Community helps grateful family find missing dog

EXCLUSIVE: Bruiser is back. The young boxer who sparked one of the largest doghunts in recent North Jersey memory turned up late Thursday a few miles from home, thanks to hundreds of friends, strangers — even a dog whisperer from New Milford who says the skittish pooch prefers to be called “Baby.”

Photo Credit: KAHN FAMILY
Photo Credit: KAHN FAMILY
Photo Credit: KAHN FAMILY
Photo Credit: KAHN FAMILY

Bruiser and family reunited Thursday night (COURTESY: Fairview Police Detective Capt. Martin Kahn)

It was minutes before midnight when a tireless and determined Martin Kahn, the captain of detectives in Fairview, spotted Bruiser in a humane coyote trap he’d laid out a few hours earlier along a set of abandoned railroad tracks below Route 46 in Rockaway Township.

“He’s not doing much now, just resting,” Kahn told CLIFFVIEW PILOT a short time later. “I’m sure he’s pretty tired.

“His ears are scratched a bit, and of course he’s a little bit thinner. But he’ll be seeing a vet in the morning – and he’ll be getting a collar with a GPS.”

Kahn, his wife, Shelley, and their three children just got Bruiser last Friday, from a family who couldn’t keep the 15-month-old pooch because of their young son’s allergies.

Kahn’s 12-year-old daughter was out walking him on Sunday when Bruiser got spooked by a neighbor. He slipped his collar and in an instant was gone.

“She was devastated,” her dad said.

What followed was a community effort akin to a barnraising, only with modern-day means of communication spreading the word far and wide – and quick.

“People were sharing the poster and his picture on Facebook. The local PTA sent out an email blast. Every vet, every pound, every rescue operation, animal control officers – you name it,” Kahn told CLIFFVIEW PILOT, which published a story (SEE: Help find Bruiser, the missing boxer).

“We’d be sitting in the house and we’d hear people calling his name into the woods,” Kahn said. “Some of our neighbors offered to put up reward money to see if it would help. Strangers printed and passed out fliers.”

Denville police even issued a 911 phone-text alert.

Then there were the prayers to St. Anthony, the candle lightings in church.

Bruiser was first spotted about a mile and a half away less than three hours after he bolted on Sunday. A concerned citizen called local police, who got in touch with Kahn.

As the captain later walked toward a spot in the woods, Bruiser emerged.

Kahn knew that getting Bruiser to let his guard down would be tough. He’d been removed from his old home and had spent only a couple of days in his new one.

“I was there squeaking his toy at him. He was romping around like he wanted to play,” the captain told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “Then he took off on me — never to be seen until [Thursday night].”

Reported sightings followed, mostly in the woods that run along the Rockaway River. But no one could get close enough before Bruiser bolted.

“We never gave up hope. We were out day and night, searching high and low, squeaking his toys,  calling him,” Kahn said. “The amazing part was that so many other people were doing the same thing. For awhile, it seemed like wherever you went, you could hear someone shouting his name.”

Facebook threads grew long. Many offered advice, including one woman who suggested that Shelley Nebbia Kahn fall down and pretend to be hurt. “Dogs are very protective,” she wrote.

Barbara Goodfriend (CLICK on photo for her website)

Those looking to help included a Montville woman who lost her own dog for a little over a week nearly two years to the day that Bruiser ran off.

She recommended Barbara Goodfriend, an animal communicator from Bergen County who helped her find her lost pet.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Kahn said. “The thing is: She was extremely helpful.”

Goodfriend has earned a widespread reputation for having apparent connections with animals’ feelings. She lectures, conducts seminars – and, most importantly to Kahn, isn’t pushy or “spooky.”

Yes, it was startling that Goodfriend mentioned a swampy area surrounded by trees where a strong wind whipping a flag on a nearby pole frightened Bruiser, the captain said.

Goodfriend also told Shelley that their new pet can’t understand why he was pushed from his home after being set apart from the little boy.

One other thing: Goodfriend told Shelley he doesn’t like his name.

Bruiser apparently found shelter in some drainage tubes at an old asphalt plant a few miles from his new home. “His footprints were all over,” Kahn said.

The tubes were covered by blue tarps – something Goodfriend said they’d find. Across the Rockaway River, Kahn said, he spotted a flagpole.

He and his wife had gone to the Allied Concrete site after a woman called around 1 o’clock Thursday afternoon saying she saw Bruiser there, along a set of railroad tracks under Route 46 near the river.

The woman said a couple of workers thought Bruiser was hers and knocked on her door. Having read about the disappearance on, she was quickly in touch with Shelley.

“We sat there a good couple of hours,” Kahn told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

Goodfriend already had coached Shelley in what to expect.

Back home (All Bruiser photos courtesy KAHN FAMILY)

“Don’t call him Bruiser. Call him Baby,” Goodfriend told her. “He will only come to you, so sit down and wait for him.”

An animal control officer loaned her husband a coyote trap. Kahn also had a pair of thermal imaging glasses, which came in handy after sunset.

“It’s pitch-black out there,” he said. “It all woods, swampland, river and railroad tracks. But we sat in the dark, waiting.”

Using the thermal imaging device, Kahn spotted an animal around 8:30. The couple put out food, then the captain walked slowly toward Bruiser, the toy squeaking all the way.

Soon, he and his wife were within 20 feet of the pooch.

“I slipped and called him Bruiser a couple times, and he turned and walked away,” Kahn told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “Then my wife said, ‘No, no, Baby. Mommy loves you.’

“I’m not kidding: He turned back around.”

Moments later, Bruiser was gone again.

Kahn set the coyote trap on the tracks under the highway and put food both inside and out. They waited awhile, then went for a ride to check a few other areas.

It was closing in on midnight when the tired couple doubled back. Looking out the window from the highway, some 100 feet above the tracks, Kahn saw the cage shut.

“It was exactly 11:58,” he said. “I know because I immediately tried to call my daughter to tell her.

“It felt nice, after all this time, that we found him ourselves.”

The youngster was sleeping, but Kahn woke her up when he got home without disturbing his sons, who are 9 and 5.

“She was fast asleep and totally confused. She thought I was walking her up for school,” he said. “So she walked downstairs, half asleep, and he suddenly jumped on her and started licking her.

“That’s when she realized what happened.”

A reunion photo was taken. A Facebook alert spread fast. Then Kahn called a good friend.

“Being he hates his name so much, we’re thinking about changing it to ‘Miles’,” the captain told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

“He sure has logged enough of them.”

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