As the 8:47 train to New York City pulled into Short Hills Sunday night, the engineer saw the figure of an animal just out of reach of the headlights.
He inched the train forward to get a better look.
“I thought it might be a fox or a coyote,” engineer John Torres recalled. “But as we got closer I could see it was a dog.”
The dog just stood there on the tracks, shaking. Torres sounded the horn but the dog stayed put. After a moment, he radioed Conductor Stephen Pollock to tell him why they were stuck, then Pollock got off the train and walked down the tracks to the dog.
“You could tell she was out of her element,” Pollock said. “She was obviously well cared for. She was someone’s pet, but didn’t have a collar on.”
Pollock briefly thought of leaving her at the station but then thought better of it. He picked her up and carried her on board.
“She was shaking with fear,” Pollock said. “I thought, if I just leave her out here, what’s to keep her from running off or getting hit by a train?”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kennedy Browne was frantically looking for her family’s dog, an 18-month-old French Pointer named Coco who had accidentally been let outside without her collar.
“We figured she chased after a rabbit or something,” she said.
After about an hour of looking around their Short Hills neighborhood, Browne called the Millburn Police Department in the hopes that someone may have reported seeing the dog.
The dispatcher told her the dog had indeed been found and was on her way to New York City.
“I was perplexed at how she could be on the train to New York, but so happy they had found her,” she told Patch. "The NJ Transit dispatcher told me what happened."
The idea that her dog had been found and was having quite the adventure was a big surprise, to say the least.
“My 9-year-old son, Oliver, was worried sick – we all were,” she said. “When I told him she was on the train to New York City, he was thrilled.”
While the family awaited Coco’s return at 10:56 Sunday night, Coco sat obediently on the seat where she’d been told to “stay.”
The crew, including Pollock, Assistant Conductor Brandon Greene and ticket collectors Frank Fewkes and Jonathan Shaw, took turns caring for Coco. They snapped photos of her sitting on her seat on the train, in case they had to post on fliers around town when they returned.
Until getting word that the owner would meet them in Short Hills, the crew had been trying to figure out what to do with the dog after work.
Pollock said he thought about taking her home with him, but probably would not have been able to since he already had to leave his own Airedale, Scaggs, home alone too much. Fewkes offered to take her to a no-kill shelter he knew of. But everyone hoped that would not be necessary.
Needless to say, the novelty of a dog on the train enthralled some of the passengers, Greene said. “They were ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing,’ and some of them offered to take her home, too.”
"She was just too good of a dog not to do something for her," Pollock said.
Coco and her family were happy to be reunited that night and the crew was relieved bring the dog home.
The family says Coco owes her life to the crew of the Midtown Direct of the Morris & Essex line.
“I am forever grateful," Browne said. "They could have just pulled her off the tracks and moved on, but they went the extra distance and made a difference.
“I’ve been riding the rails for 15 years, and I've complained about NJ Transit (even though I know that the delays are not their fault) but after this, I have a greater respect for the work they do,” she said. “I will never forget their kindness in saving Coco’s life.”
This holiday, she said, the Browne family is giving thanks for the crew of the Midtown Direct.
It appeared this week that Coco is too.
While at the station for a photo for Patch, a train pulled in, and Coco started wagging her tail.
“I think she’s ready to go back to New York City,” Browne said.