Look at that face, that tongue, it doesn’t get any cuter than that, right? This
little girl is Bugsby. Bugsby is a French Bulldog that has had one adventurous life. From the time she was a puppy, she’s liked adventure, she loves to roam in search of that next smell. You could call Bugsby a bona-fide explorer, a free spirit. Bugsby is one of our sweet fur-babies.
The start of 2016 had a lot of new beginnings for our household and it looked to be a great year. We had six (well seven) beautiful children. There’s our two-legged versions, Lucas and Luci, a trio of loving pups, Bugsby, Ling-Ling and Little Bones, a sweet kitty, we call Kit-Kit, and Bubbles, the Beta (that’s the seventh, if I didn’t mention Bubbles, Luci would let me have it!). Our household was full of all kinds of love! One of our new beginnings was that we decided to take a leap of faith, try to tighten our belts (a lot) and have one of us come home and take care of this big household. Lucas was six-months old at the time, Luci was eight, and it just made sense to us. So, I drew the straw, since Pam (my wife) had the tenure and income to seal the decision. Lots of good things in store for this New Year!!
Meet Stephy, Pam’s younger sister. Take a look at that smile, the energy and the beautiful spirit of love in her eyes. Such a ray of sunshine in so many ways. From a young age, she developed an unwavering compassion for animals like no other. Often rescuing and bringing home all forms of wildlife she had found while exploring. From birds fallen out of nests, to a baby squirrel that became a household pet, to turtles that she would find. Heck, she even brought home a pair of Sugar Gliders once, the list goes on and on. She, like Bugsby, an adventurer and most definitely a free spirit. Even as she ventured into adulthood, she dedicated a large portion of her time to various animal organizations. Pet Rescue by Judy and Loggerhead Marine Life Center, just to name a couple. In fact, her given nickname was Turtle.
Bugsby and Stephy you could say, are kindred spirits! Their personalities are very similar, with their goofy fun-loving energy, their love for the outdoors, their flare for being mysterious, yet always the life of the party! There is no question that there were forces from beyond that brought these two together. You see, Stephy and her boyfriend at the time Troy, were Bugsby’s parents.
As life often does, it took a turn, and Stephy and Troy made some changes in their lives that required these two kindred spirits to be somewhat apart. Bugsby came to live with us, where, if there was a second best option needed, our home was the place! Stephy knew that we would love Bugsby, just as she did. So, Bugsby lived a pretty charmed life in her new home and her new family obviously fell in love with her. Yet, through the years, Bugsby became the ultimate escape artist, as to fulfill her desire to explore. She would find ways to get out and peruse the neighborhood. We had to become excellent sleuths in solving the mystery of her whereabouts. We would use the local app Nextdoor to get the message out. We also had some really nice folks in the neighborhood that became part of our team, when she would go on what I would call a “walkabout”. She never ventured beyond our neighborhood, but she did like to explore.
Then, for lack of better words, the real 2016 started to unfold. Our beautiful story made a horrible turn for the worse. January 31st, 2016, after a trip to the local grocer, while unloading the car, the door to the house had stayed open long enough to give just enough time for our little escape artist to make her move. I, the top sleuth in the household, was out-of-town working my last trade show. Thankfully, Stephy and Pam’s mother were visiting, and they went on the search. Yet, after searching for hours, no Bugsby. It was dark, it was cold and we really started to worry. Initially, I posted her missing on Nextdoor, as I had so many other times. By morning, we had heard nothing. We then expanded the search to Facebook, Craigslist and Instagram, to no avail. By then, I was home from my trip. The following days we reached out to local veterinarians, shelters, animal control and SPCA and asked them to post the flier I had made. We Posted fliers on all street signs, local restaurants, grocery stores and shops that would let us. We even shared one with the mailman. I called Avid, the chip maker that monitored the chip inserted inside Bugsby, and reported her missing/stolen and asked that they put her on alert.
