Phil Luciano: How does a monster dog go missing?

Phil Luciano

Matt Martin lost part of his thumb, but he is more upset about losing his dog.

In an unfortunate series of events, the slicing of Martin's hand triggered the disappearance of Cleatus, his beloved Great Dane. That's prompted a puzzler around these parts: How does a 170-pound monster dog just vanish?

Readers have been asking me that question for the past few weeks, ever since a classified started running seeking info about Cleatus. Owner Martin is just as stumped - and sad - as he was on Feb. 23, the last day he saw the pooch.

"He was a big member of the family," Martin says.

Martin, 38, lives in rural Washington, Ill., on a big spread. He shares his home with two Great Danes, including 10-year-old Abby. Five years ago, he bred Abby, who had 11 pups. Only one survived: Cleatus.

The black-and-white dog has a distinguishing feature: an enormous head.

"It's two times bigger than his mom's," Martin says.

Not that Martin means any disparagement of his four-legged pal.

"He's a really good-looking guy," Martin says, totally serious.

Further, Cleatus has other ... um, unique qualities.

"I really think he's a touch retarded," Martin says with a chuckle. "He's really smart, but he's really dumb. He trips over his own feet. But he knows his name real well."

Plus, he is a funster.

"Cleatus is a great guy to hang out with," Martin says. "He even enjoys watching 'Animal Planet.'"

And he enjoys the company of other critters, too.

"His only girlfriend was a mini-horse named Lil," Martin says. "But he has no clue about the birds and the bees."

Cleatus and mom Abby go through about 25 pounds of dog food a week. They're house dogs, yet very respectful of Martin's place.

"I consider my house to be a dog house," he says.

Typically, when they have to go out, Martin just lets them roam his big yard. They have no microchips, and Cleatus no longer wears a collar, because it bothers him. But they never failed to return home.

Until Feb. 23.

That afternoon, Martin was working in his shed. Martin, a former carpenter, now makes a living as a self-employed ceramics artist. As the dogs romped in the yard, Martin wielded a power saw.

ZIP. SLASH. In an instant, Martin had sliced off a third of a thumb.

He dashed to his car and zoomed to a prompt-care center. He figured his dogs would be fine, as long as he hurried back.

"I didn't even bring the missing piece of thumb," Martin says. "I don't have any insurance. I just had them patch it up."

But when he returned, though Abby had stayed home, Cleatus was nowhere to be seen. Martin figures Cleatus went looking for him.

"Cleatus is usually attached to my hip," Martin says. "I believe that Cleatus was determined to find me."

Martin searched the area, but saw no sign of the dog. He contacted his daughter, Stephanie Martin, 18, who that day and the next contacted 40 police departments, animal shelters and other agencies. But none had fielded any reports of a Great Dane sighting.

That's remarkable. The dog is massive. Cleatus would have a hard time hiding.

Matt Martin suspects someone made off with the dog, likely to breed.

"He's a dude," Martin says. "He's cool. He's really unique looking."

One police dispatcher said likewise to Stephanie Martin: "A dog like that, not being neutered, could make you a lot of money."

True. But, in a short period of time, a renegade breeder would have to not only identify Cleatus as breedable, but also capture and hide the pet. That's some fast handiwork.

Regardless, there have been very few calls about Cleatus. The latest, on Tuesday, came from a woman who saw what looked to be a Great Dane loose on Wisconsin Avenue in Peoria. But it apparently had vanished quickly. Still, Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter is aware of Cleatus, and officers are keeping their eyes open.

Meanwhile, the hunt goes on. One woman - heretofore unknown to the family - called Stephanie Martin and pledged to make patrols of the area as long as Cleatus remains unaccounted for.

"It was just so upsetting to her," Stephanie Martin says.

Matt Martin still waits for calls about his dog: (309) 657-1198 or (309) 251-1222. Not only does he miss his buddy, but he is worried for Cleatus' well-being.

"He needs some special care," Martin says.

Cleatus has just one lung, which causes him to cough often. The only treatment is copious amounts of water, up to four gallons at a time.

Further, Cleatus has dry skin. Thus, he has special dietary needs.

"You have to put olive oil on his food," Martin says.

Plus, Martin is worried for Cleatus' mother, Abby.

"She's pretty devastated," Martin says. "She never has been away from the guy.

"Momma's heart is broken. She has lost 20 pounds in two weeks. She isn't eating much."

Martin feels just as bad. He doesn't even care that he failed to seek reattachment surgery for his thumb.

"I can still bend it," he says meekly.

He has just one regret: that he bothered with medical treatment at all.

"It wasn't worth it," he says. "I lost my dog."

Phil Luciano can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com or (309) 686-3155.