New Milford dog found after 5-day search: 'This was divine intervention'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — Resident Ryan Camaioni was caught up in what he said was a five-day nightmare that came to a happy ending at 1 a.m. Tuesday on Shriner Road in Washington.

That was when he found Zeus, his 6-year-old, 150-pound black Italian Mastiff who, he said, is by his side day and night.

In the time Zeus was lost, the dog had traveled a total of about seven miles through three towns. There were a handful of sightings reported on social media.

“It was a wild goose chase,” said Camaioni, 34, a single father of three who works from home as an audio engineer.

Camaioni’s posts on Facebook seeking help finding Zeus drew many thousands of likes, shares and comments.

His saga began Thursday when he decided to go out to run errands. By the time he returned, a metal gate he had set up on the back patio was “warped,” he said — and Zeus was nowhere to be found.

The first thing he did, after “freaking out,” was to call a friend who said ‘Ryan, Hip Road, go check the New Milford page, somebody saw Zeus.”

Someone had posted a photo on a town Facebook page, asking if anyone is missing a dog.

It was a photo of Zeus.

“A police officer tried to approach him but that spooked him so that’s when the journey began. He then ran into the woods behind Northville Market and then made his way through 109 to Littlefield to Chapin to Walk Brook Road,” Camaioni said.

The entire time Zeus was missing, Camaioni wouldn’t give up his search — or even take a break.

“I pretty much haven’t stopped looking since Thursday,” he said.

Zeus passed through New Milford, Roxbury and Washington.

There were a lot of close calls from people who had spotted him.

“They would call me and I would literally show up 10, maybe 15 minutes late, and I would go track into the woods and not find him,” he said. “I knew it was Zeus. I was just moments too late. It was heartbreaking.”

As he was searching for Zeus himself, he sometimes would see at least 20 to 30 cars, people on foot, and even some drones — all searching for Zeus.

In total, Camaioni got hundreds of calls and texts about people seeing the dog — “from sun up to sun down,” he said.

He left pieces of worn clothing in several areas where Zeus was sighted, so Zeus would be able to smell his scent.

Dog Gone Recovery — a nonprofit group based in Canton, also became involved in the search.

“They said when you cook bacon in the wildlife, it will naturally draw wildlife to you. I didn’t really believe it at first,” he said.

He later went to Home Depot and bought a mini charcoal grill.

“People were giving me bacon and sausage links, and doing store runs for me so that I could stay there and search for Zeus,” he said.

He burned pounds of bacon in three different locations on Shriner Mountain Road.

He said the thought crossed his mind that he may draw other animals aside from Zeus to him.

“I’m sitting there thinking I was going to lure a bear to me,” he said. “But at the same time, I was willing to, for Zeus.”

On Monday night, it began to rain and Camaioni said he started to feel physically sick.

“I had gotten back in my car, thinking that I would go home and get some sleep and then come back early in the morning,” he said.

He went to the top of Shriner Road, turned around and came back down, and about 50 yards past the sight where he had been burning the bacon was Zeus.

“He was just standing there in the middle of the road. It was such a surreal moment,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Camaioni said Zeuss looked “so timid and scared and hungry and cold — like a deer, he just stood and stared.”

He said he didn’t want to startle or frighten Zeus in any way.

“I got out and kneeled by my car and started talking to him,” he said.

He had leftover scrapes of chicken and said he threw it as far as he could.

“I was like, ‘buddy, that’s for you, I’m going back to the car,’” he said. “He starts walking to me and eating the chicken. I took one of my jackets off and threw it forward.”

He then went to his car and opened the door, and walked away.

“Zeus started smelling my jacket and then casually walked into my car,” Camaioni said.

He said he knew then that his prayers were answered.

“I couldn’t believe it. Everything was like it was in slow motion,” he said. “It was like living in a movie.”

Aside from looking thinner and having some tics on him, Camaioni said Zeus seemed otherwise healthy.

After speaking with local farmers who have dogs, he later learned Zeus most likely survived off cow and horse droppings.

Reflecting back on what happened, Camaioni speculates Zeus became confused because they had moved last week to another part of town.

Also, he said Zeus also probably missed him, since he never leaves his side.

“Zeus is with me more than anybody,” he said, adding he has had Zeus since he was four weeks old. “I’m pretty sure he was trying to be with me. I think he probably lost my scent at the top of the driveway.”

Camaioni credits the greater New Milford community with helping him find Zeus.

“I’m so overwhelmed and just extremely grateful that everybody pulled together,” Camaioni said.

He said he got through his experience with a lot of prayer.

“There is no simple logical explanation of how I found Zeus,” he said. “This was divine intervention and I believe the community and God pulling everybody together.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com