I then started looking beyond local, finding and learning so much about organizations that build networks to help locate missing pets. It was such an endearing experience. We talked to folks such as R.O.M.P. (Return our missing pets), Lost Dogs Florida, Zeustroop and so many more. They used their networks and resources to shoot out our flier to not only their followers, but, also other organizations that they work together with in their network. It was amazing the depth of their network. We had people all over the country looking for Bugsby. They offered fantastic information and ideas of things to do that would offer a better chance of success. They sent me stories of hope. I would look on their Facebook Pages and sites to see other families reunited. There were also other local folks that had recently lost their Frenchie’s that started contacting us via Facebook and offering their support and ideas. There was one gal that we became close to, feeding off of one another for hope. We even entered a 5k Color Run as #TeamBugsby and made shirts with our flier on them. We had lost our baby, Stephy’s baby, and were becoming desperate.
Then a call, a young man left a voicemail, offering a glimmer of hope. I called the number back and got his voicemail. He called back again and I got him this time. He said he was confident that he saw Bugsby. He said he had seen our flier on Craigslist, and that he saw Bugsby in St. Cloud, offering a street intersection. I sent Pam and Stephy a text, immediately jumped in my car and went there, to find there was no such intersection. I called the guy back to clarify and he said that maybe he got the street names confused. I asked if he had really seen Bugsby, and he confirmed that he had. I drove around the area to find nothing. The same guy called again the next day, and gave me another spot close to that area, this time I calmed myself and looked at Google Maps first. Again no such intersection. I did a search on his number, and it did not jive with his personal story and the number had complaints of a prankster. I let Stephy know, and she blew a gasket!! She reached out to her hundreds if not thousands of friends and asked that they “troll this guy!” Needless to say, the calls stopped. Stephy came to town anytime she could , going around town putting up fliers and spreading the word. She was as desperate to find Bugsby as we were, if not more, but still nothing.
In the meantime, as we continued to explore other ways to find our little girl, life went on. In early April, Luci had her 9th birthday. A sleepover party with some of her friends. A fun time was had by all, but late in the evening, a freak accident happened and our dining room table fell over on top of Little Bones , our little Chihuahua (she was very deserving of her name). Luckily (we thought at the time), the table did not land on her body, but only caught a leg and as properly illustrated by her name, it did not bode well for her leg. It was a nasty break, and after getting a second opinion, unfortunately, it required surgery to repair. Little Bones went in early to have her leg repaired, and I received a call from the doctor later that day letting me know the surgery took longer than expected and that Little Bones needed to be kept overnight for observation. I got a pit in my stomach. Something did not seem right. Later that evening, I received a message from the doctor, telling me that she was stable but still unresponsive. Trying to stay positive, I kept it to myself. Then, the call came in the morning, my eyes welled up, even before answering the call. I somehow knew the message before it was given. Little Bones did not make it through the night.
I couldn’t believe it. Two members of our family, two of our babies gone, two empty spots in our home, in the blink of an eye. How could I break the news to our family, to my little girl Luci? Our sweet little doggy had died over A broken leg…A BROKEN LEG!!! Apparently, since her bones were so little, it became difficult putting them back together. The initial attempt did not hold and they had to make a second attempt. She had been under anesthesia for too long and the assumption is that her body temperature, combined with the time she was under, was the story of her end. I couldn’t believe it. So, I broke the news to everyone and we all cried together. Everyone decided it would be best to bring her home and bury her in our yard. Luci and I made a nice burial box and we had a ceremony in our back yard together, as we laid her to rest.
Life in this 2016 was really unfolding much differently than expected. But, life did go on. We had a beautiful life event to plan, as Luci was to celebrate her sacrament of First Communion in the coming weeks. We had lots to do, and Luci was excited, as her Uncle Fefy (what she called Stephy from the time she could talk), was to come. She had something special planned in honor of Little Bones at her burial site. Luci was truly Stephy’s mini me, with a bond that was even stronger than being just family.
