A massive two-day search for missing 10-year-old Manny Vargas ended happily on the evening of Wednesday, October 19, 2005.
Manny's parents, Manuel and Dawn Vargas, are eternally grateful to the one who found their child - Lara, an 8-year-old German shepherd.
The search ended around 7:30 p.m. A collection of six dog-rescue groups had been looking for the boy for about a half-hour when Lara detected a scent near the latticed deck of a home near the Vargas house.
The dog started pacing and scratched at the area, according to her handler, Valerie Mokides, with volunteer New Jersey Search and Rescue K-9 group in Bergen. Mokides shined her flashlight under the deck, saw clothing and recognized Manny from his photo.
Sayreville firefighter Jody Somers, who was guiding Mokides and Lara through the area, was called over and ripped off the latticework. The pair was unable to rouse Manny, who was unconscious but breathing.
Manny's clothing, which was relatively clean and dry, indicated he had not been under the deck the whole time. Authorities plan to research what happened.
Dogs had previously been sent in to track from Manny's house but had not gotten over to the yard where the boy was found, authorities said. Officials said they were astounded that someone was able to get inside the lattice work without disturbing it because it was so tight around the deck.
Following the discovery of Manny and his trip to the hospital, rescue dog Lara was greeted as a celebrity.
"Everybody is adoring the dog at the first-aid squad," Somers said. "There's a mass of people surrounding it."
And she'll apparently be rewarded handsomely.
"Lara loves her work," Mokides said. "She gets a steak tonight."
"We weren't giving up until he came home," Dawn Vargas said outside the emergency room at Raritan Bay Medical Center's Perth Amboy Division. "I'm still in shock."
Manny arrived at 8:30 p.m. at the hospital, where he was listed in good condition. The boy remained there overnight. Earlier, when police escorted Manny's parents to where the boy was found, "We just ran to him," Dawn Vargas said.
The parents said the support they received was amazing.
"We were just happy it all worked out," Manuel Vargas said. "I was beside myself. I didn't sleep or eat for two days. We just want to thank everyone who turned out."
The couple said their son was suffering from some dehydration last night but little more.
"He wants Taco Bell," Dawn Vargas said.
Someone from the hospital happily obliged.
Hospital officials said Manny was being treated in the emergency department and would be admitted overnight.
"He's in good spirits. He's doing well," said hospital spokeswoman Donna Sellmann. She said the boy had not had anything to eat or drink in a couple of days.