2019-01-09 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Forget me not though we’re apart,

For you carry me within your heart.”

Christmas will never be the same for Banjo’s people. On December 25, his Long Island family was involved in a fatal car crash in Maryland. The Mom was killed; the Dad and 10-year-old son were police-helicoptered to John Hopkins with injuries and Banjo, their Airedale mix, fled the scene in panic. Banjo, a dog adopted from Last Hope, vanished into the Westover, MD woods.

In August 2017, Banjo (then called Dinky) arrived on a Kentucky rescue transport at Last Hope in Wantagh during NBC TV’s annual promotion “Clear the Shelters,” a day when shelters and rescues across the US are encouraged to expedite their adoption procedures and empty their cages and kennels.

This dog impressed us immediately. He was supposed to be only five months old, but seemed wise beyond a puppy. Certain dogs have the gentle gaze of an old soul. Dinky definitely had that look in his eyes. His silly name didn’t fit him. Later that day, I introduced Dinky to Becky Kleinert and her young son Mason. There was an instant, special connection between the dog, mother and boy as if they already knew each other.


Lost Dog poster for Banjo after he fled the scene of the car accident on Christmas Day. Lost Dog poster for Banjo after he fled the scene of the car accident on Christmas Day. This was my Sept. 7, 2017 post on Last Hope Facebook: “Hooray for DINKY! A Dog Diamond in the “Ruff.” This amazing Airedale mix was adopted on Clear the Shelter Day. He is only five months old, yet already so mature and attentive. Dinky was part of a Kentucky Rescue Transport, Last Hope’s only adoptee during the event who had to wait to go home because he needed to be neutered. Now Dinky has a dog-savvy Mom and a young boy as his companions who promised to change his ridiculous name and will treasure such an incredible, discarded dog so he reaches his true pup potential.”


Banjo is reunited with his “Dad” Richard and “brother” Mason. Banjo is reunited with his “Dad” Richard and “brother” Mason. The Search for Banjo: Even though it was Christmas Day, Maryland State Police at Princess Anne Barrack and the staff at Somerset Animal Control sprung into action because they knew how important it was to reunite Banjo with his family after such a tragedy. Banjo may have been injured too. The police took to social media and notified local TV, urging residents to call in sightings. Mason’s Aunt Kristine Keating notified Last Hope and we spread the word as well. Troopers began searching the rural area around Maryland Route 13 day and night.

They posted flyers in strategic spots because this highway doesn’t have adjacent neighborhoods. Somerset Animal Control Officer (ACO) Cindy Tawes left her holiday dinner and combed the highway vicinity from 4 p.m. Christmas on. Debbie Strauss, who lived nearby, would accompany her. There was no sign of Banjo for days, and no updates on the State Police Facebook page.

The weekend before New Year’s troopers spotted Banjo on the north, then the south (accident side), of Route 13. This meant Banjo had crossed the highway, hopefully at night when there was less traffic. One trooper got close enough to try to grab Banjo, but he was too scared and took off.

Time for a Trap: You shouldn’t set a humane trap for a lost dog until there’s been a sighting. It seemed Banjo hadn’t strayed far from the accident scene. Sunday, Dec. 30 Cindy set up a trap nearby. First time she baited it with a trail of canned Pedigree leading into the trap past the trip pedal. She had taken a headrest from his car and placed it against the outside of the trap to lure the dog closer.

Cindy and the troopers checked the trap often. Banjo had entered the trap and eaten some Pedigree but didn’t go in far enough to trip it. The headrest was gone and never found. Cindy felt Banjo took it to wherever he was bedding down. (I believe so too.) Cindy set the trap again on Sunday using more canned food. The package Aunt Kristine mailed with Banjo’s toys, a hairbrush and his family clothes hadn’t arrived yet.

Troopers kept checking the trap. Sunday evening around 1 a.m., Trooper Jim Price spied Banjo inside the trap uninjured. He called Detective Sergeant Kelly Austin at the Barrack. She also volunteers at an Ocean County shelter. She said, “If he were my dog, I would want to know the good news right away.” So they called Becky’s husband Richard at about 1:30 a.m. Kelly said, “I could hear the relief in his voice.”

Comforting Banjo: K-9 officer Cpl. Scott Zink happened to be in the area when he heard Banjo was safe. He called Kelly to ask if he could take Banjo home so he wouldn’t have to spend the night at the police station alone. Scott brought his police K-9s - a Labrador

Retriever bomb dog and a Bloodhound search-and-rescue dog home first. Then he went to the Barrack to pick up Banjo. He took him home, gave the dog a bath (in the middle of the night) and let Banjo snuggle in bed with him until morning.

Homecoming: Kristine’s friend Judith Daly picked Banjo up at the MD police station New Year’s Eve morning.

She got him to Long Island for his family reunion by 7 p.m. Mason is in a wheelchair recovering from a broken femur but he could still give Banjo non-stop belly rubs. Kristine said, “This is a Christmas miracle. Banjo can help our family heal. Banjo will be there to greet Mason whenever he comes home. The Maryland police and Cindy were angels. They went above and beyond to rescue Banjo.” Banjo was very close to Becky. He would get so excited whenever she brought his leash out for a walk. We both believe Becky from above guided Banjo into the trap.

Becky’s memorial on Saturday, Jan. 5 was a celebration of her life. She and Richard were both archaeologists who worked on digs together throughout the country. They really were soul mates. She was a beautiful person, a devoted young mother with many cherished friends and family members. She loved flowers, and each person at the memorial took home a package of forget-me-not seeds. “Forget me not as time goes by, For you can find me in the sky.”

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