Miami Beach resident Rosemary Hansford receieved a late Christmas gift last Sunday when the combined efforts of her family, friends and strangers led to the rescue of her lost chihuahua, Marco Polo.
It all started when Hansford took her pack of three dogs including Marco to their vet near Keystone Point on Dec. 26. She said Marco, alpha of the pack, managed to somehow slip out off his leash and collar, and ran from the vet towards Biscayne Boulevard. It was around 5 p.m., Hansford said, so Marco also managed to survive crossing the federal highway during rush hour traffic.
“I never went home,” Hansford said. “My sister and I drove up and down Keystone Point calling Marco’s name.”
But members of the search party weren’t shouting “Marco Polo,” and the flyers and posters did not include the 7-year-old pup’s full name.
“I just put ‘Marco’ on the flyers so people didn’t think it was a joke,” she said.
She said that she and her sister, who owns one of Marco’s brothers, slept in their clothes for three days while looking for him.
A 10-year friend of Hansford, Randall Hilliard, led the social media portion of the search.
“I was skeptical at first,” he said of using social media.
The search included 1,500 flyers, 60 posters, three hired hands to distribute the flyers, Facebook statuses that were shared more than 100 times combined, and the help of three government officials.
County Commissioner Sally Heyman, a friend of Hansford’s who is known for her animal rights advocacy, reached out to friends and constituents which included North Miami City Council members Carol Keys and Scott Galvin.
“It was a community-wide effort,” Hilliard said.
There was a even a $1,000 reward, but it was social media that proved to be the driving force of the search.
“I never imagined that so many people on Facebook would respond,” Hansford said. “I met people at the Humane Society and Hollywood Animal Hospital who knew about Marco because of the Facebook postings.”
Despite all this, Marco was lost for 10 days and Hansford’s family was heartbroken during his absence.
“My grandkids were beside themselves with grief,” she said. “My second dog Sonny Boy stopped eating while Marco was lost. The vets told me he needed a companion dog.”
Their heartache turned to agony as the days wore on; Hansford said she began to give up.
“The possibility of him finding his way home and me finding him in the rain was close to impossible,” she said.
One day, she received a call saying a white chihuahua resembling Marco was found dead in a canal in Keystone Point. Hansford’s son retrieved the body and thought it best that she not lay eyes on it.
“‘Whatever you do mom you can’t look, you just can’t look because it’ll break your heart,’” he said to her.
They brought that dog home and buried him under a tree after a small wake.
“We were all crying our eyes out,” she said.
Afterwards she decided to adjust to life without the companion she has had for eight years.
“I got another dog to comfort Sonny because he was so heartbroken. I assumed life would just go on without Marco.”
She assumed wrong. The next day she got a call from Frank Coniglio, a Keystone Point resident, saying he had Marco.
“I said ‘No you don’t.’ I had been warned that people would try and fool me,” Hansford said.
But that wasn’t Coniglio’s intention at all. After a few questions to confirm the dog was Marco and a drive from Miami Beach back to Keystone Point, Hansford and Marco were back together.
Coniglio said the night of Jan. 4 he found a white dog running towards the bushes in front of his house. He brought it in and took care of it for the night until finding out the next day someone was looking for their dog.
The security guard at Keystone Point handed him a flyer, and he gave Hansford a call.
Although Marco had some food and water while with Coniglio, Hansford said when she saw him he looked dehydrated, starved and he had a fever of 104 degrees.
“If you saw him it looked like he had been through a rough time,” she said. “When Frank found him he couldn’t even run away, he just stood there.”
Marco stayed overnight at the Hollywood Animal Hospital for a treatment of IV fluids. The next day, he was “like a new little dog.”
Coniglio did not accept Hansford’s reward.
“I have a dog myself, and it is not a pet,” he said. “It is part of our family so we were really happy that they were reunited.
I just do not think it is the right thing to do; I wouldn’t feel right taking one penny for it.”
To express her thanks, Hansford made a donation in the name of the Coniglio family to Jamie’s Rescue, a shelter in North Miami for stray and unwanted dogs run by Jamie Robinson.
“I’m so grateful to the people of Keystone Point,” she said.