Fla. deputy helps reunite family with missing dog
A vigilant kayaker and a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol deputy helped reunite a German shepherd missing for eight days with its family
By Carlos R. Munoz
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.
VENICE, Fla. — A vigilant kayaker and a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol deputy helped reunite a German shepherd missing for eight days with its family.
Bob Welter said the 5-year-old dog named Rex was a few pounds lighter when he arrived home Monday and smelled like "sea shells and clam," but the Welter family was happy to have him back.
"The next thing to do is treat him like a skunk," said Welter, who nuzzled the dogs neck with his feet as he spoke. "The smell doesn't mean nothing as long as he's OK. He had to go through some rough times out there. When he sleeps, he flinches. He perches his head up against the wall. He doesn't want to lay his head down."
Rex had a vet appointment scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to make sure the dog didn't pick up any parasites scouring the Manasota Key mangroves for food.
Welter left the dog with his aunt March 21, while the family attended a baby shower in Illinois. But several days later, the dog vanished from his aunt's home. They surmise the 105-pound canine missed his family and escaped through the lanai screen.
The family was devastated about the dog's disappearance, none more so than Welter's 9-year-old son, Chris, who upon their return, began searching the backyard of their Venice home for Rex. Chris has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, said Welter, who was worried the boy might wander off trying to locate the pet.
"The dog calms him down," Welter said. "It was unbelievable how we picked this dog out. After all the puppies came in, it was the only puppy who came all the way to us. My son (Chris) was on the floor, and he came up to him and put his head down on him. I said, 'I'll take him.' He was meant to be."
Recently, the family lost its dog Cubbie, another German shepherd, to cancer. They buried the dog in a Chicago Cubs baseball jersey.
Determined not to lose two dogs, Welter began a search for Rex moments after he got home. He called animal rescues, groups that specialize in missing animals and the animal shelter. Welter even set up meetings with people on Craigslist who were selling German shepherds locally, but many vanished from the online classified site when he began asking questions.
Welter had sleepless nights thinking about where Rex might go. The beautifully marked dog was drawn to children and men and might be attracted to construction sites, Welter thought.
The 56-year-old man didn't consider the dog might cross a narrow bridge on Manasota Beach Road to Manasota Key. His son Gavin urged him to check. Reports of Rex sightings began to pour in from residents on the key, and Welter checked the tips to no avail.
Welter needed closure and decided if his dog did not turn up soon, he would take out a classified ad asking anyone who might have found him to "take good care of him at least."
Gavin wasn't ready to give up.
"My youngest son said, 'We're going to find him; we're going to find him,'" said Welter.
Chris had become ornery and distant without his furry friend. He played in the lanai with his toys.
"I can't think about it, dad," Chris said of Rex.
The dog was Chris' savior. Rex didn't like swimming until Chris feigned drowning, and the dog bravely dove into the water to help. Later, with his paws in the water at the steps of the pool, Rex would watch Chris.
Rex was spotted swimming in the Intracoastal Waterway on Monday morning by kayaker Kara Mullen, who unsuccessfully tried to rescue the lost dog. Then, around noon Monday, Mullen reported the incident and a description of the dog to Sarasota County Animal Services, which provided Mullen with Welter's phone number. Mullen called Welter to let him know that she might have discovered his dog.
Meantime, the Sheriff's Office dispatched Marine Deputy Mike Watson and Air-1 helicopter. Watson met Welter and his son Kyle on the dock and took them to a mangrove island. They retrieved Rex within an hour with the help of a few good Samaritans.
"The way the officer took charge, it was like he was looking for a little kid," Welter said. "They had a helicopter up in the air — that's going way beyond. If it was a person or adult maybe, but they took it very personally."
Once the dog was safely aboard, the deputy gave the weary, mischievous canine a bottle of water.
"I don't know who to praise," Welter said. "The word hero to me is just a word, but what he (Watson) did was way beyond what he should have done."
On Monday night, Watson called to check on Rex. The deputy was off work Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
The Sheriff's Office posted a photo of the family reunion with Rex on the boat.
Welter slept next to the dog on the floor Monday night. Rex appears jittery and will be checked out at the Myakka River Animal Clinic and micro-chipped.
©2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla
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