ROXBURY, NJ – Christina Kropifko said she never cried as much as she did Thursday night after her little dog, with a snowstorm approaching, got lost in the swampy woods of Succasunna.
Kropifko’s tears of pain turned to tears of joy the next day when a local kid familiar with those woods, spotted little Missy’s tracks and followed them to the scared and frightened pooch.
“I honestly thought I was never going to see her again,” said Kropifko after being united with her canine pal. “Andrew is amazing.”
That’s Andrew Simonsen, 15, of Kadel Avenue, a Roxbury High School freshman who ruined a pair of boots looking for Missy in the gnarly wetlands along Succasunna Brook. He found the lost dog about 24 hours after she ran away.
“Yes, he’s a pretty amazing kid,” said Simonsen’s mom, Janet Stone. “He’s got a heart of gold. If he’s not helping one of my neighbors, he’s helping my mom. He’s just a great kid.”
Not a bad tracker either, as it turns out. He’d headed into the woods off Midland Avenue, a place he’d explored many times in the past, after learning Missy might be in there.
There was, at first, no sign of the dog’s misadventure, an ordeal that began at about 10 a.m. Thursday when she twisted out of her harness while being walked at Horseshoe Lake Park. But Simonsen was persistent.
“I almost ended up in a different neighborhood,” he said. “I was walking very far into the woods and finally this trail showed up that was dog prints.”
Missy, about 12 years old and with enough Jack Russell Terrier blood to make her a fast runner even at that age, didn’t bolt when Simonsen approached. She was a little skittish, though. So the young man put Kropifko on his cellphone’s speaker. let her talk to Missy, and took his time. Eventually the dog allowed a pet of her head and a grab of her collar.
“She was just sitting there, pretty tired,” Simonsen said, noting it appeared Missy spent the cold night sheltered by a fallen tree. He said he removed one of his shirts and put it on the chilly creature “so she stayed warmer,” and then carried her to safety.
It wasn’t an easy hike. “When I walked, I sunk down almost knee deep,” he said. Later that afternoon, Stone took her son shopping for a new pair of boots.
Kropifko, a Jefferson resident who grew up in Kenvil, said her nightmare began when Missy became startled by the tough-guy attitude displayed by a couple of dogs that were also being walked in Horseshoe Lake Park. “She went behind me to try to hide and then she slipped out of her harness,” Kropifko said.
A foot chase ensued down the West Morris Greenway trail, across Righter Road, over the Black River and beyond. “The more I ran after her, the farther and faster she ran” said Kropifko. “She was running so fast.”
Then the dog dipped into the woods of Midland Park and disappeared. Kropifko spent much of the night out on the trail, calling for Missy, praying and crying. She was accompanied by some helpers, including Roxbury Animal Control Officer Sue Blanchard.
“Finally, around 10:30, my ex-husband said, `You need to go home,’” said Kropifko.
Blanchard said she went back to the scene at about 7 a.m. Thursday. “When Missy’s mom came at 8 a.m., I explained that Missy was probably hiding under a tree or root system,” Blanchard said. “Christina was extremely upset and I explained that the snow could help as it would allow us to see tracks.”
Blanchard then posted on Facebook a call for assistance. When Stone, a friend of Blanchard, saw the post she asked her son if he wanted to participate.
“He said, `Sure. I’ll go,’” Stone said. “He didn’t hesitate … He had no problem going into the woods. He’s an adventurer.”
Blanchard, who said Missy was taken to a veterinarian for a checkup after being rescued, praised Simonsen.
“This young man went above and beyond to help us,” she said. “I can’t thank him enough. And if it wasn’t for Roxbury High School being closed today (for a snow day) we wouldn’t have had him to help.”