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Manatee man helps lost guide dog find way home to blind owner

MANATEE -- Bill Ward has a way with wayward animals.

That must be why a guide dog that needed help finding its way home Sunday turned to the lifelong Manatee resident.

Ferris -- a black Labrador retriever owned by Ward’s Fair Lane Acres mobile home park neighbor, Paul Styczko -- showed up on Ward’s doorstep after he was accidentally left outside.

Just days earlier, a lost Chihuahua that had eluded the rest of the neighborhood surrendered willingly to Ward, who owns a pair of rescue dogs and is known for taking in strays.

“They seem to show up at my house,” said the 46-year-old Ward, a counselor at Coastal Behavioral Healthcare. “I guess animals have a sense for people who have animals and care about them.

“I have a kind heart for animals.”

After spending several hours Monday morning trying to track down the dog’s owner, Ward reunited Ferris and Styczko, a 56-year-old Salem, Mass., resident who has been blind for 30 years.

Styczko is visiting for the holidays. He and his wife have vacationed in Manatee for 15 years and plan to retire here, he said.

Styczko, a mental health and substance abuse counselor in Boston, relies on Ferris to navigate his daily 25-mile commute from Salem.

“I was very nervous about what might happen,” Styczko said. “He’s a good-looking dog, and I was afraid someone might take him. ... He’s a terrific animal. He’s a part of my life.”

Ferris carried tags with telephone numbers for the guide dog organization he came from, but Ward couldn’t get his calls answered during the holiday weekend.

Finally, another neighbor saw a Bay News 9 report about Ferris and relayed Styczko’s telephone number to Ward.

“He was super friendly,” Ward said of Ferris. “He eats like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t think he chews. ... I could tell he was well taken care of. I was pretty distraught, thinking his owner may not be able to go out looking for him.”

Styczko said he accidentally shut Ferris out of his mobile home while doing laundry.

Confused, Ferris wandered a block south to Ward’s home.

Ward said he walked Ferris around the neighborhood, looking for his owner. But the pair went south, instead of north, because that’s the direction from which Ferris approached Ward’s home.

Styczko and Ferris were overjoyed to see each other again.

“The man (Ward) was walking him down the street, and when he saw me he got very exuberant and was jumping up and down,” Styczko said.

“As soon as he saw his master, he started pulling at the chain, trying to run to his master,” Ward said.

Styczko later offered Ward a monetary reward for finding the dog.

Ward politely refused, although the two planned to get together for dinner this week and say they’re likely to remain friends because of their shared occupation and affinity for animals.

“I would just hope someone would do that for me if my dog was lost,” Ward said.