Family reunited with dog

ROCKLEDGE, FL -- Katherine Ferguson believes the Rhodesian ridgeback who showed up at her door months after Hurricane Andrew was just meant to be a part of her family.

But the dog was separated from her owners shortly after Christmas, following a crash on Interstate 95. Ferguson and her two daughters were hospitalized, and the dog - thrown out of their 1992 Toyota van in the accident—disappeared.

The family had been headed to Miami when the minivan blew a tire, flipped over three times and landed in the median about 2 1/2 miles north of Fiske Boulevard.

Ferguson's daughters, Linden, 18, and Amanda, 15, who also were thrown out of the vehicle, were treated at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne and released over the weekend. The family returned home Sunday night, without Rhoda, who had scurried across northbound I-95 after the wreck.

Family members and Brevard County residents scoured the area for days searching for the dog, and Ferguson had given up hope as the weekend waned.

''I had thought by this time that someone had her,'' Ferguson said. ''Or she was dead.''

But Joe Goodwin of Rockledge spotted Rhoda near the Rockledge Winn-Dixie at Barnes Boulevard and Murrell Road on Monday night.

''As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the dog they were looking for,'' Goodwin said.

He was unable to catch Rhoda but asked the store's management to keep the dog if it snuck inside, since it had four or five times before and been shooed away. After Goodwin pulled the phone number of Becky Johnson, Katherine Ferguson's cousin from Cocoa Beach, from a flyer at a local convenience store, he went back to the Winn-Dixie to hand over his business card. By then, the dog had gone back inside and was being held in an office area.

Goodwin met Johnson in the parking lot of a local fast-food restaurant and handed over Rhoda, who appeared healthy to him.

After getting a call from Johnson, Larry Ferguson, Katherine's husband, immediately hopped in the car and drove back to Brevard to pick up the family pet. When he arrived at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Rhoda ''just went crazy. She cried and cried and cried, she was so excited,'' Johnson said.

The extent of Rhoda's injuries were unknown Tuesday. She was en route to Miami and was expected to be checked out by a veterinarian soon after.

Katherine Ferguson said she is incredibly grateful to all who helped reunite the family.

''I can't believe the support my family has received from (the Brevard) community,'' Ferguson said, adding that people she didn't even know called her in the hospital to tell her they were out posting flyers and searching for Rhoda. ''What a wonderful start for a new year.''

Both girls are doing better since last week's wreck, but still have visible signs of the accident—black eyes, bumps and bruises, Johnson said. Linden still has doctor visits lined up, including a trip to a neurologist to make sure there are no undetected injuries.

Amanda is doing fine but needs oral surgery to repair the damage done during the rollover, Johnson said.

''We're more than blessed that the only thing we lost out of this thing was the car,'' Ferguson said.

And Ferguson believes that Rhoda's return was fate. She said Rhoda ''adopted us'' after hanging around the home in February 1993, months after Hurricane Andrew.

''She must be ours,'' Ferguson said. ''That's all I can think of.''