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Dog, owners reunited following pet’s two-week wilderness adventure

January 9, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Written By MIKE BAKER

Christmas came eight days late for one Toronto-based family, who were finally reunited with a missing pet, two full weeks after it had escaped from a property just north of Shelburne. 

“It sort of seemed like fate,” Nick Giamblanco informed the Citizen, just hours after he was reintroduced to his beloved three-year-old dog Benji. “It means the world to have him back with us.”

When Mr. Giamblanco, and his partner Jennifer Kou, dropped Benji, a Korean Jinto dog, off with family friends in Bowmanville before they traveled to British Columbia for the holidays, they had absolutely no idea what they were, inadvertently, setting themselves, and Benji, up for. 

The first few nights went by without an issue. Benji was familiar with William and Sarah, the couple entrusted to look after him. It was only after the trio had traveled west to a property in Mulmur, to visit Sarah’s sick father over the holidays, that trouble began to set in. Within 24 hours of arriving at the rural property on Prince of Wales Road, Benji escaped. The date was Dec. 19. 

William and Sarah spent the best part of four days frantically searching the bushy wilderness for Benji. They didn’t so much as catch a glimpse of the “scared” animal. With, seemingly, nobody to turn to, the cavalry arrived on Dec. 23 in the form of France Lajeunesse and her Aid 4 Paws search and rescue group. Since launching her organization back in 2014, Ms. Lajeunesse has assisted in hundreds of searches across Ontario and Quebec. Boasting an 80 percent success rate in cases she, and her team, have been associated with, France’s presence was a welcome one as Benji’s trail went cold. 

“First of all, we formed a core team, with some local volunteers and William and Sarah. Then we created 60 large neon signs that we installed outside, and printed off around 400 flyers that we delivered throughout the community,” Ms. Lajeunesse told the Citizen. “Then we started with our tracking.”

The first recorded sighting came on Christmas Day, in the evening. A homeowner spotted Benji on his property along County Road 17. A couple of days later, he was seen again, this time sprinting on the shoulder of County Road 124. Benji was almost struck on several occasions, weaving in and out of traffic before disappearing once again. 

Being that Benji was an international rescue dog, France noted he was “rather elusive “. The team, made up of approximately 10 individuals, had to get creative with their potential recovery techniques. They set up several ‘feeding stations’ in the area, in the hopes that Benji would take the bait and show his face. In the early hours of Dec. 31, he did just that, showing up on one of France’s cameras installed at a feeding station on a horse farm at Centre Road and 5 Side Road.

“When we saw Benji had been to this site, and eaten some of the food, we figured there was a strong chance he would come back. Unfortunately, that evening was New Year’s Eve. With all the fireworks, parties etc. we completely lost sight of him,” France said. 

Hitting brick wall after brick wall, it was left to an Aid 4 Paws volunteer named Norma to make the breakthrough. Having been embroiled in what she described as a “devastating experience” two years prior when her then 10-month old poodle Sierra spent five lonely nights alone in the wilderness, Norma was eager to help reunite Benji with his owners Nick and Jessica. On Jan. 2, while searching the horse farm with another of her dogs, Du, Norma was successful in locating Benji.

She spent the better part of an hour calmly and quietly tailing him, hoping there would be an opportunity to retrieve. Eventually, Norma got within arm’s reach and clasped onto Benji’s collar. In the heat of the moment, frightened, Benji sunk his teeth into Norma’s arm, but she didn’t let go. Showing nothing but love and empathy, Norma was successful in calming Benji down. France was soon on the scene, and Benji was transported to Graham Animal Hospital in Hillsburgh. 

There, it was revealed that Benji had lost a quarter of his body weight, sustained several serious scratches, endured a likely painful encounter with a porcupine, and was serving as a host to a single tick. 

“The poor guy had quills all over his mouth. We think he encountered a porcupine fairly early on. He lost 10 pounds off his 40 pound weight, which meant he was at risk of something called Refeeding Syndrome,” Ms. Lajeunesse said. “He had a few scratches, had the one tick latched onto him. When we found Benji, he was absolutely exhausted and dehydrated.”

Going back to Mr. Giamblanco’s earlier reference to fate, Nick was already scheduled to fly back to Toronto, from Vancouver, on Jan. 2. As he traveled to the airport out in B.C. he was being informed that Benji had been located, and that the team hoped to secure him that day.

“It was amazing when we heard he was safe,” Nick said. “I was on the way to the airport, literally in the car, when I was getting messages saying they were going to try and capture Benji. It was just the best news. With all of this going on, I couldn’t wait to get on the plane.”

Benji was finally recovered while Nick was in the air. Upon landing at Pearson International Airport, he rented a car and made his way to Graham Animal Hospital to see Benji.

“I was so excited just to see him, hang out with him and have time with him. When I walked through the door and he saw me, he started to spin in circles, and cry a little bit. There was a lot of excitement,” Nick said. “To be honest, it was a little difficult and gloomy seeing him in the condition he was in. He was very, very skinny. We’ve had to put him on a special diet, prescribed to us by the vet.”

He added, “He had quite the adventure though. I guess it was Benji’s two week vacation from us, and, well, everyone really. I just wish he were able to tell us about everything that happened to him – I’m sure he’d have some crazy stories.”

While it’s normal for dog owners to fear the worst after an escape, Ms. Lajeunesse stated that most dogs are, in fact, recovered.

“Every case is different. Some dogs aren’t recovered because of the terrain – some dogs will fall through thin ice, some get hit by cars, or even trains. Some dogs are kept by other people,” France said. “But, in the six years we’ve been doing this, we’ve found if people do the right things quickly, they have the best chance of recovering their animals.”

Not one to rest, France is already working on her next case – a missing two-year-old Husky named Darce, who escaped from his owner’s property in Melancthon on the same day that Benji was recovered, Jan. 2. As of press time, Aid 4 Paws were still actively working the case in the hopes of recovering Darce. 

For more information on Aid 4 Paws, visit www.facebook.com/AID4PAWSsearchandrecovery. 



         

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