Champion show dog "Vivi" remains missing since escaping from her cage at Kennedy Airport more than a year ago, on February 15th, 2006, just a day after she won an Award of Merit at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. Her owners, Paul Lepiane and Jil Walton, of Claremont, California are deeply saddened, but have not given up hope that she will return to them, while a dedicated group of Queens searchers has continued their quest to find her.
There is a theory that the dog, which previously spent most of her time at the horse ranch where Jil works, couldn't have survived for all these months in the concrete jungle of Queens. However, there have been cases where dogs have gone missing only to turn up many months or years later, so the faithful hold out hope that Vivi is still alive, that her natural instincts have kicked in and that she is surviving on her own, finding scraps of food and hunting small animals in order to sustain herself.
A group of local residents sympathetic to Vivi's predicament has taken on the responsibility of keeping her story fresh in people's minds while they continue to search for her. They spend their time distributing and posting flyers, following up on leads, calling veterinarians and shelters, and updating her owners and members of the press as to their progress. They call themselves "Team Vivi" and they are organized by Bonnie Folz of Howard Beach.
Early on, calls to the toll-free hotline 877-JFK-VIVI placed Vivi in Flushing, Fresh Meadows, and other neighborhoods in northern Queens. Since mid-June, callers have indicated that she may be alive and well and making her temporary home in our area. Efforts have concentrated around Forest Park and nearby cemeteries. The most recent sighting in this area was on February 5th.
Whippets are very fast runners, and the breed's sleek physique distinguishes them from more common dog varieties. Additionally, Vivi's color pattern separates her from other members of the whippet family. She is white with asymmetrical brown "brindle" patches on each of her sides, along her right front leg and shoulder, on her ears and behind her eyes. These features make her more easily identifiable when spotted. When she was put in her transportation crate at the airport, Vivi was wearing a black leather buckle collar, although subsequent sightings have mentioned that she either wasn't wearing a collar, or that she had a piece of rope looped around her neck which probably had served as a makeshift leash crafted by someone who might have found her.
Vivi is a 4-year old champion show dog, and has not been spayed for purposes of breeding. Therefore, she may have whelped a litter of puppies during the time that she has been missing. One hypothesis is that she stayed in one area for an extended period of time because she returned to her puppies after venturing out to find food for herself. Forest Park may have been the location, and since it is vast and much of it is an actual forest, it would be possible for Vivi and her puppies to remain undetected for awhile. Cemeteries are also spots where they may potentially be hiding, and our area certainly has an abundance of those.
If you should see Vivi, please immediately call 1-877-JFK-VIVI [1-877-535-8484]. It is of utmost importance that she NOT be chased.
Jil, her co-owner, says, "We have been for months trying to get her to become comfortable in an area and just hear of sightings, not of people chasing her to catch her." She cautions, "When she is chased, she immediately leaves the area and is gone again."
"Losing Vivi after "nearly" catching her will make it even more difficult to instill confidence in her again," says Bonnie, her chief searcher. "She has most likely been chased by more people than we know who grabbed for her in misguided attempts to catch her."
It is quote possible that Vivi has been found and adopted by someone who either is not aware of her plight or is afraid to turn her in out of fear of being scorned. Therefore, Team Vivi has now adopted a "no questions asked" policy and anyone calling in to the hotline will not be asked how they obtained information regarding Vivi's whereabouts.
Team Vivi continues to organize search parties and educate the public. Others have donated time and money to the search. Some volunteer measures taken in the past have included: having her scent followed by tracking dogs, setting up feeding stations and cameras and having samples of animal waste tested against Vivi's DNA, which is on file with the American Kennel Club. So far, only the tracking has had a definitive result, but new innovative methods of tracking her down are being proposed and tested regularly. It is also important to note that while looking for Vivi, her team has come across other strays which they rescued and found new homes for.
"I've lost count of how many animals have been rescued during the search for Vivi," Bonnie says. "It seems so bittersweet that because of Vivi being lost, so many have been saved."
Back in California, Jil and Paul have gotten married, and are preparing to move to Montana with their new puppy, a 5-month-old Jack Russell terrier mix named Lucy Brown, who would love to meet her long-lost sister.
The words, "C'est La Vie" comprise part of Vivi's stage name. Thankfully, it seems that most people do not harbor this attitude toward her heartbreaking story. It is important for us to remember that Vivi may still be out there, possibly now with offspring, and that we are not yet done with winter. JPCA encourages all readers to be on the lookout for this poor lost creature and immediately call the hotline if you think you may have seen her. This dog deserves to find her way back home, and her owners deserve to have their beloved pet returned to them.
To join Team Vivi, write to Bonnie Folz at Pawsativebf@aol.com, or call her at (917) 626-1374.
For the latest news on Vivi, visit the web log of Newsday author Denise Flaim at www.newsday.com/animalhouse.
If you see Vivi:
IMMEDIATELY CALL 1-877-JFK-VIVI with the location / cross streets of where she is. If you have a camera / cell phone camera, take a picture of her. Please do not take your eyes off of which direction she goes. If possible, follow her from a distance. Team Vivi Volunteers will be at the location within minutes to assist in the rescue.
1. If you are driving, do not get out of a car close to her, don't slam the car door and don't call her. You will only frighten her further.
2. If possible, sit down on the ground, eat something (noisily!), share with her if she gets close, and drop some food on the ground. Talk to her gently and casually, as if you see her every day and don't care that much about her. Don't even look at her. If she lets you, pet her gently but do not try to grab her. She is much faster than you are and cannot be caught until she wants to.
3. You should not have a big or noisy dog with you. If you have a calm whippet or small dog on a leash and Vivi is nearby, make a big show of feeding your dog. Nothing makes her hungrier than seeing another dog eat.
4. Do not walk directly toward her; avoid eye contact; act casual but friendly. Not until you can quietly put a strong leash with a choke collar around her neck should you try to do so, and don't even do that if you are not experienced enough to deal with a dog that might easily panic.
5. In a best case scenario, quietly close a door or gate (a tall one, she can probably jump 6 feet if necessary) behind her. If not, just making non-threatening contact is a huge step forward, and establish a place where she can be fed.
6. The most important thing right now is that Vivi should not feel chased or "hunted" so she doesn't feel like you're moving into her comfort area.
7. If you catch Vivi, put her in a car or safe room ASAP. Make sure nobody accidentally opens a door. Be calm and quiet, don't scare her and CALL 1-877-JFK-VIVI (877) 535-8484, or (917) 626-1374, or (516) 776-0923 – IMMEDIATELY!