Yet, after 16 days filled with futile attempts at tracking down Chunk, the couple got a phone call that brought them to tears: Their beloved pooch had been spotted in Barnegat Bay. Now, Marie and Jim are holding Chunk a bit closer — despite the ticks he brought from his travels — after a rescue mission that included the joint efforts of two joggers, a fisher and two New Jersey state troopers.
Chunk was not one to run away, his owner said, but he had always been shy around strangers — a reason Jim attributes to his going astray when the two visited F-Cove, the Brick Township cove whose waterways are often frequented by boaters.
“Maybe he got a little overloaded,” Jim said. “Just things going around his head because he is a little skittish.”
The dog, an “avid swimmer and fetch enthusiast,” according to Marie, was playing with a child. Racing after his favorite toy five or six times, Chunk then ventured into the woods as Jim talked to the child’s mother.
Marie, who had stayed at home, said her husband chased him through the marshy area and circled the perimeter for an hour to no avail. Then police officers were called, but Chunk was nowhere to be found.
For the Zangaras, Chunk is more than a pet. His disappearance felt like losing a child, Jim said.
“He’s our little boy,” he said. “That’s what it is. Our son is gone. Our daughter’s gone. So he’s the little boy of the family now.”
But perhaps no one missed Chunk — whose loving personality has dazzled his owners ever since he was a puppy — more than Riley, his 10-year-old golden retriever “sister,” who is also a rescue dog.
“Chunk really bonded with and adored her,” Marie said. “Riley has epilepsy, and whenever she has a seizure, Chunk runs right over to her side and stays with her to make sure she’s safe.”
Intent on not losing one of their own, Marie and Jim printed over 400 posters with Chunk’s photo and the word “missing” plastered across in bold. Jim said they put them on every light post they found and distributed them to passersby in bagel shops and restaurants.
The strategy seemed to work. For a week, they received daily calls of sightings. However, none turned to be fruitful — perhaps due to Chunk being in “survival mode,” Marie said.
“We had a general idea of the area that he was in, but he never seemed to go to the same place twice,” she said. “He was running away from everyone, trying to survive, so it was very hard to try to get him.”
After a flurry of information, the telephone stopped ringing for about eight days at the Zangaras’ household. At this point, Chunk’s owners feared their “worst nightmare” had come true. “It was then that I kind of lost all hope,” Jim said.
Then the couple struck gold. Two joggers in Barnegat Bay recognized Chunk from one of the posters, Marie said. When they saw him dive into the chilly waters, they waved down Jim Mathis, who was fishing nearby, ABC 7 reported.
Chunk’s owner said Mathis attempted to hoist the dog into his boat, but the dog collar broke. Luckily, he was able to find Marie’s phone number.
“When I got the call at 7 a.m. I couldn’t believe it — I was the happiest I’d been in a long time,” she said. “I told him to stay with Chunk until the police came.”
New Jersey State Troopers Ryan Koehler and Vincent Ferdinandi, of Point Pleasant Station, responded in a vessel, the New Jersey State Police posted on Facebook. They used a rope to pull Chunk out of the water, and stayed by his side until Jim and Marie drove 20 miles from their home to reunite with their companion.
“To see the sigh of relief that a part of their family was back was unbelievable, and the dog was happy to see his family as well,” Ferdinandi said to People.
After happy tears were shed and hugs were given, Chunk arrived home a couple pounds lighter and his fur unmuddied by his early-morning swim.
Marie said the dog is slowly returning to his playful self after some initial exhaustion. She’s expecting they will visit F-Cove soon. But, “this time, I’ll take a long leash,” she said.