After nearly two months on the lam, an Ohio police dog who gained 27,000 Facebook followers and inspired thousands of volunteers to search for him during a bitterly cold Midwestern winter, has been reunited with his owner, according to news reports.

Karson, a.k.a. “the hairy kid,” a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, went missing Dec. 23 after he escaped a boarding kennel sans collar while his owner was on vacation, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. A lover of tennis balls and children, Karson had spent the previous year — his first on the job — making narcotics busts and riding along in police chases.

Almost immediately, his owner, Wilmington Police Officer Jerry Popp, turned to Facebook to provide people with updates about his missing pooch and how he was coping with the disappearance.

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“I understand that today is Christmas but for me there is very little joy,” Popp wrote two days after Karson vanished. “On this end we are feeling helpless and from a law enforcement perspective, handcuffed.”

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The 61-day saga riveted dog lovers, who responded with an outpouring of support.

“I along with my 9 year old daughter have been following you and K9 Karson since day one,” wrote one Facebook user. “We have checked this site everyday over a hundred times a day reading every post and hoping Karson would be found.”

Popp vowed that he would never give up looking for “the hairy kid” and, despite moments of frustration, his Facebook updates — posted almost daily — struck a relentlessly upbeat tone, even as sub-zero temperatures battered southern Ohio.

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“He’s trained to survive,” Popp told ABC affiliate WCPO. “He’s an athletic dog, a strong dog, a smart dog. He’ll either find shelter or keep moving. I’m not worried. Not at all.”

The entire time, Popp said he was convinced Karson was out there looking for him as well.

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“Our dogs miss us, they crave our closeness and accessibility. When we are not around they get stressed and want to find us. That’s all Karson was doing, trying to find me. ”

After hundreds of reported sightings across multiple counties, Karson was spotted roaming a snow-covered field on Sunday. He was captured after police set up a perimeter and gradually closed in until the fatigued dog gave up, according to a dramatic account of the rescue posted on the dog’s Facebook page.

“Karson turned his head and saw me and then he jumped directly into the front seat of the police truck,” Popp wrote. “The doors were closed and windows rolled up. He was captured just like that. I then proceeded to kneel in the snow and cry.”

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Karson lost 14 pounds and survived minus 30-degree wind chills but seemed to be in good health when he was found, according to his owner.

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During his first night back at home, Popp reported, Karson filled up on water and food before passing out.  Though the dog was exhausted, Popp said, his transition from survival mode into familiar surroundings went smoothly.

“I can tell he has been losing sleep and now he just wants to calm down and relax,” Popp wrote.

Police Chief Duane Weyand told WCPO that Karson wasn’t “just a dog” but a member of the department and the community.

“That’s been our driving force that he belongs here,” he said. “He’s one of us.”

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