KENNER (AP) — With smiles, tears of joy and lots of licking, a Yorkshire terrier picked up as a stray in Iowa was reunited Wednesday with the 14-year-old girl from whom he was stolen in 2012.

Karisa Lambert was in tears when an animal control worker from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, handed the little brown dog to her at New Orleans’ international airport as television cameras rolled and bystanders took cellphone videos.

“I’m so very excited to have Sam back,” she said as she and her parents, Thomas and Donille Lambert of Bridge City, left the airport.

Thomas Lambert said his brother gave Sam to Karisa when she was 4 years old. The dog disappeared in June or July 2012 from their back yard, which is surrounded by woods in a rural part of the New Orleans suburb.

“We had just given him up for dead,” he said.

Sam was found April 14, wandering around an elementary school during Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week, according to a news release from the city of Cedar Rapids. A microchip implant in the dog enabled city animal control officers to identify and reach the Lamberts. United Airlines donated a first-class seat for animal control specialist Michelle Johnson to fly to New Orleans and deliver Sam.

“This just makes all of us feel really, really happy — that we can make this miracle come true for this family and their little dog,” program manager Diane Webber said in the news release.

The Lamberts and several friends were waiting at the gate when Johnson brought the 5.5-pound dog. Sam looked around alertly, wagging his tail as Johnson carried him in her arms.

“He looks the same as he did when he disappeared three years ago,” Donnille Lambert said.

Sam didn’t make a sound. He just wagged his tail and licked anyone in reach.