The dog's owner tells PEOPLE how he's recovering after this incredible, emotional roller coaster
Credit: Courtesy Kat Brekken

David Sowers and Laura Gillice spent weeks searching for Sowers’ missing dog Jade in Yellowstone National Park, motivated by the thought that she was out there, somewhere, all alone.

Sowers, 58, remembers thinking, “I’ve got to find her, she’s my dog. No one else is going to put in the effort that I will,” he tells PEOPLE.

Not anymore.

After 42 days on her own, Jade, a 17-month-old Australian shepherd, was reunited with the couple on Friday, bounding across a meadow to meet Gillice – a scratch on her mouth and looking extremely thin, but otherwise no worse off.

“She’s one tough little girl,” Gillice, 58, tells PEOPLE.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster since Jade’s disappearance, Gillice says, and it didn’t start out easy. On July 23, Gillice and Sowers had been returning from Yellowstone, in Wyoming, when they were involved in a car wreck; and Jade bolted as officials tried to retrieve her from her cracked plastic crate.

In the days immediately following, Gillice says she and Sowers – and later Sowers’ children – searched, fruitlessly, for Jade.

Already leery of people before the wreck, Gillice says Jade was bolting from anyone who saw her.

Their efforts, accompanied by long drives to the park with no success, were devastating, she says.

What’s more, Gillice and Sowers were recovering themselves – particularly Sowers, whose injuries included a broken wrist, broken finger and a kneecap shattered in 10 places

“We had pretty much given up,” Gilice says.

But they continued to receive reports of Jade sightings, broken by two stretches – one for 16 days and one for nine days – where she seemed to disappear completely, Sowers says.

Sowers says it began to seem as though Jade had migrated about eight miles from the site of the wreck to the park’s Canyon Village area, where Sowers’ wrecked car had sat for several weeks before being towed. He believes she followed the scent.

So the couple went to Canyon Village too, and waited. By that point, Sowers says everyone in Yellowstone knew their story.

It was park employee Kat Brekken who led the organizing effort for Jade’s search, he says, and helped spread the word on social media.

Brekken convinced the rangers to set out live traps, Sowers says, and asked for him to send some dirty clothes to help scent the area where Jade had been spotted.

Sowers says Brekken would take down posters for Jade and put new ones back up: “This dog is still missing. Don’t give up on her.”

Then “it finally paid off on Friday,” Sowers says.

Gillice was walking her dog, Laila, around the meadow where Jade had been seen, near the gas station where Sowers’ wrecked car once sat.

Out of the corner of her eye, Gillice says she saw a black head pop up, followed by recognition. Jade came “bounding at me, kissing me and everything,” Gillice says.

Her survival was helped by her avoiding cars and by her strong nose, Gillice says. Jade always had a habit of searching out skulls and small animals while they hiked. Sowers says Australian shepherds are the smartest dog breed as he knows.

Jade is skinny now – “skin and bones,” Sowers says – and is skittish around other animals. But around family, she’s just like she was before.

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Sowers says even Yellowstone officials couldn’t quite believe it, and told him Jade’s survival may have broken a record.

Sowers says he has received all kinds of emails and Facebook messages and texts. He’s very thankful to everyone who helped them search.

He uses one word, over and over, to describe what happened: “amazing.”

There’s even talk, apparently, of a silver screen adaptation.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Gillice says. “We laugh: ‘Who’s going to play us in the movie?’ “