Search Goes On For Missing Whippet From 2006

Pet detectives brought in, calls being pursued, but still no sign of Vivi

By Sandy Robins

updated 10:11 a.m. PT, Mon., Feb. 12, 2007


It’s a year since Vivi, the champion whippet, escaped her crate at JFK Airport after the Westminster Dog Show, and what happened to her still remains a mystery.

The dog was ready to be flown back to California when she was discovered missing, and despite tracking dogs picking up her scent and hundreds of phone calls reporting sightings, she has never been seen since.

Her escape captured attention around the country as pet detectives, psychics and hundreds of dog-loving volunteers rallied and converged on the airport and the surrounding areas, spending hours in the bitter cold trying to track her down.

A hotline (1-877-JFK-VIVI) was set up and is still operational and even now, the Team Vivi volunteers diligently follow up every call.

“There have been cases where lost pets were recovered several years later, so there’s always hope,” said pet detective Kat Albrecht of Missing Pet Partnership. “Vivi is microchipped, which definitely increases the likelihood of her still being recovered.”

Albrecht is setting up the country’s first Lost Pet Cold Case Squad, whereby volunteer pet detectives will routinely check local shelters in the hope of locating pets that have been missing for months, even years.

Within hours of her disappearing last Feb. 15, search-and-rescue dogs picked up her scent at the airport and followed the trail to Flushing, about 15 miles away.

In the months that have followed, concerned pet lovers also called in to say the dog was seen in Whitestone and College Point. Other calls came in from East New York, Brooklyn and Long Island. Some even phoned in exact locations such as the dog run in Forest Park and sightings at a construction site near South Conduit and 145th Avenue in Queens.

“The temperament of a pet is one of the biggest influences regarding what distance it’s likely to travel,” Albrecht said. “When they’re scared, they are likely to bolt and can run for miles from the original location. Other influential factors include the weather, the terrain and the population density of the area.

“Many people automatically assume that when a pet is lost, it will exhibit the same behavior patterns that it displays in the comfort of its home. But out of familiar territory, pets go into survival mode, avoiding contact with people, hiding during the day and moving around looking for food at night.”

Taking these factors in account, volunteers from Team Vivi set up cameras to monitor known feeding stations but so far to no avail.

“A year later I’ve still seen snippets in newspapers that she’s been spotted. But frankly I think these claims are right up there with sightings of UFOs and aliens,” said Steve Leonard, Director of Marketing at the Hotel Pennsylvania, the hotel where more than half the canine contestants stay during the Westminster Show. “Vivi is becoming the subject of urban legends.”

“Of course the possibility does exist that she was picked up by someone passing through the area and physically taken to a different location,” Albrecht said. “And yes, despite the huge media coverage of the dog’s disappearance, there are people who don’t watch the news on TV or read newspapers and the likelihood of someone like this finding the dog and adopting her as a pet does exist.”

According to officials at the Westminster Kennel Club, Vivi’s co-owners Paul Lepiane and Jil Walton of Claremont, Calif., have not entered a dog in this year’s competition.

However, Vivi’s breeder, Bo Bengston of Ojai, Calif., will be there again.

To date, dog lovers have been distributed more than 50,000 flyers in the hope of someone reporting in a positive lead. Website and message boards are still humming with people questioning and hoping that the dog will be recovered.

On a positive note, volunteers involved in the search have put a plan into action urging airlines to change the way they handle animals in their care by requesting they to upgrade to more stringent security measures.


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