Where is Ralph? Dog disappears from boarding facility

PALM CITY, Fla. — Many of you have asked us to look into the case of a missing bulldog on the Treasure Coast.

Missing posters for Ralph the English Bulldog have been posted throughout Martin County and on social media.

In many ways, this case is very different from some of the others we’ve been covering recently.

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office isn’t pursuing charges against Big Max & Friends, and the dog boarder has openly taken accountability for Ralph’s disappearance.

What we did uncover that is similar is more calls for oversight in the dog training and dog boarding industries, while Ralph’s owners are offering a big reward after the dog disappeared from Big Max & Friends Pet Sitting in Palm City.

“I hung up the posters, we made some big posters for him, I knocked on doors, asking neighbors, people were all over it,” said Ralph’s owner, John Mannino. “You don’t just shake it off, your mind doesn’t stop thinking about it, you’re thinking ‘Is he hurt, is he OK?”

Ralph's owner John Mannino June 2024

WPTV

Ralph”s owner John Mannino is having a hard time processing the facility losing his dog and he’s hoping Ralph is found.

Mannino’s search has been going on for almost two months.

He said he boarded his English bulldog at Big Max & Friends Pet Sitting on May 1. The next day, he said he got a call from the boarder that Ralph was gone.

“So I rushed over there, I was there in 10 minutes,” said Mannino. “She showed me the kitchen door, she says, ‘I must have left this door open, somehow he must have got out.”

Despite desperate search efforts, Ralph still hasn’t been found.

“Tears come out, tears come out,” said Mannino. “I’m not a crier and I think I cried more for him than in my life.”

Big Max & Friends, in a statement to WPTV, took full responsibility for Ralph’s disappearance.

“I am extremely heartbroken for Ralph and I want nothing else than for him to be found,” said Big Max’s Pet Sitter, Vicky Corey, in an email to WPTV.

Chris Altier the school director for the National K-9 School for Dog Trainers June 2024.png

WPTV

Chris Altier, the school director for the National K-9 School for Dog Trainers, says Florida has no standards when it comes to dog training, grooming, or boarding.

Corey said she offered to pay a $4,000 reward and put up multiple flyers to help bring Ralph home, which Mannino confirmed.

WPTV’s Kate Hussey looked into the pet sitter’s history but found no history of citations nor negative reviews prior to Ralph’s disappearance.

According to Corey, this was the first time an animal had ever gone missing in the five years Big Max & Friends has been boarding animals.

“I thought my place is 100% secure, I have the highest standards for myself and still Ralph escaped while in my care. I have two feet chicken wire dug in ground when we installed new fence a year ago but he still was able to find a way out. I should have walked around the perimeter at least once a week to make sure it’s still intact but I didn’t. And it’s totally my fault,” wrote Corey to WPTV.

Martin County Animal Control said they found nothing that indicated improper care of animals, and Martin County Sheriff Deputies aren’t pursuing criminal charges.

Ralph was last seen at Big Max & Friends Pet Sitting on May 1 2024.png

WPTV

Ralph was last seen at Big Max & Friends Pet Sitting on May 1, 2024.

In talking to detectives we did discover Big Max didn’t actually have working cameras, which Corey confirmed.

That’s not a violation of dog sitting standards because, we found, Florida has no standards when it comes to dog training, grooming, or boarding.

“We do not see proper standards for care, there isn’t proper vetting, there isn’t proper education in the industry. It’s highly unregulated,” said Chris Altier, the school director for the National K-9 School for Dog Trainers.

Altier, a trainer and boarder with decades of experience, often sees this problem firsthand,

He said without state-set standards, many of the best-intentioned dog boarders and trainers don’t know how to prevent accidents from happening, until it’s too late.

“Business licenses, zoning, location requirements, standards of accommodation, space, staff limits to ratio of dogs you’re caring for, many don’t have insurance or liability,” said Altier. “First aid training, that’s another thing.”

Big Max's Pet Sitter Vicky Corey June 2024.png

WPTV

Big Max’s pet sitter Vicky Corey took responsibility for Ralph’s disappearance.

“Do you think something like that could have prevented what happened to Ralph?” Hussey asked Mannino.

“Absolutely. I’m from New York, I’m a contractor, electrical, and we got to be licensed to ensure we’re responsible,” said Mannino. “Think about it, if my guys are running wires whatever way they want, we’d be burning down houses.”

Hussey asked Altier the same question.

“I think you hit the nail on the head, just in dog training but in standards of care in general is where we’re missing it,” said Altier. “I think we need to have some real serious discussions.”

“I’m not here to bash anybody, I’m not here to throw Big Max & Friends under the bus,” added Mannino. “I just, I feel bad for anybody that that happened too, you don’t know what we went through, what you’re going through, and you can’t shake it off.”

In another statement to us, Corey agreed, and said she felt additional standards in the dog boarding industry could have better protected both Ralph and herself from the situation:

“I do think there should be standards for pet care industry, and not only zoning/evacuation plan etc. but also employees to dogs ratio, fence heights, mandatory check of not only core vaccination but also fecal/flees/tics/heart warm prevention. There should be norms on how many times dogs should be let out in a day to exercise and potty, there should be laws that dog should be housed only in A/C controlled buildings. I also think that in this area pet care providers need to have access to transportation in case of emergency to be able to take dog to emergency vet. All employees should be first aid and dog CPR certified – but none of this would cover human factor, which in my opinion is main reason why accidents happen.”

Corey also said she’s adding multiple additional safeguards to make Big Max safer in the future, including adding higher fences, tracking collars for dogs, building a 3000 square foot indoor area for play time when it’s too hot to play outside, and making all gates double entrance.

Again, Ralph still hasn’t been found. If you see him, you can contact the number on the poster or WPTV at [email protected] or [email protected].


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