Imagine watching gorillas at the zoo on a Sunday afternoon when, out of nowhere, a stray dog wanders into their enclosure.

That’s exactly what happened to several horrified San Diego Zoo Safari Park visitors on June 12, 2022. In a video recorded by one of the visitors, one of the gorillas appears to be agitated and begins to chase the unwelcome guest. The visitors whistle and yell “Run, run, run!” at the dog. They also shout the gorilla’s name, Franklin, in an effort to try to distract him.

Luckily, zoo staff and officers from the San Diego Humane Society were quickly able to prevent a tragedy.

“As soon as zoo staff saw the dog, they moved the gorillas out, using their safety recall procedure,” says Nina Thompson, director of public relations for the San Diego Humane Society. “Our three humane officers were able to move in and safely leash the shepherd and bring him back to San Diego Humane Society’s Escondido Campus for evaluation.”

‘He’s incredibly lucky’

Samantha Clark, one of those San Diego Humane Society officers, says rescuing the wayward dog wasn’t too difficult a task.

“The dog was very sweet, a nice dog, and easy to leash,” she says. “He’s incredibly lucky that he did not get any injuries from his encounter with the gorilla.”’

The dog, a male shepherd mix about a year and a half old, wasn’t microchipped or wearing an identification tag. His rescuers named him “Mighty Joe Young” after the movie about a giant gorilla. He was put on a four-day stray hold. “If no owner had come forward, he would’ve been scheduled for neuter surgery before he could be made available for adoption,” Nina says.

Unsurprisingly, the San Diego Humane Society received several calls from people hoping to adopt Mighty Joe Young if his owner didn’t claim him. One of the potential adopters was a zookeeper at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, according to Kelli Schry, marketing and communications manager for the Humane Society.

“The dog was very sweet, a nice dog, and easy to leash,” Samantha says. “He’s incredibly lucky that he did not get any injuries from his encounter with the gorilla.”

The day after Mighty Joe Young’s rescue, he received a veterinary exam by the San Diego Humane Society’s Dr. Brie Sarvis. “She removed several ticks from the dog but said he is otherwise in good condition,” Nina says. Mighty Joe Young was also given flea medication and all his vaccines.

Reunited and it feels so good

About a week later, after seeing their dog on the news, Mighty Joe Young’s owners came forward to reclaim him. It turns out his actual name is “Meatball.”

“He was first cleared medically and neutered by San Diego Humane Society veterinarians, and now we’re so happy to see him return home!” Kelli says.

The owners, who didn’t want to be identified, live about a mile away from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They have installed a trolley system in their yard that gives Meatball the freedom to roam and explore—but not wander off again to the gorilla enclosure.

There were actually two stray dogs inside the San Diego Zoo Safari Park that Sunday. The other dog didn’t enter the gorilla enclosure and found his way back home on his own, Kelli says.

Although the greater San Diego area is home to a few wild animal attractions, including the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, the San Diego Humane Society has never before had to rescue a stray dog from inside one of them. “To my knowledge, this was a first!” Kelli says.

San Diego Humane Society is a valued partner of VCA Animal Hospitals. VCA proudly partners with over 150 animal shelters and rescue organizations in the United States, providing medical, fundraising and marketing support. VCA is committed to helping these organizations end pet homelessness and increase pet adoptions nationwide.

Both VCA and the San Diego Humane Society stress the importance of microchipping your pet. Microchips help you find your pet should they ever get lost and also help animal shelters quickly reunite stray pets with their owners. You can get your pet microchipped at a VCA hospital near you.

Although Meatball wasn’t microchipped, his owners were fortunately able to locate him thanks to all the news coverage of his scary misadventure. “We’re thrilled Meatball is safe and back home where he belongs,” Kelli says.

VCA is proud to partner with over 150 qualified animal shelters nationwide. Find a VCA shelter partner near you at our website!