‘Lucky Penny’: Barnegat Neighbors Rallied To Find Lost Pup

Penny is reunited with the Connell family. (Photo courtesy Alicia Connell)

  BARNEGAT – Everyone knows that finding a penny means good luck – and this time was no exception.

  In this case, Lucky Penny is a doxie-mix pup who ran off after she and her family were involved in a car crash by the Acme supermarket on East Bay Avenue.

  Local resident Alicia Connell was with her children Beckham, 8, and Weston, 6 when the collision occurred. One-year-old Penny also occupied the vehicle.

  As emergency responders arrived at the scene, blaring sirens and loud commotion spooked the normally docile family pet. Penny bolted from Connell’s hands as her helpless owner watched her run off to the nearby Garden State Parkway entrance. Not surprisingly, authorities had their attentions focused elsewhere.

Penny’s rescuers in front of the hot tub where she was found. L. to R. – James Hogan, Danielle Ruiz and Heather Hogan. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “Everyone was concerned about my kids, and the police were trying to calm them down,” said Connell. “After they knew the kids were okay, they even gave them coupons for Slurpees and let them tour the police car.”

  Connell franticly pointed out Penny’s swift exodus to the Parkway, hoping someone could chase after her. Instead, Barnegat Police assured Connell they would ask New Jersey State Police to look out for the scared pup. They also suggested the family get checked at the local hospital.

  From the emergency room, Connell reached out to her husband and best friends, Nicole Rugoff and Shannon Sukovich. She enlisted their help in searching for Penny, knowing her disappearance required immediate attention. Thus, the ongoing saga began at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon.

  “The screen separated from my cellphone as a result of the impact,” Connell shared. “I was able to put a post on Facebook and then couldn’t go back to check on it or write more.”

  It took just that one social media post to spur the local community into action. Dozens of strangers headed to the area and began searching for Penny. Nicole and Shannon helped coordinate the efforts, which essentially amounted to a massive “pup hunt.”

  “I wasn’t home when I first found out Penny was loose,” shared Rugoff. “My husband went out right away looking for her for two hours. And, later, I was with about fifteen other people until 10 at night who continued the search.”

Facebook message initiating Penny’s search. (Screenshot from Facebook Barnegat Township Chatter)

  A bevy of animal rescue experts joined the hunt for Penny, including Maria Cymansky from the Popcorn Park Zoo. Barnegat residents Dawn Caputo and Tracy Delisi, who volunteer for an organization called Lost Dog Search and Rescue, received a call from Maria that their help was needed.

  “I headed out there about 6 p.m.,” Delisi said. “I first checked the adjoining neighborhood and headed over to the Burger King parking lot, where I met some amazing residents. The response was overwhelming.”

  “There’s all woods and very deep brush right behind Burger King (in the Acme shopping center),” added Caputo. “We also walked up and down the Parkway.”

  Lost Dog Search and Rescue enlisted the assistance of their canine volunteer in furthering the hunt. After she was introduced to articles from Penny’s home, Sasha, a German shephard, sniffed around for her scent.

  The search dog immediately took off behind the woods until she came upon a fenced-in area.

  “Sasha circled the fenced-in area and hovered along the fence line,” Martinez detailed. “She picked up the scent right where there was a person’s backyard with a jacuzzi and a pool.”

  By this time, it was nearly 11 pm, and the search team called it a night. However, they left with heavy hearts as their goal was to reunite Penny with her loved ones that same evening.

  No one but Penny knows where she spent the nearly fifteen hours after the crash that separated her from her family. Another neighborhood jacuzzi played a role in her rescue.

  James and Heather Hogan live in the Timbers section of Barnegat. As part of his daily routine, James goes out to his hot tub with a cup of coffee at approximately 5 a.m.

Facebook message from Danielle Ruiz after Penny was located. (Screenshot from Facebook Barnegat Township Chatter)

  “I was sitting in the hot tub when I suddenly saw something from the corner of my eye,” said James. “I thought it was a baby fox.”

  On closer examination, James realized it was a little dog and that it was limping. He whistled to the pup, and it came closer. James exited the hot tub, and Penny ultimately came to him and snuggled on his lap.

  When Heather woke up, she joined in with her husband’s concerns and gave Penny some food and water. Then, they brought the sweet pup inside, who fell asleep for a couple of hours as Heather cradled her.

  Neither James nor Heather use social media and therefore had no idea of the number of people searching for the lost dog. So Heather decided to take Penny for a walk throughout their neighborhood to look for her owners.

  “I didn’t have a leash or anything,” Heather shared. “Penny just walked right next to me, and when I spotted a small doghouse on a porch, I thought I found her home.”

  Even though it wasn’t Penny’s owners who came outside to talk to Heather, the timing was perfect. As Danielle Ruiz approached the woman with the dog, she immediately recognized Penny from Facebook posts.

  So began the beginning of the end of a happy story. Although this was the first meeting for Heather and Danielle, they worked together to reunite Penny with the Connell family.

  “I didn’t know any of the people other than my two good friends who helped bring Penny back to us,” said Connell. “I really want to thank everyone for their overwhelming support.”

  Barnegat Mayor Al Bille said he followed the search for Penny and was extremely happy when she was found. The quest renewed his faith once more in the Barnegat community.

  “I love that residents rallied together to help a neighbor. It’s really what we’re all about in this town,” Bille shared.

  As for Penny, she’s recovering from a damaged pad injured during her travels. But there’s no doubt – tails up, in this case, brought her the luck she needed.