Above and beyond

Above and beyond

Estimates from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) indicate that 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 37-47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30-37 percent have a cat.

Medical science has demonstrated that pet ownership reduces stress, can increase cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and assist in rehabilitation. A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) of 421 adults who had previously suffered heart attacks indicated those who owned dogs had a significantly higher survival rate than those who did not have a canine companion.

Exercising pets can also help reduce obesity, according to the NIH. However, when walking pets in open spaces, owners face the challenge of keeping them close. Leashed dogs may escape from their collars or pull leashes from their owners’ hands, possibly putting themselves into unknown peril. Fading fliers picturing lost pets stay tacked to poles or trees near roadways, and owners make last ditch attempts to recover their missing dogs or cats with social media posts. All too often, the searches prove fruitless.

But not every time.

Beaumont resident Jerry Mazzola takes his two dogs walking regularly, and recently found himself in Magnolia Cemetery while exercising his pets.

“I was out with my two dogs, my puppy and my 15-year-old dog Honey,” said Mazzola. “She is partially deaf and blind. She is a third-generation family dog. I owned her mother and her mother’s mother before her.”

Mazzola said his dogs are like family to him, especially Honey, who he has had for so very long.

As Mazzola strolled through rows of headstones, his dogs got away from him, running in two separate directions. He went after the puppy first, quickly capturing the playful pooch, but when he turned to find his faithful old companion Honey, she was nowhere to be seen.

For nearly two long hours he searched, looking behind headstones and down the peaceful rows, but to no avail. He searched nearby neighborhoods, calling out his dog’s name. He knew Honey, with her poor hearing and eyesight, would not be able to find her way back if she wandered too far away. As the sun began its descent and darkness closed in, Mazzola became frantic. He was growing weary but refused to give up hope. He prayed for intervention, and Animal Control Services Officer Carol Hettinger was the answer to that prayer.

Hettinger was on her way home when Mazzola flagged her down.

“He was looking for his dog when I came along,” Hettinger recalled. “He was visibly shaken. I called the shelter to see if she had been brought in that day, but she wasn’t there. I told him I would help him look.”

Officer Hettinger and Mazzola went back to the cemetery where he’d last seen Honey. She asked him if he thought his dog might have run into the woods. He said he did not believe so.

“We looked everywhere,” Hettinger described. “I had this feeling she was in the woods. She may have panicked and run into the woods. Dogs love the woods.”

After an exhaustive search of the cemetery, at the officer’s suggestion Mazzola and Hettinger headed into the woods to look for Honey. They walked through mud and muck up to their ankles toward a pond in the woods. They traveled down the slough deeper into the forest.

“He called her name, and he whistled,” said Officer Hettinger. “I called for her; the octave of my voice is a little higher than his, so I was hoping she would hear me. Then I heard her.”

“I took off into the woods, hollering and whistling,” said Mazzola. “We were running through thick brush. Finally, I heard some barking.”

Mazzola ran toward the barking, but in his excitement passed by Honey for a moment. Hettinger called out to him that he had just passed her, and he immediately turned around and spotted his beloved pet.

“He scooped her up into his arms,” Hettinger described. “She was covered in mud and so scared that she was shaking. She had been missing for two-and-a-half hours. It was great to see them together.”

Mazzola said he was thankful that Hettinger came along when she did.

“I never gave up hope, but I was afraid,” said Mazzola. “It was getting dark, and I didn’t want to leave her out in the woods all night. I would have come back first thing in the morning, but I couldn’t have found her without Carol’s help.”

Mazzola said Hettinger deserves a commendation for the service she provided to him, just as a police officer or firefighter might receive.

“She performs a very valuable service,” said Mazzola. “She protects public safety and helps animals. My dog means the world to me. I am so grateful.”

Animal Control Adoption Center Manager Susan Toney said Hettinger goes “above and beyond” the call of duty.

“She’s a good officer, and she loves animals,” said Toney. “She really did a good thing helping Mr. Mazzola find his dog. Pets mean so much, and he really cares about his dogs.”

Animal Control Services Division Supervisor Matthew Fortenberry agreed with Toney.

“It really says a lot about how much she cares for Carol to have taken that extra step by stopping to help,” said Fortenberry. “She was off-duty and on her way home, but she made an extra effort and helped reunite Mr. Mazzola and his dog. That’s amazing.”

To see adoptable pets currently at the shelter, visit www.petfinder.com/pet-search?shelter_id=TX1409 or drop by Beaumont Animal Services at 1884 Pine St. in Beaumont.