A trip to the groomer revealed an amazing clue to her identity: The dog still had on her now-faded purple and lime green collar

Credit: Kandi Glick/Des Moines County Humane Society

Ginger the dog may be a rebel, but she’s also resourceful, and now the formerly long-lost pet has been reunited with her family after three years in the Iowa woods.

KSFY ABC News reports that the George family of Ucross, Wyoming, lost their pup while BJ George was on a business trip in Burlington, Iowa. Jennifer George didn’t want to leave Ginger in a kennel while the family was away, and instead brought the pup along. Unfortunately, the dog somehow managed to escape and disappeared from the house the Georges had rented.

Credit: Kandi Glick/Des Moines County Humane Society

Jennifer stayed behind after the trip to continue looking, but says she never caught a glimpse of the dog who had formerly belonged to her own deceased mom. The family spent hundreds of dollars on ads in an attempt to locate Ginger, to no avail.

Luckily, fate intervened — three years later — in the form of Kandi Glick, the director of the Des Moines County Humane Society. A pup who fit Ginger’s description had been sighted near a car wash. According to a post on the Humane Society’s Facebook page, Glick was able to successfully trap the stray.

Credit: Kandi Glick/Des Moines County Humane Society

“This is really funny to say, but McDonalds saved her life. People dumped food at the car wash and it’s McDonalds, it’s Taco Bell, it’s Burger King and she was digging every night in the trash,” Glick told the news station. “The water that people washed their cars with, it’s just amazing she survived we don’t know how she did it.”

Although there had been hundreds of sightings over the years, Glick tells PEOPLE that locals “just thought that she belonged to a home in the neighborhood behind the woods … when in fact, she was actually living in the woods, coming out in the early-morning and late-evening to rummage through the garbage cans at the car wash.”

Glick also told PEOPLE that trapping animals is not the usual shelter protocol. “Just for the record, the shelter does not have anything to do with the trapping of animals. This is something that I do on my own to help animals and people outside of my job at the Des Moines County Humane Society. I featured the post on our page more as an informational piece so people knew that this dog was finally caught…. she has been spotted hundreds of times over the last three years,” says Glick.

After the dog’s photo was pinned up on a local missing pets site, people recalled a dog who had gone missing three years ago. Glick contacted the Georges and sent photos and videos and, despite wear and tear of the harsh elements, Ginger was recognizable. A trip to the groomer revealed an amazing clue to her identity: The dog still had on her now-faded purple and lime green collar.

Against all odds, the red heeler had survived three winters alone in the woods of Burlington. She was in bad shape, with matted fur, a case of heartworm and a fear of people. Ginger was taken to Summer Street Animal Hospital for care, started a heartworm treatment regimen and soon warmed up to Glick.

On June 13, the beloved pup was finally reunited with her people. Glick drove the pet halfway to the family’s home in Wyoming, meeting the Georges and their 10-year-old daughter Samantha in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to facilitate the happy homecoming.

Credit: Kandi Glick/Des Moines County Humane Society

Ginger was a bit confused for a minute, but then she recognized the girl and cozied up to her mom, giving her family lots of puppy love and kisses.

The Georges are thankful for social media and call Glick an “angel” for miraculously saving their pet. “What she does … is she reunites families and she gave us back this dog that meant so much to us and without her people wouldn’t have these moments.”

The Des Moines rescue facility says that funds donated to the shelter will go toward Ginger’s current vet bill.