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Dog found swimming in gulf goes home


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 1999

Orlando Gonzalez was fishing about 15 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico late Saturday afternoon when he came upon a dog, swimming for its life. No other boats were in sight.

He pulled the dog into his boat and read the name on its collar: Mitzi.

"She was very tired," Gonzalez said.

Small wonder. At that moment, Mitzi's owners were dealing with the loss of their beloved family pet, which went overboard during a boating trip Saturday morning. They had searched for hours and had no hope of seeing Mitzi again.

"We've been mourning her death. It's been quite an emotional day," said Mitzi's owner, Ross Deschenes of Tarpon Springs. "I figure she probably swam about 3 miles."

Deschenes took his two young sons and their 40-pound German shorthaired pointer out on the family's 23-foot boat about 8 a.m.

They were about 12 miles out from Anclote Key in choppy water when they noticed Mitzi was missing.

"When we realized she wasn't there, it was just chaos," he said. "We went at idle speed and zig-zagged all the way back to Anclote."

There was no sign of Mitzi.

Later in the day, Gonzalez was boating about 15 miles west of Port Richey when he noticed something in the water. It looked fuzzy. He reached for his binoculars.

Once Gonzalez got the dog on board, he offered it water and a share of his dinner. He called the phone number on its tag but got no answer, so he took the dog home to Land O'Lakes about 6:30 p.m.

More calls to the same phone number produced nothing. It was Deschenes' mother's number, and she was out of town.

Gonzalez and his wife began to wonder if Mitzi had been on a boat that had capsized, so they called the Coast Guard about 8:30 p.m.

The Coast Guard prepared to launch a massive search. But first, officers called around to see if any other agencies had received a report of a missing dog, said search and rescue coordinator Dave Cameron.

It turned out that the Deschenes family had called the Florida Marine Patrol. Cameron called them back.

"They were in disbelief, crying, happy," Cameron said. "They never believed somebody could have found their dog."

Deschenes, his wife and children were overjoyed. They called Gonzalez and drove to Land O'Lakes late Saturday night.

"We're delighted to get her back," Deschenes said over the phone after a joyous reunion about 10:30 p.m. "It's been quite a day."

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