had the privilege of being in a family with a truly good dog, you will never understand that he is so much more than 'just a dog.' "

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun