Chesterton Tribune



Paramedic 'dog-whisperer' reunites Finn the Puppy with trucker owner

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A four-day search led by a Porter Regional Hospital paramedic involving multiple agencies has reunited Finn--a 6-month old Dalmatian mix who disappeared April 20 after a harrowing semi-truck rollover--with his owner.

Truck driver Lucas Cardona, 37, was headed to Nebraska on Friday, April 20, to deliver rolled steel. At 4 p.m. he had just had his trailer loaded up and passed through a toll booth to get onto the Indiana Toll Road from Ind. 49 when he took the curve and felt the load shift on the trailer. That was when he went over.

Cardona was uninjured in the accident--save some aches and pains. He said Finn had been lounging in the sleeper portion of the cab, so he was surrounded by pillows and blankets when the truck tipped. “After I flipped, my immediate thought was for him because I knew I was okay,” he said.

Cardona was praying as he rifled through the blankets when he found Finn shaking and terrified. Before he got a good grip on Finn’s collar, the frightened pup decided to flee the scene. “Once he saw daylight, he took off,” Cardona said, noting that Finn started toward the highway at first, then turned around, leapt over a guardrail, then bounded toward the fenced-in tree line where he disappeared.

Mary Esserman, a paramedic and veteran member of Porter’s EMS team, was one of the first responders at the scene. She arrived after Finn took off and knew something was wrong when she noticed fur on Cardona’s jacket.

She asked if he had a dog or cat, knowing that a lot of truck drivers have animal co-pilots. Esserman said Cardona was nearly in tears when he said he had a dog who bolted after the accident, and she knew she had to find Finn. She left Cardona in the care of fellow Porter emergency medical technician Vanessa Cooper-Burns and started calling and searching for Finn near the tree line, to no avail.

Cardona stayed at a motel in Portage for the weekend to look for Finn. Esserman picked him up Saturday to reconvene the search. Porter Fire Chief Jay Craig came out to help as well. While searching for Finn that day, the group located a different lost dog, named Bruno, who had been at-large for more than 30 hours. Esserman said they found Bruno after hearing barking, but the funny thing is Bruno is old and not a barker. “It wasn’t Bruno barking,” she said. “It was like Finn was leading us to him.”

Finn eluded capture on Saturday, but by then the news about him had spread across the state and even the country via Facebook. Esserman’s post was flooded with support and suggestions. On Sunday, Chief Craig brought out a drone to look for the speckled fugitive from above. Again, Finn stayed out of sight.

Next, the Porter County Sheriff’s Department got a tip about a dog caught in a fence, but he had gotten away by the time help arrived. Esserman spoke to the witness and confirmed the dog was Finn.

The Sheriff’s Department, the Indiana State Police, Porter County Animal Control, and other Dunelanders all provided support throughout the search.

Cardona had to go back to Grand Rapids on Monday, but Esserman formed another plan to find Finn. She told Cardona that if she called him and didn’t say anything, it meant Finn was close by and Cardona had to call out for him.

“I had plans to do kind of a puppy stakeout,” Esserman said. On Tuesday, she received a tip that a couple heard Finn barking and snapped a photo of him. She got off work around 8:30 p.m. and headed to Finn’s last known location armed with a tee-shirt, sweatshirt, and a towel that smelled like Cardona, some beef, and Finn’s favorite snack--hotdogs.

It was almost two hours later that Esserman grabbed Finn’s collar. She climbed over a low spot in the fence near the site of the accident and set up the clothes hanging from tree branches and draped over bushes. She put the food out, and watched Finn approach several times to pilfer a piece of hotdog and back away. Then, he got more comfortable and started trying to grab the sweatshirt off of its tree. While he was distracted, Esserman crawled toward him and called Cardona.

Cardona called out to Finn saying he missed him and wanted him to come home. This got his attention. “He came over and licked the phone. So, he knew it was his daddy,” Esserman said. It took her three tries, but she got a hold of his collar and told a relieved Cardona that his buddy was in custody.

Cardona is a former police officer and a veteran who spent five years in the Marines and 12 and a half in the Army National Guard. He was injured in Kuwait in 2012 and had to go into medical retirement. This was when his trucking career started, and last year he decided he needed a travel buddy.

He got Finn from his former police partner. “I got him on Christmas Eve, and he’s been with me ever since. He’s my little buddy. He’s like my son.”

Cardona said Finn is out of the ordinary not only for how friendly and loving he is, but also how quickly he learns. He adapted to life on the road so fast, he was truck-trained before he was house-trained. Finn is short for Finian. Sometimes Cardona calls him Finn-Finn. Finn is actually Finian Jr., as he was named after his father, a purebred Dalmatian.

There was high praise for Esserman on Saturday when Finn was reunited with Cardona in the ambulance bay of the Porter EMS district 1 station in Chesterton. Cooper-Burns said Esserman’s kind heart and love for animals were what drove her to find Finn. “This is how she is--the animal whisperer. She even chased a chicken once.”

Cardona said he can’t thank Esserman and the Duneland community enough for caring so much about a stranger and his dog. “The tip of the spear for everything has been Mary. She’s been a godsend,” he added.

Finn appeared very much at home dozing in a recliner inside the station while Cardona talked to the press. “I understand he’s made some very good friends here, so I’ll definitely be bringing him back.”


Posted 5/2/2018




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