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Getting a (stuffed) dog home in time for Christmas

A Lakewood woman was reunited with a gift for her niece after losing him during international travel.

DENVER — Thousands of miles later, a forgotten gift finally made its way home from Litochoro, Greece to Denver, Colorado. 

Tara Wilkins bought a souvenir in a small Swiss village that tagged along with her during her escapades in Europe. The teacher said she wanted to show her family that she was thinking of them.

"I really like buying gifts for them because I know it will make them happy and I think about the looks on their faces," Wilkins said. "Especially something that’s a special trip for me, I want them to have something that I brought them from that."

The stuffed dog, Bernie, started as a gift for her then 2-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew. But he quickly “became our mascot,” Wilkins said.

Bernie's adventures started with a 105-mile loop around the Mont Blanc massif through Switzerland, Italy, and France.

Credit: Tara Wilkins
Bernie the stuffed dog visiting the Swiss Alps.

“We’re running this giant thing in these huge mountain passes with this little St. Bernard dog sticking out,” Wilkins said.

Credit: Tara Wilkins
Bernie the stuffed dog visiting an ancient Serbian church in Montenegro.

The pup crisscrossed Europe, also making stops in places like France, Bosnia, Croatia, and Greece.

At the end of her trip, Wilkins summitted Mt. Olympus with the Swiss pup in tow. And for a while, that seemed like it would be the last adventure they would go on together.

Credit: Tara Wilkins
Bernie the stuffed dog visiting Mt. Olympus.

Wilkins said she had forgotten Bernie in a hostel located in a small Greek town near the base of Mt. Olympus and didn’t realize until she went all the way south to Athens.

“Somehow in the shuffle, Bernie got left,” Wilkins said. “It was a tragedy. My friend, the hostel owner texted me and he sent me a photo and I was like ‘no, not Bernie! The only thing that would have been worse was my passport. And honestly, kind of on the same level. I was so upset.”

Credit: Tara Wilkins
Tara Wilkins had forgotten Bernie at a small Greek town hostel near the base of Mt. Olympus and didn’t realize until she went all the way south to Athens.

She only had half a day before she flew back to Colorado and the town was a five-hour drive away. She couldn’t go home and also get Bernie.  

Then serendipity struck. A 9NEWS producer just so happened to pass through the same hostel, Summit Zero, a few months later on his trek to the peak of Mt. Olympus. He agreed to take the pup back with him.

“I was so surprised,” Wilkins said. “Peri, the hostel owner, sent me a message on WhatsApp saying 'hey, I found someone from Denver who can take Bernie back if that’s ok. He probably seems like he’s not a creeper. So is it ok if I give it to him?' And I’m like 'ok, of course of course. That’s fantastic.'”

Credit: Tara Wilkins
Bernie the stuffed dog at the Archaeological Museum of Dion in Greece.

9NEWS reunited the dog with his owner in Denver.

“Yay!” Wilkins said. “Bernie! Oh my gosh. He made it!”

If someone did not come across the dog by Christmas, the Greek hostel owner told Wilkins he would ship the dog to Colorado.

Credit: Tara Wilkins

“What are the odds?” Wilkins said. “Seriously. That a tiny hostel in Greece - not even one of the most touristy areas really - It’s touristy, but not like the islands where there’s people all of the time.”

She said she is grateful that Bernie was returned to her in time for the holidays.

“I’m going to give him to my niece for Christmas," Wilkins said. “It means so much to have him back in time for the holidays. I get to follow through with all of that…and I know that she’s going to love him and it’s going to be special - and I can’t wait to give him to her.”

Wilkins said she is excited that Bernie will have a “forever home.” The stuffed pup was under the tree in Texas for the holiday on Wednesday. 

Credit: Tara Wilkins

Editors note: This article was updated with a photo of Bernie at Christmas, additional details of Bernie's journey, the name of the hostel, and a correction of the hiking route in Europe. It is classified as a "massif," not a "massive" route. 

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