By Amy Jamieson
09/06/2012 at 06:35 PM EDT
Mark Wessells and his dog Buck
Amanda Kelley/The Sun News
Buck, a 3-year-old Labrador, traveled 500 miles to get to Myrtle Beach, S.C., after his owner Mark Wessells left the dog with his father in Winchester, Va.
The journey began in January, when Wessells could no longer have a dog at his South Carolina home and subsequently relocated Buck.
When Wessells learned that Buck was missing, he was devastated.
“I thought he was gone forever,” he told South Carolina’s WPDE News.
As luck would have it, Buck turned up – several months later and some 500 miles away – back in South Carolina, where Good Samaritan Brett Gallagher found him wandering near his house and took him in.
When Gallagher, who planned to keep the dog, took Buck to Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand Animal Hospital on Aug. 31 for shots, veterinarian Dr. Amanda Thomas discovered a microchip.
A simple click revealed that Wessells, who lives a few miles from the hospital, was the dog’s owner, and Dr. Thomas contacted him right away.
“He couldn’t get off the phone fast enough, crying,” Thomas tells PEOPLE, who said Wessells raced over to retrieve the dog.
“He definitely recognized me instantly,” Wessells told WPDE. “It’s just crazy he made it down here on his own.”
No one knows exactly how Buck made it back, but Thomas credits Buck’s keen sense of smell.
“A dog’s sense of smell is pretty incredible,” she tells PEOPLE. “As we know from search and rescue dogs, they can track people who are in enclosed cars from the grass along highways. [Buck] traveled a pretty far distance to come back here.”