"For the first few months, they were crying themselves to sleep every night asking when she was coming home," Witbracht says.
It all added up to a moment this week that was fraught with equal parts joy, expectation - and doubt.
Then Malice was led into the room where Witbracht was waiting nervously. She didn't quite look like the same dog. At 9 years old, Malice was suddenly a senior. Arthritis had crept into her bones, lending a stiffness to her step.
And the black patch around the dog's eye had turned gray.
She was pulling that leash hard. Practically dragging herself to Witbracht.