For over a month I have been following the story of Vivi, a champion Whippet that managed to escape and run away while being loaded onto a Delta airliner following the Westminster dog show. (Click here to search Google for news items) We had temperatures in the single digits shortly after. Temperatures are now warmer. There have been sightings of Vivi in Flushing, New York. At least people say it was Vivi, and scent dogs concurred. But they have yet to actually capture her.

The following is from an email that was forwarded to me. It is the inside scoop on what originally happened with Vivi:

The following is from Bo Bengtson, Vivi’s breeder.
He has asked to have it forwarded to as many dog lists as possible. Permission to forward to all lists where permitted.


Following is an update on the search for Vivi, the Whippet who was lost at JFK Airport on Wednesday morning, Feb. 15. As of Saturday evening there is still no confirmed sighting, but the search continues with assistance from the Port Authority, Animal Control and many concerned helpers.

Since much incorrect and contradictory information has circulated over the internet and in the media we want to establish the actual sequence of events. I am sorry this is so long but for my peace of mind want to get it all on record.

Vivi’s owner Jil Walton and her sister checked Vivi in at the Delta terminal at JFK approx. 9:45 AM on Wednesday morning. She was travelling in her usual crate in which she has flown many times before; it has a security bar across the gate (which I find difficult to open even under normal circumstances). As all who know her are aware, Vivi is totally unfazed by flying and loves her crate. As far as is known nothing extraordinary occurred during the check-in. Vivi was wearing a dark brown/black woollen coat and a broad collar with Jil’s phone number.

When Jil and her sister boarded the plane they saw the crate being loaded. They then noticed a baggage handler peering into the crate as if he were looking for something; a few minutes later the stewardess came up to Jil and told her the crate was empty. Jil and Jamie immediately disembarked and were told that Vivi had escaped from her crate at some point between check-in and departure. No one appeared to know exactly what had happened.

(We do not believe that any airline employee would deliberately open the crate door, and even if they did Vivi most likely would stay in her crate. I am personally convinced that the crate must have been dropped hard enough for the gate to open and for Vivi to be startled enough to get out. We will most likely never find out what happened. The crate has been returned and appears undamaged except for the broken spring lock.)

Vivi was spotted on the runway by Port Authority officials, who tried to catch her. She was obviously disoriented and took off at top speed, followed by several Port Authority vehicles. At one point they managed to corner her, and the officer who approached her ! (in the correct manner, kneeling down and talking to her) said she was obviously panicked and only responded by escaping him. She was last seen getting through the barbed wire fence which separates the airport from the marsh and open water. This would have been any time after check-in but prior to Jil being informed that Vivi was lost.

When Paul and I arrived, after having received a phone call on our way to the airport approx. 3:00 PM, the airport authorities had already escorted Jil and Jamie on a search around the entire airport, with special emphasis on the area where she was last seen. They were joined on different locations by several other Port Authority vehicles and helicopters. The airport consists of 4900 acres of almost completely flat land with only two small areas of dense brush and trees. Our fear is that Vivi in her panic got too far out into the water to get back; a Port Authority official searched the marsh in a wetsuit without finding anything.

Searches of the areas immediately outside the airport during the afternoon and evening proved fruitless. We had good help from Animal Control officials, friends and the media, who broadcast the disappearance and Vivi’s photograph more widely than we could ever have hoped for. The following day Jil, Jamie, Paul and I – in different groups – were all given permission to search the airport, accompanied by Port Authority officials. We found no new tracks in the snow, which by then was already melting: the weather fortunately has been exceptionally mild for New York in February this week. Several other vehicles and helicopters were also searching.

A large number of dog lovers and friends, some in groups, helped by searching the areas around the airport an! d passin g out flyers. By this time the media coverage had been so extensive that almost everyone we talked to was aware of the lost Whippet. We gave as many interviews as possible in the hope that someone might recognize Vivi if they saw her.

One brief hope on Friday morning was a report that Vivi had been sighted at 2:00 AM close to a construction site outside the airport. Since no later sightings have confirmed the first one we believe it must either be discounted (dozens of other “reported sightings” turned out to be the wrong dog; Animal Control gets around 700 calls per day), or that Vivi is hiding in the residential area nearby, perhaps in a garage or a shed. I spoke to the woman who reported the sighting and she gave a good description of Vivi, but by this time her photo had appeared in most of the NY newspapers and on TV.

Paul and Honi Reisman once again gained access to the airport, with special attention to the areas where Vivi might be hiding, all of which are highly restricted and normally off limits to anyone except police and specific airport employees. Traps have been set up in different areas, inside the airport by the Port Authority and outside by Animal Control. I accompanied a local journalist for several hours cruising the streets where Vivi may have been sighted and asked road crews, gas station attendants and people with dogs if they had seen her. Everyone knew about Vivi but none had seen her.

With Paul staying behind, I left late Friday and got back to California at 2:00 AM to take care of my dogs and try to deal with some work, as well as several hundred emails, faxes and phone messages from concerned dog lovers. Paul, together with Honi Reisman, who is providing invaluable support, ! have been given permission to search the cargo hangars which are the most likely areas Vivi might be hiding. Several psychics who have offered their assistance agree that she is hiding behind what seems to be cargo, that she is safe but very afraid. There are approx. 150 of these cargo hangars, many of them abandoned, but all of them heated, and most with openings which would make it easy for Vivi to get in and out. She can hide there for a long time. There is no shortage of water but we hope she will soon get hungry enough to let herself be spotted and eventually caught.

One very promising fact is that the airport radar spotted a solid body moving across the runways towards the cargo hangars during the night. A Port Authority vehice was investigating within minutes but did not find anything. This appears to support our hope that Vivi may be hiding in the cargo hangars, however.

We want everyone to know that the search in spite of reports to the contrary continues unabated, both via helicopter and patrolled cars. (The perimeter of the airport, included 21 miles of waterfront, is circumnavigated non-stop every few minutes 24 hours every day of the year.) The Port Authorities have been exceptionally helpful, granting unique access for us to search the airport: this is not easily given, and never to more than two persons at one time. Since 9/11 airport security has tightened a lot, and although we wish that admittance could be given for Search and Rescue teams, other whippets or even horses (since Vivi spends most days in a horse barn), we have to realize that this will not be granted for security reasons. The Search and Rescue dogs were also called off since the lack of tracks in the water which covers ! most of the airport would make their job impossible.

I am hoping to get back to New York early next week, depending on the developments. This is a hellish situation which I don’t want anyone to ever have to experience. My only comforts have been my dogs and the wonderful support we have been given by everyone, both friends and unknow dog lovers.

On behalf of Vivi’s owners, Jil and Paul, I want to thank all of you for your help and kindness in these trying days. Vivi is lucky to have so many people who care for her. I hope somehow that she can feel it, wheverever she is. We are still hoping that there will be a happy ending and will keep you informed as far as possible. I will try to get back to everyone who has written personally when I can, but that will take some time.

I hope the above makes sense. My mind is not functioning really well right now.

Again, thank you.
Bo Bengtson