KEANSBURG, NJ â The story of Jersey, the Golden Retriever puppy who jumped off a motor boat into Sandy Hook bay on Memorial Day weekend and was never again found, tugged at the heartstrings of thousands in New Jersey.
Well, Jersey has been found: Her body washed ashore on a beach in Keansburg last week, Jersey’s owners, Todd and Anne Finetto of Hillsborough confirmed to Patch. A Middletown woman found the remains of Jersey last Thursday afternoon, Sept. 13, while walking near Belleview Avenue. Jersey’s short life and death are sad. But the kindness strangers showed the Finetto family will stick with them for a lifetime.
“The woman from Middletown was apparently out walking her dogs on the beach in Keansburg, and she found her at about 4 p.m. last Thursday. Her body was really badly decomposed. It had been in the water for 12 weeks by that point,” Todd Finetto told Patch today. “It was really remarkable. This woman knew to take photos of the dog and the whole area surrounding it, because she figured this was someone’s pet. She also somehow was able to remove Jersey’s collar from her body.”
The woman took the collar home, and she was able to make out the Finettos’ name and part of their Hillsborough address, but only the last four digits of Todd’s cell phone could still be seen. That was when she called Keansburg police to report what she found, and they told her to bring the collar in. A Keansburg police officer recalled reading about a dog jumping off a boat into Raritan Bay, and he found Anne Finetto’s cell phone number from news articles about the dog’s disappearance.
The tragic incident occurred on Saturday, May 26: The couple was out on their motorboat in Raritan Bay. Jersey, their one-and-a-half-year-old Golden puppy was with them, as she always was. In fact, that top photo was taken the day she went missing, at Horsehoe Cove in Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area. She had just spent all day swimming and playing at sandbar beaches and she was curled up at Todd’s feet as he drove the boat at about 34 miles per hour.
“We keep a really good eye on her on the boat. All of a sudden, as quick as you can imagine, a plastic cupcake holder flew off the back of our boat,” he said. “We both turned to watch it fly by and then my wife goes, ‘Where’s Jersey?'”
The Finettos think the eager, excitable pup jumped to chase the object off the boat. Todd thinks she probably died on impact as soon as she hit the water.
“Going 34 miles per hour, you don’t want to hit the water that fast. It would be like hitting concrete,” he said. “I really think she took three to four big gulps of water and that was it.”
He expects what’s coming next. He’s heard it all summer. “Why wasn’t she wearing a life jacket? It’s just something my wife and I never thought about,” Todd said. “To people who say that, I reply sure, but do you ever let your kid skateboard without a helmet? Do you ever not buckle up when you have a 5-minute drive to the store? All it takes is for you to be unlucky in an instant.”
Also, true to her breed, Jersey was an extremely strong swimmer. Not even two days earlier, Todd recalled how he watched her chase geese in a pond near their house “for 55 minutes straight. She couldn’t touch bottom the entire time, but she didn’t stop. We also took her to the beach on Valentine’s Day earlier that year, and she dove headfirst into the ocean water. In February. She just loved to swim.”
The Finettos immediately turned the boat around and combed the water, searching for the dog. Todd put out a call on marine radio and four boaters showed up to help them look. One boat even came from as far as Breezy Point, New York.
“He told me, no worries, man, I know you’d do it for me if my dog was missing,” he recalled.
They searched for hours that night, but had to stop when a very rough and violent thunderstorm entered Raritan Bay.
The couple had a feeling they wouldn’t find the dog alive. But it was the kindness of strangers that really struck them in the days and weeks that followed. They put up a Facebook post about her being missing â it was shared 22,000 times. The Finettos organized search parties to look for Jersey’s body along the Sandy Hook shoreline and Bayshore. Dozens of strangers showed up to help them look.
“People we didn’t know and would never meet again would just hug us and say, ‘It’s OK. We know how you feel,'” Todd recalled. “The whole experience made me think, ‘Crap, I gotta be a better person!'”
The experience also showed the negative side of humanity: Because she had put her cell phone online, Anne received text messages from people saying she should drown her own children because she didn’t put a life jacket on her dog. They got messages from people saying they had found Jersey, and would return her if the Finettos sent money via Western Union.
This past Friday at midday, while taking her son, a Rutgers student, out for lunch, Anne received a cell phone call from Keansburg police. The body of a dog had washed up on their beaches, and would they come down and identify it.
The couple went down on Saturday and confirmed yes, indeed, it was Jersey. The Middletown woman who found the dog was there, and “everyone was crying,” Todd said.
Keansburg police buried the dog’s body on the beach, about eight feet down. Todd put up a cedar plank memorial for her. Since then, dozens of people have stopped by the memorial, and several left tennis balls in Jersey’s honor. One woman, a stranger who read about Jersey in the news, drove down from Madison and delivered a plaque she made for the Finettos. It’s sitting on their kitchen table right now.
“We’ve seen it all,” said Todd. “The whole experience has been crazy. We want to leave her in Keansburg. She loved the beach. She loved running into the waves and chasing seagulls on the sand. That’s her home now.”
All photos supplied by Todd Finetto, and used with his permission.
Related: Dog Jumps Off Boat In Sandy Hook Bay, Now Missing