Two-year search for lost poodle goes on

PARISH — So often in life it seems a good thing done with the best of intentions goes so wrong and leads to such pain. Eric McIntire, now 53, had those good intentions when he joined the Navy. Then came Somalia. Then came the Gulf War. Then came Iraq. And then came the PTSD.

From there it was months of hospitalization and years of psychotherapy. And then another good intention. Get a hobby, he was told. A family-oriented hobby. And so, he did. Together with his wife, Christine, they decided on camping and were off to Parish from their home in Elmira along with their five small dogs and new camper. And it was then the good intentions turned into what’s now been a two-year nightmare for both Eric and Christine.

Although Christine is sure the camper door was locked, the dogs somehow got out while Christine and Eric were touring Bass Lake. Two hours later, they were able to round up four of their dogs, but Lily, their five-year-old, nine-pound, white poodle with two missing front teeth was gone and is gone to this day, leaving behind an endless mystery, a two-year search, and two broken hearts.

“We called her our therapy dog,” Christine said. “When I’d get upset, she’d come right up and start smushing her little face into mine, and licking me to death, and nudging my hand, because she knew I needed it. And you would be laughing so much that you’d actually stop being upset.

“When Eric got out of the Navy, Lily knew. Even before he ended up going to the hospital, she knew her daddy needed her. She’s always been my dog, always. But when he had his breakdown, she was constantly with him. She gave him so many kisses. She knew when you needed it.”

And when Eric came home from the hospital, Christine said, “they really bonded. They really took to each other during that time, because it was hard for him.”

And that’s when Eric’s psychiatrist and therapist both said he needed to find a hobby, Christine said, “maybe a family thing. He talked about the boat, and I was terrified the dogs would fall in, they’d drown. I was paranoid. We thought that camping would be the safest thing, and it wasn’t.

“To this day, we talk about camping, but it becomes a fight. He doesn’t want to board the dogs, he wants to take them with us, because he’s afraid something’s going to happen to them. I don’t want to take them with us because I’m afraid something’s going to happen to them.

“We started camping because of this PTSD. They thought it would be good for him. Our camper has set in our yard for two years now. We’ve paid for it, and we can’t get rid of it. It’s the last place she was.”

When Lily went missing, Christine said, “he was a wreck, just as much as I was. Neither one of us could eat. For two days, I don’t think we ate anything, nothing. We lived on coffee, and that was it.”

And they searched. And they plastered posters from Parish to Camden. And the nightmare unfolded. Scam artists pretended to have Lily or know where she was but, of course, would only divulge that information or return her for cash. Christine and Eric both live on Social Security disability, Eric as a result of his service and the resulting PTSD and Christine as a result of a severe car accident injury. And yet, they have offered a $3,000 reward for Lily’s safe return.

Some aren’t scam artists, they’re just sick sadists.

“I cooked your dog and ate her,” one wrote.

Another sent pictures of severed heads.

None have actually led to Lily, though one may have provided a clue to a mysterious suspect and a possible accomplice.

Last August, McIntire received a tip from a caller who claimed a man in a town nearby was bragging he stole Lily.

“She had his name, his address, everything,” Christine said. “I sent the police to his house, and he did have a little white poodle. Sadly, it wasn’t Lily. Lily has missing teeth, and this dog did not. But why would somebody say that? Come November I got some more calls, and it was the same thing, same person, and same story.”

At that point, McIntire hired a private investigator who interviewed the suspect from the August call and felt he knew where Lily was.

“She (the private investigator) said, ‘She’s not at his house.’”

McIntire said she doesn’t have definitive proof this suspect actually stole Lily. “But it was looking really like he was the one. Everything was adding up. He even called me. He said to me, ‘There’s nothing illegal about picking up a dog.’ I said, ‘You’re right. There’s nothing illegal about picking up a dog. What is illegal is keeping the dog and not reporting you found the dog. That is illegal in New York state. You can’t do that.’ And I said to myself, ‘If that’s not admitting guilt, I don’t know what is.’”

McIntire said someone close to both her and the suspect told the suspect “everything I had. She knew everything from the case. Unfortunately, it destroyed my entire case.”

McIntire said her private investigator, upon hearing this news, said, “It’s done. She (the friend) blew the case out of the water. There’s nothing you can do. He may know where Lily’s at and got rid of her by now.”

At that point, the private investigator recommended a halt to the investigation to save the McIntires the expense, Christine said.

“At that point, all I had was hearsay,” she said. “There’s no definitive proof. Hearsay that they heard him say he took her. Hearsay that someone saw her in his car.

“That’s my child, and I may not get my child back because of her (her former friend).”

And then there’s the mystery of the missing signs, over 100 missing signs Christine has nailed up and put up for two years now, again and again.

She does not think it’s her primary suspect who’s stealing her missing dog signs picturing Lily. Someone was spotted taking down her signs. The private investigator checked out the suspect’s car, and it is not the car that was spotted. Christine feels it is someone else stealing the signs.

“We can’t figure out,” she said. “What motive does he have?

“He’s described as a slender man. He appears to have gray hair. He was driving a silver convertible, possibly a Sebring. We never found him.

“I had gone up there (Bass Lake) one night,” Christine said, “and the very next day they stole the sign.”

She says it was well over $1,500-worth of signs that have been stolen. Over 100 signs. “They went from Parish to Camden. I had them in people’s yards. I had them on telephone poles, and they’d rip them off the telephone poles. I put in probably 20 screws, 20 nails, and I made sure I drove them in there, and he still ripped them off. Whoever this is, is a bold person.

“I’ve even put signs up in front of gas stations in Camden. There’s a Fastrac in Camden. They even went and ripped it off from there. I put a sign up in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts in Camden. It was ripped off from there.”

The signs are mostly 14 inches by 18 inches. They’re both vertical and horizontal.

Lily was sighted twice, early on in her disappearance. She went missing on July 22, 2019 and was last seen on July 29 of that year on State Route 69, according to McIntire.

She still gets calls, trying to help.

“I can’t thank these people enough,” Christine said. “They’ve been amazing in trying to help me get Lily back. I still have at least probably one call every two weeks, ‘Here’s a dog you need to check out.’ Sometimes I will get one once a week. Sometimes I get 20 in just five minutes. And text messages. ‘Check this dog out. Check this dog out, it looks like Lily.’ Some look like her. Some don’t. But I appreciate every call I get, because I keep hoping that one of these days, that call’s going to be the one that will actually be the one to find her.”

And she keeps hoping “that she’s in a good home, that somebody is loving her and taking care of her. And I’m hoping that if somebody does know where she is, they’ll contact us, because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve put it out there that you can be anonymous. I don’t need to know who you are.”

Christine has heard of one dog back with her owner after missing for 11 years. “And that gives me hope to keep going. That’s what keeps me going.”

She said she follows “so many missing dog pages. And the heartbreaking thing I think for most of us is that people forget about our pets. They move on to the next missing dog. But, we don’t forget them. We have to live with our loss every day.”

Christine formerly worked for ARC with developmentally disabled people, and recounted it was through working with a patient that she first found Lily, at a pet shop she suggested they walk to. She picked up Lily, who scurried right up her arm and immediately snuggled her head in Christine’s neck.

“It was love at first snuggle,” Christine said. “Something about her I bonded with instantly.” Christine bought Lily two days later, “and she was with me constantly. I couldn’t even stand up without her standing up ready to go with me, and I miss my kid.”

Christine said she and her husband couldn’t have children, “so my dogs and my cats, they’re my kids, and I miss my kid horribly.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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