Originally published in the Bennington Banner on August 28, 2017.
MANCHESTER — When Sheldon and Virginia Cohen’s dog Honey ran away during Independence Day celebrations in Dorset, the Bennington couple thought they would never see her again.
More than a month later, however, the Rhodesian ridgeback was found alive following a harrowing journey in the relatively remote wilderness of the Northshire.
A New Home
Honey’s journey began long before her escape, when she was initially adopted by an older couple in Dorset. When one of the dogs owners passed in 2013, Honey was entrusted to her husband.
“She was left in the care of this old man who became enfeebled, and was unable to care for this dog,” said Sheldon Cohen, noting that the man eventually passed away at 80. “The authorities found this man dead in his home in Dorset with the dog, and she was a wreck.”
Honey was taken by animal control to Shaftsbury’s Second Chance Animal Center, but it soon became clear that the dog was not comfortable in the bustling shelter. She eventually found a foster home with Bennington’s town clerk, Cassandra Barbeau, who connected with the Cohens via social media.
“We had lost our dog and were looking to adopt,” said Sheldon. “We’re older people, so we didn’t want to bring a younger dog into the house; it just wouldn’t be fair. We figured an 8-year-old dog would be the perfect fit.”
Honey remained with the Cohen’s for nine weeks as they rehabilitated the emotionally distressed canine, but things soon took a turn for the worst.
“I visited my daughter’s house in Dorset for the [Independence Day] holiday, and against my wife’s heeding I decided to bring Honey to try to get her to assimilate,” said Sheldon. “We told everyone not to open the doors without telling us first, so we could secure the dog.”
Unfortunately, a guest’s quick trip to the car provided the perfect opportunity for Honey to make a break for the mountains of Dorset’s Upper Hollow Road.
Massive search effort
Shortly after Honey’s disappearance, citizens of the Northshire mobilized on social media, led by Manchester resident Jane Sobel Klonsky, the author of “Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love.”
“I had lost my golden retriever Sam back in May for 26 hours, and it was the longest 26 hours of my life,” said Klonsky, who received an outpouring of support on social media during her search for Sam. “I didn’t know Shelly and his wife, but they called me when Honey went missing, thinking I must be the local expert.”
Klonsky met Cohen that day at his daughter’s home in Dorset, where Honey had run away, to help him commence a search effort. Klonsky helped the Cohen’s post Honey’s photo and story on social media, contacted local animal control agencies and police departments, crafted fliers, and even listed Honey on the missing pet search website findtoto.org.
“You pay to have your dog listed, and they make calls for you in the area,” said Klonsky. “We had so much out there; we even got calls from heartbroken people in California and Tokyo wishing us luck.”
“There ensued a frantic search for this dog who was a house dog, and didn’t know anything about survival skills,” said Sheldon. “It was an all out effort by the entire community — there were search parties and posters all the way from Manchester through Dorset in libraries, schools, town halls, and general stores. Thousands of people were alerted on Facebook and otherwise.”
Members of the community also turned out in person to search for Honey, to no avail.
“There were a lot of people who never gave up,” said Klonsky. “There were so many people that went out there and walked the road, but in this case it was so much tougher because the dog was skittish and hadn’t been in that area before.”
Despite these dedicated efforts, the Cohens feared the worst after a month passed with no sightings of Honey.
“We thought that because the dog had been weak she had died,” said Sheldon. “There were these awful storms and torrential downpours at that time and she had no shelter, so we didn’t have much hope.”
On Saturday, Aug. 12, a neighbor of Dave and Donna Fabricius spotted what he thought was a coyote on his North Rupert property. As he drew closer, however, the man realized that what he had seen was in fact a dog, though it was weak and emaciated.
“He came out on his four-wheeler, and she wouldn’t let him touch her but she ran towards our house,” said Donna Fabricius, a former veterinary technician. “My husband happened to be home, and the two of them trapped her by a wire fence.”
Despite Honey’s weakened state, the dog was fearful and tried to escape. Eventually, she became exhausted and rested in the grass.
“She wouldn’t let me touch her, but she was submissive,” said Donna. “I didn’t know if she was diseased, so I carried her into the barn to keep her away from our other animals.”
Fabricius soon noticed that the dog bore two collars, with the phone numbers of the Cohen’s and Rutland’s Eastwood Animal Clinic.
“We called the hospital and they had her medical history, so we brought her to Rutland,” said Donna. “I met the owner there, and he told the story to the vet and asked him to do whatever he could.”
When Cohen arrived, Honey was being triaged by the clinic’s staff. In the time since her disappearance, the dog had dropped dramatically from 90 to 40.5 pounds.
“You look at her and you see bones you didn’t know existed in an animal, just loosely draped over by skin,” said Sheldon, noting that Honey also suffered a lung infection, a heart issue, and potential damage to vital organs. “It was absolutely horrific; I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
The Long Road to Recovery
Despite her dire medical situation, Honey is expected to make a full recovery, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the staff at Eastwood Animal Clinic, under the leadership of veterinarian Bruce Legallais.
“Eastwood Animal hospital threw everything they had at this animal. They infused her, they IV’d her, they knew what to do in cases of starvation,” said Sheldon. “They kept honey for nine days, and she was released back to us on Sunday.”
“I guess she was eight days in the hospital, but she’s home now, and I don’t think there’s any permanent damage done,” said Donna Fabricius. “She’s incredibly lucky that we were able to catch her.”
Despite their exhaustive effort to find Honey, the Cohen’s are most grateful to the dog’s finders and saviors.
“Under any other circumstances this dog would have been put down, and I must tell you, watching her suffer the thought crossed my mind,” said Sheldon. “We were trying to do a good thing, that’s all, and fortunately we had the resources. All we did was write checks.”
“I just started crying when I heard she was found,” said Klonsky. “It’s pretty amazing that this dog is alive.”