John Burki, better known as Captain Jay, just wanted to live with his dog and cat aboard his boat, "Promise," in Boca Ciega Bay, at least for now.
But when Tropical Storm Debby beached his boat, she made a dent in his plans.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans," Jay said.
The community even rallied to help the 66-year-old Navy Veteran remove it from Gulfport Beach, but it wasn’t until he became the victim of a random attack, and his pets were left in the care of a friend while Jay was hospitalized, that his 5-year-old American bulldog became the sudden center of community concern.
Several Gulfport residents who claim Capt. Jay's sea-faring lifestyle left Dreamer neglected and absent medical care, moved quickly while he was hospitalized to find another home for the dog.
Concerned Citizens Step in to Help
John Burki, a.k.a., Capt. Jay, left Dreamer and his cat, Cocina, in the care of friend, Seth Meinders, so he could recover at the VA Hospital, after he was assaulted on Gulfport Beach Sunday, July 29.
Trace Taylor, a Gulfport resident and Local Voices blogger, says she and other residents got involved because they're concerned about Dreamer's health and living conditions on the sailboat. Taylor’s concern grew because of a visible skin and eye condition.
Taylor says the boat is no place for a dog, adding that it wasn't clean or kept up. “I have nothing personal against Jay. I just want to save the dog,” she said.
It was on Monday, Aug. 6, Trace Taylor called Capt. Jay, while he was in the hospital, to ask if she could have the dog taken to Gulfport Veterinarian for a checkup.
Although hesitant, he agreed. That’s when Taylor called Dreamer’s temporary caretaker, Seth Meinders, and had two men pick the dog up at his home.
During Dreamer's visit, a fund was set up to help pay for his medical care. To date, more than $300 was donated.
By the following day, Taylor and a group of community members were offering to buy Dreamer.
"The new adoptive family that was lined up was willing to give it a happy, stable, forever home," Taylor said.
A Good Prognosis for Dreamer
Dreamer had a skin infection, also known as a staph infection, and a congenital eye defect, commonly known as a "cherry eye," says Dr. Brook Ohman with Gulfport Veterinarian.
Ohman says they sent the dog home with antibiotics for the staph infection and trifexis, which prevents heartworm disease, kills fleas and prevents infestations and treats and controls intestinal parasites.
Dreamer is also receiving medicated drops for his "cherry eye" and for both ears. Ohman added that although Dreamer's "cherry eye" looks bad, it's not causing him any pain and the condition is common with his breed.
"There's no ill harm to the dog. He can live with that," Ohman said.
Ohman said they can easily remove the "cherry eye" after the staph infection is treated.
Ohman said contact with bacteria likely caused the infection.
Taylor says the dog also had a urinary tract infection, ear infections in both ears and thickening of the dog's rectum.
Officials at Gulfport Veterinarian estimate medical costs to reach $400 for everything: medicine, surgery to remove the "cherry eye" and to neuter Dreamer.
Ohman said overall Dreamer is a well socialized dog. He was described as being in "good body condition," a little dehydrated, but happy.
Authorities Not Concerned Yet
The Gulfport Police Department contacted officials with SPCA Tampa Bay and alerted them of the community's concerns following Dreamer's initial vet appointment.
Jill Purl, Humane Officer with SPCA Tampa Bay, contacted the Gulfport Veterinarian and offered to board the dog. Purl said officials told her they were not concerned and that the dog was staying with a friend of Capt. Jay's. Purl said that was the last she heard from the Gulfport Veterinarian.
When asked about the community's concern for Dreamer, Purl said she would revisit Capt. Jay and Dreamer if people contacted her.
"If the community wants us to follow up, by all means, when he returns, we will," Purl said.
As of Monday afternoon, Purl received at least one formal complaint.
Chief Robert Vincent of the Gulfport Police Department said that if the SPCA felt charges were appropriate or if they were seizing the dog, they would contact local authorities. As of Monday, Vincent had not heard back from anyone with the SPCA.
Vincent explained that the department works with SPCA Tampa Bay concerning complaints about animal abuse or neglect on a regular basis. In any event, if an arrest is made or charges are filed, the animal and any other pets in potential danger will be confiscated.
Capt. Jay Says Dreamer Is His 'Godsend'
Captain Jay took Dreamer home when he was just 7 weeks old.
"He was this big," Jay said as he cupped both hands together.
Burki says Dreamer was born deaf and was raised with hand signals. Since then, he’s been the old man's best friend and companion on his sailboat.
“He is family,” he said.
Jay says Dreamer gets along with everyone and loves attention and playing ball.
He believes people are overreacting to his dog's medical issues and that he was going to take Dreamer to a vet in Pinellas Park before Tropical Storm Debby hit. He also says Dreamer's skin infection is an allergic reaction to food he was not supposed to eat.
He is thankful for all the community help and outreach, but feels people are targeting him on several online forums, including the commenting section of this website.
He turned down citizens' offer to buy Dreamer from him.
He said Dreamer was raised on a boat and understands that not everyone agrees with his lifestyle. He also disputes claims that he rarely brings Dreamer to shore.
“I take him two to three times a week,” Burki said.
"To me, it would be cruel to separate him from the life he knows," he added.
He’s also changed his mind about fixing up his boat. Now he would prefer to sell it and buy a motor home.
“I can still travel, just in a different way,” he said.
Last Wednesday, Captain Jay told Gulfport Patch that he dreamed of getting back in the open water. However, he said, reality is setting in and it’s going to be too difficult to get "Promise" sea ready. He may sell the boat as-is or fix it up a little in an effort to make enough money to buy a motor home.
And once he gets back on his feet, he wants to take Cocina and Dreamer with him.
"He's my companion. He is a godsend to me," he said, while patting Dreamer on the head.
Where is Dreamer Today?
As of Monday, Aug. 13, Capt. Jay told Patch that Dreamer is temporarily living with Seth Meinders in St. Petersburg; however, he is making arrangements for Dreamer to stay with another friend in Gulfport.
Capt. Jay said he signed over temporary ownership of Dreamer last week to Meinders. He feared that the group of citizens or police officers would come and take his dog away without him knowing.