Golden Retriever Missing for 16 Days Found Swimming Along the Jersey Shore, Rescued by State Police
Chunk, who had been missing since June 6, was reunited with his owners on June 22
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 used a line of rope to lift him onto a dock behind a house.
"He was extremely tired," says Ferdinandi. "Definitely malnourished, hungry."
And for good reason. On June 6, Chunk, 3, was playing fetch with owners Marie and James Zangara when he apparently got spooked and ran off into the woods, Ferdinandi shares.
Since that Sunday when Chunk disappeared from home, a search mission involving social media, local police departments, baited traps, hound hunters and trail cameras has been underway, the trooper says.
Then early Tuesday morning, two joggers on the Mantoloking Bridge spotted Chunk; when they attempted to grab him, though, he jumped into the water, Ferdinandi says. By the time he was rescued, he'd swum nearly two miles across the bay.
Once on land, Chunk appeared scared of the troopers — "he kind of backed away from us," says Ferdinandi. But the pair kept Chunk securely by their sides until the dog's family arrived.
"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 am totally sympathetic," he says.
"We are just happy," Ferdinandi adds, "that both the dog and the owners can be reunited."
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. "Needless to say he was ecstatic to be reunited with his grateful owners."
Chunk's owners couldn't immediately be reached by PEOPLE.