The weekend had come and we were doing our Saturday morning routine of My Gym early with Lucas and then off to Starbucks. Before going in, Pam, out of the blue, said, “Why don’t we all say a prayer together.” So, we sat together and said a prayer, then went in for a nice morning coffee. While standing in line, my phone started buzzing. I looked and it was my mother in law, Gio. I let it go to voicemail, as I was in the middle of ordering. The phone buzzed again, it was Gio, I answered. It was loud in Starbucks and I could not hear very well. I went outside, leaving everyone inside, as she sounded erratic. As I headed outside, my heart dropped. As I went through the door, I heard as clear as day, “Stephy’s Dead”…I remember everything just slowing down and a warm vibration overcoming my body …….”What?….What do you mean Stephy’s dead?” Gio, in hysterics, went on to tell me that Stephy had died in a car accident. I was numb, for the first time, in a long time, at a loss for words. I knew that Gio had called me, so that I could somehow convey the news to Pam and Luci. I gathered my thoughts, did a quick meditation for strength, and went into Starbucks and told Pam and Luci we had to leave. (All I could think of was the coincidence of the random prayer Pam requested). Asking why, I told them that we just needed to leave. While in the car, they asked again, I let them know we needed to go home, something had happened. I waited until we got home, so we could all sit on the couch together. Then, in the calmest manner that I could muster, I let them know what had happened. This was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was a day that would change the life of our family, forever.
The following days and weeks were a roller coaster, with so many emotions being experienced. Luci couldn’t understand, and she continually expressed…“First Bugsby, then Little Bones, and now Uncle Fefy…why daddy? Why did they have to die?..”, (she feared Bugsby had been killed by coyotes. We had seen a pair out in our neighborhood when we were out searching for Bugsby). “It was their time, sweetheart. It was their time to go onto their next big adventure. They were needed somewhere else.” i went on to say, ” Uncle Fefy will be your guardian angel, sweet pea. She will be there for you when you need her most”, I would say each time she would ask. At first this gave her comfort. Eventually, that comfort faded. The viewing and funeral services were attended by massive waves of people, most discussing how Stephy was “too young to die”, how it “wasn’t fair”. Luci started feeling the same way about losing her aunt, about losing Little Bones, and about losing Bugsby…it was so difficult, so heartbreaking for her, for all of us. Pam was incredibly strong, I think her strength came from her sense of responsibility for her kids and her family, or possibly just numb, from the constant flow of loss, up to this point, in 2016.
As the dust settled, and things started calming down, we all went on with our lives, but, with massive holes in our home and in our hearts. Now that Stephy was an angel, the hope that Bugsby would come home became just that much more important, as kindred spirits never fully part. We knew that if there was anyone determined enough to find her, it was our Stephy and she had special powers now. Yet, as the days turned into months, well, the conversations started to fade. The social media reach out was less frequent. The fliers on the street signs started to come down or become weathered. Life’s cycle of mindless routine started to consume our energy used towards getting her back, but our hope never faded. A random conversation about Bugsby would come up and would remind me, remind us, that she is out there somewhere. She is chipped, and she will at some point have to go to a veterinarian. Our hope was that whomever has her, has compassion as she has some food allergies that just make her break out. Although, as time passed, I must admit, Luci’s and my theory about Coyote’s started to become more accepted by me. Maybe as a “letting go” mechanism, as it is the “not knowing” that is the most difficult part in this whole scenario. Yet, we never lost hope that she would come home.
As 2016 ended, we gladly said good-bye to that year, as did all of our family. It had been one of those years that would challenge anyone’s faith. I believe this was a common theme for many, in our little circle and beyond. So many tragedies, so much insecurity in the world community, so much hate and uncertainty, the world seemed for lack of better words, in chaos (more than usual). So, on New Years Eve, we stayed home as a family and I had gotten some of our own fireworks, to send off 2016 with a bang! To use them as a the true symbol for which they were meant, to send 2016 packing! To package all of those things we hold onto, causing us agitation, and send them off into eternity. To start this new year , 2017, fresh. With a new energy, with a new sense of hope and love for the world. Goodbye 2016…Hello 2017!!!
