NEW YORK - They have brought in scent-tracking hounds, offered a $5,000 reward, handed out fliers around New York, brought in a pet detective, checked out tips from psychics, even analyzed a pile of dog droppings for clues.
But so far, the owners of Vivi, a show dog that bolted from her crate at Kennedy Airport on Feb. 15 after competing at the Westminster Kennel Club show, have yet to track down their beloved whippet.
Vivi’s co-owner Paul Lepiane remains optimistic that the dog can still be found, saying the search team is hot on her trail.
“We’ve never been this close,” said Lepiane, who on Wednesday received a call that Vivi was spotted in a park in Queens — one of several recent sightings in the area.
The plight of the purebred from sunny Southern California lost in rough-and-tumble New York City in the middle of winter has captured the attention of people around the country. Vivi is valued at $15,000 to $20,000 and won an award at Westminster.
“People feel nationwide that they’re involved,” said Karin Goin, a pet detective who joined the case from Oklahoma. “People who have never met Vivi, never been in New York City.”
Well over 100 people have helped look for Vivi, Lepiane said. And a weekend party at a hotel nightclub raised $8,000 for the search. Advice and offers have poured in — including tips from 30 psychics, some of which the search team pursued.
“We were trying everything,” Lepiane said, adding that he was happy the psychics believed Vivi was alive.
Whippets can sprint up to 40 mph and can be more nomadic than other dogs, making the search more difficult, Lepiane said. He said his biggest worry is that someone will chase her and she will get scared and dart into big-city traffic.
Goin, who is trained as a private investigator and search-and-rescue dog handler, traveled to New York last week with two tracking dogs. The dogs picked up Vivi’s scent at the airport, suggesting she was still in the area, and the search team set out as bait hot dogs surrounded by sand that would show Vivi’s footprints.
Then, over the weekend, the efforts moved north of the airport when a caller led the team to Flushing and the dogs traced the scent to a garage containing open bags of dog food, Goin said.
The team assembled objects that would be familiar to Vivi — a towel that had been in her mother’s crate, a shirt worn by one of her owners, her water dish — and put them in the garage in hopes they would attract the dog.
Lepiane then spent Sunday night camped out at the garage and Monday night at a Queens apartment building where another caller claimed to have seen Vivi.
“We’ve had so many sightings, and then I go there, and she’s moved on,” said Lepiane.
At one point in the search, dog droppings consistent with those of the whippet were found behind an airport cargo building.
Lepiane went home to California on Tuesday night but said he would catch a flight back to the city at the first word that Vivi was caught.
"We are all sad," said one volunteer. "We are committed to find this dog. Everybody wants to be the one that finds her."
In addition, more than a dozen psychics have been enlisted to find Vivi. Their leads have been helpful to the investigation, according to Vivi's owner, who is in touch with the psychics every hour.