As they were preparing for their shift Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., New Jersey State Police Troopers Ryan Koehler and Vincent Ferdinandi received an unusual call: a golden retriever was spotted swimming in Barnegat Bay on the Jersey Shore and needed rescuing
The officers jumped into a 22-ft. Zodiac boat to motor to the dog, who was about 75 yards from shore, Ferdinandi tells PEOPLE. They gently guided the pup to land and lifted him onto a dock behind a house using a rope line.
“He was extremely tired,” Ferdinandi says. “Definitely malnourished, hungry.”
With good reason. Chunk, 3, was playing fetch with owners Marie and James Zangara on June 6 when he apparently got scared and ran off into the woods, according to Ferdinandi.
Since Chunk went missing from home on Sunday, a search mission involving social media, local police departments, baited traps, hound hunters, and trail cameras has been underway, according to the trooper.
Then, early Tuesday morning, two joggers on the Mantoloking Bridge spotted Chunk; however, when they attempted to grab him, he jumped into the water, according to Ferdinandi. He’d swum nearly two miles across the bay by the time he was rescued.
Once on land, Chunk appeared scared of the troopers — “he kind of backed away from us,” says Ferdinandi. However, until the dog’s family arrived, the pair kept Chunk safely by their sides.
“To see the sigh of relief that a part of their family was back was unbelievable, and the dog was happy to see his family as well,” says Ferdinandi.
Koehler, a trooper for 16 years, has a rescue Lab/shepherd mix and understands how awful it would feel to have a dog missing for upwards of two weeks. “I completely understand,” he says.
“We’re just happy that both the dog and the owners can be reunited,” Ferdinandi adds.
The New Jersey State Police announced the good news early Tuesday on their Facebook page in a post that’s been shared more than 6,000 times.
“Troopers Koehler and Ferdinandi responded in a vessel and located Chunk, who was swimming in the area of the Mantoloking Bridge, and were able to bring him safely to shore,” the State Police announced in the Facebook post.
“Chunk, who is three years old, was missing for more than two weeks,” the post continues. “It goes without saying that he was overjoyed to be reunited with his grateful owners.”