Our theme for this new year was truly hope and love for the world. Pam and I had a common goal, to just give the love, as much as we could. Give the love, offer a positive light, do something good for those that we cross each day. The pain and loss that had gone on in 2016 sparked a light, in both of us. Although the loss of Stephy was about as traumatic as one can get, it offered a stiff kick in the pants, as it not only was an illustration that life is a gift and it could be taken at any time, but also we were inspired by the ray of sunshine that Stephy was while on this earth. Listening to her friends, the folks in her circle, was truly an inspiration. The stories, the anecdotes, the messages of love and positivity that each person had. Every person I talked to about Stephy, lit up as they said her name, and would give an elaborate message of how Stephy touched their lives. We so often make the death of a loved one as a personal loss, as to question “how could this happen to me”? Yet, I see the passing of a loved one, as I observed this outpouring of love to Stephy, as an opportunity to get away from the “me” and dive into the true path to peace, the true path to happiness and selflessly live on as a beacon of light, just as Stephy had lived. To honor her life by living in a manner that would reflect being a shining, positive light for others, just as she was for so many.
As life went on, in early January, I woke up one morning, and I did not hear the familiar meow, as I did every morning for the last 18 or so years. Here we go again, I thought. Kit Kit was at least 19 years old and there were signs that illustrated her age. I went outside to look for her and did our common call, but nothing. I went around the neighborhood to see if she had wandered, but, for the last several years, she did not leave the back yard. She was just getting too old to get around and hop over the fence. I looked around the entire yard, under every shrub and bush…nothing. I put a post on Nextdoor, the neighborhood app and inquired with our neighbors, but nothing. I came to the realization that it was likely just KitKit’s time, and she went and found her final resting place. Although another loss to our home, it was a blessing in disguise, considering her age, for “ole Kritter” as we often called her. It was time for her to venture into her next big adventure. We were all at peace with her passing, but, boy, did our home seem empty, until…
It was Monday, February 20th. Pam, Luci and Lucas had returned from a weekend visit to a dedication bench that had been installed at Dubois Park in Jupiter, FL, in honor is Stephy. It’s a beautiful place that overlooks the inlet and offers a peaceful place to pray,reflect, and talk to Stephy. Pam, with a look of peace on her face, said she could really feel Stephy’s presence as she sat in the bench and prayed. It was a beautiful moment. Luci had a day home from school. We had planned to visit a nature preserve with my mother and niece. As often does in our plans, “life happens”, and due to conflicting schedules, our plans for the day had been altered. Luci, Lucas and I were outside playing a game of Superhero’s and Villans. A call came through to my cell phone, a toll-free number. Initially, I put my phone down, as we were playing. Yet, for some reason I felt compelled to answer. A young lady on the other end asked, “Hello, this is Avid, Is this Matt Jantomaso?” I said, “yes it is”. The young lady asked, “Is your dog Bugsby still missing?” I said, “for a year and a month now.” My eyes started to well up. She said, “Well, she’s not missing anymore!” I lost my breath! I said “What? Are you sure?” She said, “Wickham Road Veterinary clinic reported your chip number scanned in a French Bulldog.” She went on to tell me that a good Samaritan found and dropped off Bugsby. She told me that the office was located in Melbourne FL. I thought to myself, “how, in the heck did she get all the way over there?” I know she loved going to the beach, but in all seriousness, Melbourne is an hour & thirty minutes away !!! (no doubt she had been stolen and sold out of the local area.) She said, “we called you immediately, at first we thought she had been located previously and the information had not been updated, and she was lost again..”. I said, “No…No..shes been missing this entire time!” Then I got a beep from the other line and it was the veterinarians office that had her. I was in the middle of juggling the kids, and the woman, Teresa, asked for me. She went on to tell me the story about the good Samaritan bringing Bugsby in and that she immediately scanned Bugsby. Initially she did not find any chip, but knowing that the chips can migrate, she did a broader scan and got a reading! I couldn’t hold back, as the tears blurred my vision.
