Ivanicky goes extra mile so dog gets home

Originally Published in the Herald News 01/21/03

  Andy Ivanicky believes in "always going that extra mile" to return an animal home safely. Or in this case, he went several hundred miles.

  Just ask Buster.

  Buster is a 6-year-old Golden Labrador dog from Fort Collins, Colo., who ended up in a motel restroom in Joliet on Jan. 7.

  At 2:30 a.m. that Tuesday, Ivanicky, who is director of Joliet Township Animal Control, received an emergency call from Joliet police. They had just made an arrest at the motel. Buster was locked in the bathroom of the motel room.

  Ivanicky picked up Buster and took him to the township shelter on McDonough Street.

  As it turned out, the dog belonged to two children, Spencer and Travis Balanga, who had been illegally taken from their home in Fort Collins by their mother and a boyfriend. Their father, Wayne Balanga, has legal custody of the boys.

  The two brothers had been missing since Dec. 18. They were turned over to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which made arrangements to return the kids to their father in Colorado.

  However, Balanga said he didn't have the money to bring Buster home, too. His old car was in no shape to make a trip to Joliet to get the dog.

  That's when Ivanicky started looking for another way to return the dog home.

  On the Internet, he found the name of Laurel Barrick in Grand Rapids, Mich. She coordinates Rolling Rescue Transport, a volunteer group that helps return animals to their homes.

  Barrick put Ivanicky in contact with Mike Hankins, an over the road truck driver, who has worked with the animal rescue group the past five years. The trucker rerouted a trip and came out of his way on Jan. 14 to pick up Buster.

  Ivanicky met Hankins that night at an Interstate 80 truck at Minooka. And Buster was on his way home.

  At about 8:30 p.m. the next night the father and two sons met the truck driver at another truck stop near Fort Collins. Balanga told me he was crying as he watched his sons and Buster run toward each other.

  "This dog is a major part of our family," Balanga said, adding that the boys have had Buster since he was one year old. "We all love this dog."

  Balanga said he has learned that his sons traveled through nine states with their mother and the dog. She had given the boys sleeping pills and "they woke up in Arizona," he said.

  He said the boys were rescued in Joliet, after Spencer, 11, called 911 from the motel room. After police arrived and began to sort out what had happened, Travis, 12, gave police his father's cell phone number.

  "I got the call about 3:10 a.m.," Balanga said. "It was wonderful news having them found."

  But he didn't know what had happened to Buster until he heard from Ivanicky. Balanga feared that the dog might have to be put to sleep in the shelter.

  "It was so heartwarming to see so many good people get involved in helping us get Buster home," he said. "It has worked out just great."

  Ivanicky said there was no way he would have put Buster to sleep while realizing there was a family who loved and wanted the dog.

  "We are animal lovers, too, Ivanicky said. "We'll always go that extra mile to save one. There is such a rewarding feeling when you do."

  He said a photo of the boys greeting Buster had arrived by e-mail on his computer.

  Barrick said Rolling Rescue Transport has managed to get dozens of animals back to their families in recent years. The animals typically are driven home by volunteers who drive 50 to 100 mile legs in a relay system.

  "We need more truck drivers," she said, noting her group can be contacted at groups.yahoo.com/rolling rescue.

  And yes, she has talked to Hankins, who is a friend, about the trip to Colorado with Buster. The dog was quiet, confused and depressed during the trip. But that all changed with Buster spotted Spencer and Travis.

  "Mike said Buster did a happy dog dance when he saw the boys," Barrick said.

  It is so nice to once again have a story with a happy ending.   


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