Quick Thinking, Generosity, and Heroism

By Catherine Hua and Anna Levine

Just before Christmas, a stranger stole a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in front of a Washington Heights grocery store. Enter Tena Cohen, a Spanish teacher at Tech.

Cohen is responsible for rescuing the dog and reuniting it with its owner, seven year old Mia Bendrat. Reuniting a dog and owner is not out of character for Cohen, given that both of her dogs are rescues. Following her actions in saving the dog, Cohen was interviewed by several newscasters; the entire story, however, has not yet been divulged. Cohen recounts the details of incident:

Q: Can you say in your own words what exactly happened?

It was Christmas Eve and I was on my way to the markets and I saw a man selling a dog. He was saying “Dog for sale! Dog for sale!” It looked like it was not his dog. So, I asked him how much he wanted for the dog. He said it was his friend’s dog and his friend was inside Staples making a sign advertising the dog.

I only had 100 dollars on me and he said “Well my friend’s not going to take that.” I was very upset so I said, “I’ll go look for your friend in Staples.” I could not find the guy, in the meantime I met a really nice cashier and I told her I need to get more cash to buy a [stolen] dog. She was upset as well since she had four dogs. She was very kind and let me purchase three small items and then gave me forty dollars cash back each time. I ended up with another 120 dollars.

Meanwhile, somebody else called the police because they saw what was going on and I went outside again. I didn’t know if they knew the police were coming. I said to the man, “I now have 220 dollars,” and he showed me his friend, the guy who you see on the videos stealing the dog. I offered him the 220 dollars, but he did not want to take it. I told him if he did not take it I would not buy the dog because I wanted to take him to the vet, which was closing soon. So he sold me the dog.

Then I took the dog to the vet and found that the microchip in the dog did not have the dog’s name registered. The fact of the matter was we could not find out to whom the dog belonged. The only thing that showed up was the name of the vet who had installed the chip. But that was in Missouri and was closed already because it was Christmas Eve.

The veterinarians all stayed late to give him a bath and shots and to try to figure out who he belonged to; everybody was helpful. The dog had to spend the night there because we could not find the information. When I went home I called Cavalier Rescue which is a rescue organization that deals with the King Charles Spaniels. They were fabulous, the woman Tonya texted me ten times on Christmas Eve to try to figure out what we were going to do with this dog. One of the volunteers at Cavalier Rescue found the article in theNew York Post about the stolen dog; they were the ones who contacted the post. It wasn’t because of the microchip, it was because they contacted the post, contacted the reporter, and got the owners name so that the next day, my vet was able to speak to the owner and identify the chip number; they had to read the numbers from the papers to make sure it was really their dog.

On Christmas day, I got a phone call around 1 p.m. from a news reporter; they said they wanted to interview me. It grew into a very big thing. They made me out as a hero, but honestly, there was the cashier, Crystal, who got me the cash, my vet, Dr. Khulman, and everyone else that stayed late on Christmas Eve. And then the people from the rescue organization, like Tonya and Carolyne did all the investigation and found out who the owners were.

Q: What made you feel that something was not right with the dog and the supposed owner?

They didn’t match. And who would sell their dog on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve? The dog was petrified and was shaking. The guy didn’t even seem connected to the dog.

Q: Were you afraid to approach the man selling the dog? Did you think twice?

I was not afraid to approach the first man. But when the couple in Staples called the police, and we knew that they were on their way, I was afraid to go buy the dog. If the police were there the man would get angry, so that was when I became nervous.

Q: How did you know how to handle the situation?

I have rescued many dogs. I rescued my own dogs; like my little dog, who I rescued in New Orleans in front of my house. If the dog has any kind of skin disease that can be contagious or a virus, the first thing you always do is get the dog to the vet and have him look at the dog and do any vaccination. Or give the dog a bath, in this case. The vet said that the little King Charles Spaniel had some skin issues, so they gave him a medicated bath.

Q: How did you feel when you saw your name in the newspaper as well as on TV?

It was very shocking for me. I am pretty shy, except in my classroom, when I am very corny. The day after Christmas, I got a phone calling at 7:30 in the morning from the producer of Inside Edition. They said, “We’d like to send a car for you in forty minutes to do an interview.”
“What? Have you called the right number?” And later on that day I received a call from ABC who said “We’re going to send a car for you, we’re going to interview you and do a reunion with you, Mia, and her mother Angie in Central Park”. That time they sent a Lincoln Town Car with two sunroofs: the most elegant car ride I ever had.

Despite many people acknowledging her as a hero, the humble Tena Cohen points out that she was not the only one involved in the rescue. It was the collaborative efforts of her and a few other samaritans that resulted in Mia Bendrat’s reunion with her dog in time for the holidays.

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