ONDBEAT: Couple hopes lost dog Benji will soon come home

It was supposed to be a celebration that veered into a nightmare.

Last month, Debbie and Larry Gonzalez of Carolina Shores were making big plans to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas and visit Debbie’s son whom she hadn’t seen in seven years.

They had originally thought about taking Benji, their 5-year-old black poodle, on the flight with them, but worried about the hazards of doing that. There was also an option to leave Benji with a neighbor who had previously cared for him.

Then a friend stepped in upon learning of their travel plans, offering to pet-sit Benji at her home in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She said it would give her a chance to see how she handled the dog and whether she might want to get one of her own.

On Friday, April 20, the Gonzalezes dropped off their toy poodle at the friend’s condo with all his toys, food, pet dishes, bed, blankets and medication, on their way to Myrtle Beach International Airport.

“That was the last time I saw him,” Debbie said, adding Benji was happy when they left him.

Sunday afternoon in Vegas, Debbie texted the friend and asked her to send her a photo of Benji because she missed him. The friend responded she couldn’t right then because she was out shopping.

“That’s the last I heard from her till she called me Tuesday and said he ran away,” Debbie said.

The news put an end to their celebration. Distraught over the sudden loss of Benji, the Gonzalezes tried to catch an early flight back home but had to wait until the following Sunday.

“We were miserable while we were out there and that was our first vacation in 25 years,” Debbie said.

Their Carolina Shores neighbor, meanwhile, went to Myrtle Beach to search the woods for Benji and put up fliers where his pet sitter said he had run away.

When the Gonzalezes finally made it home, Benji’s caretaker never offered to help look for him and never apologized, either, Debbie said.

Instead, the next day the friend had FedEx deliver Benji’s things to the Gonzalezes’ Carolina Shores house from Myrtle Beach.

Debbie said this “friend” who had offered to care for Benji abruptly cut off all phone, email and Facebook communication with them, which she said was a shock.

The friend told the Beacon on Monday she did so because Debbie kept harassing her about Benji’s whereabouts. She said she had already told them everything she knew about Benji running away.

Last week, she sent the Gonzalezes another FedEx delivery with the rest of Benji’s things.

Debbie said they’ve been to all the shelters, plastered the Myrtle Beach neighborhood with fliers as well as the Internet and all the Facebook and community pages they could think of with information and photos about their lost dog, who is microchipped and has medical needs.

They filed a missing-dog report with the Myrtle Beach Police Department. She said there has been no sighting whatsoever of Benji.

The friend told Debbie that Benji’s leash got caught under her car tire and that he flew out of his harness and bolted into the woods. Debbie insists he’s “not a runner.”

The friend told the Beacon on Monday that Benji “bolted from me. He heard the elevator and got spooked by the elevator and ran directly into the woods” at her condominium complex.

“He did not respond to his name,” she said.

An emotional Debbie said this week she blames herself for leaving Benji in the care of someone she thought was a friend and animal lover.

“This is my fault, poor thing,” she said of her dog. “He’s out there thinking I dumped him somewhere. I just want him, no questions asked.”

The Gonzalezes are offering a $500 reward.

“I’d even pay more,” Debbie said. “If someone has him, please have the heart to return him.”

If nothing else, she said she just needs closure about what happened to him.

“It’s not going to put me through any more heartache and heartbreak,” she said.

The hard lesson she’s learned, she said, is to only leave her pet with someone she can trust or a professional facility.

To help ease her pain, Larry recently got his wife a new poodle but she said she still has a big hole in her heart.

“I’m just waiting for (Benji) to come home but I don’t think he will,” she said. “I pray more than I prayed in my life every night before I fall asleep.”

Anyone with any leads on Benji’s whereabouts can contact her at (631) 513-2558 or deann2155@aol.com.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.