Kent student’s service dog goes missing in care of Stark County kennel

Olivia McWain, Reporter

Grace Kolich’s lifeline was taken when her medical alert dog, a golden retriever named Benny, went missing last year in the care of the Ohio Pet Resort kennel in Stark County.

Kolich, a senior finance major, lives with neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition that causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, leaving her prone to fainting. Benny was trained to alert her before an episode, so she could move to a safe position before fainting.

After a friend died and Kolich had trouble taking care of herself, she wanted to make sure Benny was being properly cared for. In May, she trusted the Ohio Pet Resort with Benny’s care.

Kolich, a senior finance major, lives with neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition that causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, leaving her prone to fainting. (Olivia McWain)

“When I brought him there, everything was clean. All the dogs were taken care of. Every dog had food and water, shelter, and were groomed,” Kolich said. “He showed me the specific training barn. Almost everything was completely new and updated.”

A few weeks later, when Kolich was scheduled to pick up Benny, Mathew Cox, the owner of the kennel, rescheduled for the next day because Benny had allegedly not received a vaccine he needed. The next day, however, Benny was nowhere to be found.

“He called me and said [Benny] was in one of the kennels outside and got through a fence and escaped,” Kolich said. “He told me he didn’t know this until eight in the morning when he called me and went outside.”

Cox refused to show Kolich any footage from security cameras that would have explained how Benny possibly escaped. The only proof she received was photos of a gap in the fence, which she believes is too small for the dog to fit through.

“As soon as his story stopped adding up, he offered to pay a $2,500 reward if someone found him immediately,” she said. “That was the first thing he said when I got to the kennel.”

Cox could not be reached for comment.

Kolich spent days searching and handing out flyers to no avail. In July, when Kolich took the case to court, she won a civil lawsuit by default because Cox did not appear in court. Despite this win, there were still no answers, and nothing could fill the void left by Benny.

“I don’t think I’ve gone a day without crying since it happened,” Kolich said. “Not only did I lose a service dog. I lost him, which was like my best friend. He provided a huge sense of security and comfort in my environment, and not having that was a very big change that I’m still not really accustomed to.”

The consequences of losing a service dog are dire, says Pet Pawsable service dog trainer Rebekah Undersander.

“That relationship is everything,” Undersander said. “You’ve built this bond, and become reliant on this service dog. It’d be like losing a wheelchair. A lot of wheelchair users have custom chairs that are thousands of dollars that they can’t just replace right away. And that’s really the situation with a service dog, it’s not something you can typically just go out and buy.”

While she may never know what exactly happened to Benny, Kolich has adopted a new service dog, another golden retriever named Dill. Although it isn’t the same, Kolich said, Dill is helping her return to a sense of normalcy.

“He just loves people and just wants to make everyone happy. He’s gotten me out of my apartment because I’m outside walking him, training him and just working with him every day,” she said. “Having Dill has provided that sense of responsibility in my life again.”

Olivia McWain is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].