PEPPERELL -- When 2-year-old pit bull Vega escaped his harness, got hit by a car and took off into the woods on Oct. 10, Pepperell resident Grace Taddeo feared he wouldn't be coming back.

But through Taddeo's dedicated search and the kindness of strangers, Vega was found 17 hours later, largely unharmed.

Taddeo said three of her neighbors at 7 Main St. helped her search the woods on the night of Oct. 10 and the following morning, to no avail. Taddeo spent hours knocking on the doors of strangers to ask if they had seen him and left her contact information with them in case he was spotted. Then she received a call saying Vega was on a lawn on nearby Independence Drive.

Although she never learned the last name of the man who called her, she said his help in looking for Vega was instrumental in bringing the dog home.

"I was overwhelmed with their compassion for not only a total stranger but a dog they'd never even seen -- never even met," Taddeo said.

"The fact that it was a pit bull didn't even faze these people, and they gave it their best. And if it wasn't for the help of these people, this dog wouldn't be here today."

Vega was taken to Pepperell Veterinary Hospital for treatment of minor bruises and scratches on his nose and chest. Taddeo said although she had not previously taken Vega there, the veterinarian treated him as if he had been a lifelong patient.

"I just brought him right in, and even though they'd never had him before, they were so sincere. I was not a client of theirs, but I am now," she said.

According to the vet, about an eighth of an inch of wear on the harness made it just loose enough for Vega to escape. Since the incident, she said she has not used the harness again.

The 17 hours during which Vega was missing was a wake-up call for Taddeo, who said she had never had a dog run away, despite owning many throughout her life.

"I walk in the woods with him all the time, and I see the lost dog signs. I always said that it's never going to happen to me," Taddeo said.

Vega was an Easter gift from Taddeo's son in 2011. She said having the dog has kept her active. She is also a participant in walks with a pit bull advocacy organization that works to promote the breed that she believes is so misunderstood.

She said she has owned five pit bulls, none of which have ever bitten anyone.

"The owners make them the way they are. If you're going to treat that dog with TLC, you're going to get it back," she said.

Getting Vega back, Taddeo said, was a difficult feeling to describe.

"When I got Vega back, I literally laid on the grass with him down there just hugging him for dear life," she said.

"I was overjoyed and I just kept thinking, without these people, this would never have happened."

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