(Left) Volunteers from Publix supermarket in Daphne search the landfill for a cherished toy. (Right) Maddie is reunited with her bunny.

 When my daughter, Lindsay, was a baby, her favorite toy was her bunny — aptly named, “Bunny.” It stayed with her throughout her growing-up years. Today, some 30 years later, Bunny is in tatters, but is still in the picture. I know this because sometimes I see it hanging out of her purse.

That’s how it is with bunnies and binkies and blankies and other such items from our childhood. But what if such a cherished item is lost?

    That’s exactly what happened in Daphne earlier this month when 3-year-old Madison Rachal went shopping with her mother, Jenna Rachal, at their neighborhood Publix supermarket. Madison’s favorite companion, Bunny, was there, too. “Maddie takes him all over,” Jenna said. “Everywhere we go, people know Bunny.”

After buying groceries, Jenna, Maddie and Bunny were leaving the store when a tremendous boom of thunder rocked the parking lot. Racing to her car, Jenna rushed to get everything unloaded before the rain began to fall.

It wasn’t until she got home that she realized Bunny was missing. “I was instantly in a panic,” she said. She frantically called the store, hoping against hope that someone might have turned it in.

When store manager Mike Gayheart learned about the lost bunny, he was determined to find it. As the father of his own little girl, he couldn’t imagine what it would be like for her to lose such a treasured possession.

“There is nothing he wouldn’t do for his daughter and, clearly, his customers, either,” said his wife, Lindsey Gayheart.

Although the Gayhearts live in Baldwin County, Lindsey telecommutes as a report writer for Born Inspections and Consulting in Anniston. My daughter, Lindsay, is the office manager for that company. (It’s one of those small-world coincidences and how I came to hear this lost-bunny story.)

According to Lindsey Gayheart, her husband, Mike, checked security footage for the time and day of Jenna’s visit to the store. He was able to call up the feed and follow Mom and Maddie as they made their way through the parking lot. He saw them drive away with Bunny left behind in the cart.

Then the storm arrived and it began to rain — and rain and rain and rain. The poor bunny was thoroughly saturated.

The video also revealed Bunny being placed in the trash, which was transferred to a dumpster, then to a compactor, before being transported to the local landfill.

 “That’s when Mike decided to head over there and dig through the trash,” Lindsey said.

Store employees volunteered to help Mike search the landfill, and they spent hours sifting through multiple mounds of rubbish, as dozens of scavenger birds flew overhead. The group searched and searched to no avail. All of them were starting to lose hope when a landfill employee came by with an excavator and dug into the piles, relocating garbage and giving them access to a whole new layer of trash. The volunteers went at it again.

And then suddenly there was a eureka-type shout.

Bunny had been found!

Despite the heat, the humidity, the horrible odors and the ankle-deep garbage, the overjoyed volunteers celebrated with whoops and hollers.

 “When Mike got home, he didn’t speak to me or our daughter,” Lindsey said. “He headed straight for the shower.”

Mike had brought Bunny home with him and, together with Lindsey, they gave the poor thing a bath. Multiple baths, actually. “We took good care of him,” she said. “In fact, Mike was overly cautious.”

Later that day, Jenna was invited to bring Maddie to the store for a surprise. It wasn’t until she arrived and heard the whole story that Jenna knew what steps had been taken to recover Bunny. “It was incredible,” she said. “So kind of them and over the top. Well beyond the call of duty.”

This story of Bunny’s rescue has received newspaper and television coverage in multiple states from coast to coast. It’s been said that bad news travels fast, but it’s nice to know that good news does, too.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.