I immediately called Pam on her cell phone, but no answer. Earlier in the day we had discussed that she was visiting a client that was one of her most pet compassionate clients. The Singer’s and Pam would often share with one another some of the pet friendly places we have gone and many pet stories. So, I called the office in lieu of her cell phone to see if I could get a hold of her. Mrs. Singer answered and I asked if Pam was still there. I went on to tell Mrs. Singer what was going on, and all of a sudden I heard Pam’s tears of joy in the background. She was right there listening to the other end of the call, putting the pieces of the puzzle together! Mrs Singer gave Pam the phone and I just wanted to give her a big hug through the phone, we were both like children excited about finding a lost toy!! We came up with a plan so we could all go to make the hour and a half trek to be reunited with our little baby girl.
We pulled up to the clinic and everyone was excited. Luci couldn’t wait any longer, with leash, collar and harness in hand. She was wearing her #TeamBugsby shirt we had made for a run to promote finding our girl. Lucas had fallen asleep, so I had parked close to the door to the clinic. I stood at the door of the clinic to keep and eye on Lucas, but propped open so I could watch as Pam and Luci reunited with Bugs (never wake a sleeping baby). We went in and said, “hi, we are here to pick up the little lost Frenchie that was brought in.” Everyone looked at us with blank looks on their face. One woman said she did not know what we were talking about. I started to clinch up and started getting that warm feeling of distress. I told them that they had called us about our Frenchie that had been found on 192, brought in and scanned with success. The woman said that we must have the wrong place. I told them the name I took down matched their sign, but apparently I did not take it down correctly. We were in the wrong place. I went on to quickly tell them the story as Pam and Luci ran back outside to the car. One of the patients waiting to be seen, just started to ball and the rest of us welled up, as she exclaimed her elation at our story!! They were all in shock!! Man, it really is an amazing story!
Another few minutes down the road, and, finally the time came. Lucas was up and joined us. We went into the office, and again said, “Hi, we are here to pick up the little lost Frenchie that was brought in!” The woman at the front immediately saw Luci’s shirt, and said, “I know who you are here to get!” She went back and a few seconds later, the door opened and there she was!! Our little Bugsby! She ran right over, hopped her two front paws on my legs, like she had always done, and put her face up to mine. I set my nose right in the spot above her nose, and we embraced one another, once again. This had become our greeting to one another…oh, how I had missed that little greeting! I had missed that sniff, that snort, as our foreheads met…my little Boogenlet (one of the many nicknames, but, one that was special to us). She went around to everyone, as we recorded the moment, although, she was obviously exhausted. I can’t explain it. She looked as if she was in disbelief that she was seeing us again. All was right with the universe and I felt a certain sense of calm, as if Stephy was standing there next to me, letting us know…”We did it, we got her back”! Like a tremendous stress that she had taken with her beyond, had been released and she could now rest, knowing Bugsby was back where she was meant to be! Our guardian angel, Bugsby’s guardian angel, had completed her mission that had been left open here on this earth. She could now be fully at peace.
The ride home was surreal, as we all took turns with Bugsby in our lap, not minding the fact that she was stinky and full of fleas. Luci, determined to take the place of Uncle Fefy for Bugsby, made a list of things we needed to do: Cut nails, give bath, clean ears, brush hair, go on walk, feed dinner and finally play. I was very proud of her, as she is becoming a selfless little soul like her Uncle Fefy. Truly deserving of her name, meaning light.
Sitting in the back seat, Pam was playing music that rang a “coming home” theme as if she was dancing in her soul with her sister. Celebrating our victory, our reunion with Stephy’s kindred spirit, Bugsby. Knowing that her conversation with Stephy at the dedication bench in Jupiter, just the day before, must have in some way put the entire plan in motion. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment. A calming energy ran through the car. We as a family reflected in our own way, understanding that there truly are forces beyond this perceived reality of ours, and that faith, hope and a little intervention from beyond can truly make miracles happen.
Oh…and one more thing….please chip (and more importantly register the chip) your fur babies. There have been so many awesome stories like ours. Not saying without it, we would have ever given up hope, but it sure made Stephy’s job much easier to get her home!!!! For more info on this, visit Avid, they have a plethora of information on microchiping your pet!!!