WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Call it a Christmas miracle for a dog who disappeared during a K-9 training exercise.

As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, a search team found the Chesapeake Bay Retriever on a busy highway just hours before Christmas Eve.

Jack’s handler was overcome with joy and in tears as he hugged the pooch.

“It’s the best Christmas present we can get. The family was crazy, the guys just worked their tails off for me and I can’t thank the guys enough,” Vinnie Santaniello told Sloan.

Jack was in training with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Unit when he went missing Monday morning during a training exercise at Allaire State Park.

During a break, his instincts kicked in and he chased a deer.

The 1-year-old, still a puppy, disappeared into the woods. Santaniello said not knowing where Jack ran off to was nerve-wracking.

“Terrible. He’s part of the family. We only have a week left of school and he’s a great dog,” he said.

The all-out search began the minute Jack took off and involved some officers on Quadrunners, Sloan reported.

A fellow officer with the K-9 unit spotted the rambunctious dog standing still in the center divider of Interstate 195 in Wall Township.

“He was scared to death. When I got out of the truck, we walked up on him slow,” officer Myron Kelly told Sloan.

Kelly used what Jack knows best to lure him back: a drug-scented towel that he’s been training with.

“I took the towel out and I presented it to him and I gave him the command as if he was searching for drugs and instead of running away from us, this time he ran to the towel,” Kelly told Sloan.

Santaniello’s family said it’s going to be a great holiday now that their best friend, who is just three days away from getting his certificate, is back home.

“I’m just really happy that he’s back and it’s a Christmas miracle,” Sam Santaniello said.

Sheriff’s officers say dogs like Jack can survive in the cold because they have a thick coat and can hunt.

You May Also Be Interested In These Stories

More From CBS New York

Download Weather App

Watch & Listen LIVE