LOST in New York: One small dog. No identification. What are the odds?
Naysayers and cynics beware, this is a story about a black and tan 27-pound mutt named Zoey, who was lost, and about a family’s unrelenting efforts to find her — a pre-hurricane tale about hope that defies logic — and about, yes, the kindness of strangers.
“We were never alone,” said Dr. Diana B. Kirschner, an intern at Mount Sinai Hospital, who, with her family and friends, spent seven wild days and nights on a frantic odyssey through East Harlem, Washington Heights and other Manhattan neighborhoods in search of her dog.
“Total strangers,” said Dr. Kirschner, who adopted Zoey five months ago, after seeing her picture on a Web site for abandoned dogs. “They would see me crying and come up to me and ask how they could help.”
It all began early on a balmy Sunday morning last month, when Dr. Kirschner’s 70-year-old father, Marc Kirschner, took Zoey out to Central Park, where they jogged up to the Harlem Meer together to watch the ducks. They were about to head home when two smaller dogs approached and Zoey, in her excitement, slipped out of her collar and playfully started to run. Mr. Kirschner gave chase but could not keep up.
“I’m screaming for help,” Mr. Kirschner recalled, as Zoey left the park at West 110th Street and began dodging cars in the street. Mr. Kirschner flagged down a taxi but soon lost sight of the dog, at West 115th Street and Lenox Avenue. With no identification, no money and no cellphone, Mr. Kirschner borrowed the taxi driver’s phone to call home to break the news to his wife and their daughter.
“I told them to jump into cabs,” recalled Mr. Kirschner, explaining that the initial idea was for each of them to take a taxi to try to find her, an approach they soon realized would never work.
Instead, the three returned to Park Avenue, where they decided that the best strategy would be to post fliers within a one-mile radius of where Zoey was last seen and hope that someone would spot her. Mr. Kirschner’s son, Philip, designed a flier that included two small photographs of Zoey, a brief description and a message: “Lost Dog-Zoey $5000 REWARD,” “family is devastated.” They made 1,000 copies.
|Dr. Diana B. Kirschner and her parents posted fliers offering a $5,000 reward for the return of her lost dog, Zoey.|
By now it was time for Dr. Kirschner to report for work at the emergency room, which she did, while her parents, her brother and her boyfriend, Nicholas Schwartzstein, set off for the streets of East Harlem to post their mountain of fliers on every lamppost and in every storefront they could.
On Monday, the day after Zoey vanished, the Kirschners received a call from Capt. Jessica E. Corey of the Central Park Police Precinct, who told them that on the morning Zoey disappeared someone had called 911 at 8 a.m. to report a black dog limping along the West Side Highway near the George Washington Bridge. Could it be Zoey? Initially elated, the Kirschners studied a map and concluded that the distance between East Harlem and the bridge would have been impossible for the dog to traverse in just an hour.
Nevertheless, they decided to expand the search, lugging sacks of fliers to the upper reaches of Manhattan’s West Side.
Their mission took them to Fort Tryon Park, Morningside Park and the neighborhoods of Inwood and Washington Heights, through vast boulevards, playgrounds, and dog runs. Still there were no leads. Calls came in, but they were mostly from New Yorkers they had met along the way, hoping for news.
Then a boy who sounded about 13 called, saying that he had seen the dog in the park but that it had run away. When Nancy Fisher, Dr. Kirschner’s mother, asked to talk to his father, the boy hung up. Had he really seen Zoey, or was it a prank call? A man who said he lived in Brooklyn called and said that he had Zoey in his backyard, but that he would not give any further information to the Kirschners unless they could identify the numbers on her collar. Zoey did not have a collar.
A man got in touch by e-mail through Craigslist, saying “hey I know where your dog is ...>same exact dog!!” He claimed that the dog had been found by his daughter’s neighbor “around a train station in Harlem” and that he could “take the dog away without her knowing.” Skeptical, Dr. Kirschner requested further details. The man wrote again: “I can get your dog back,” he said, “but I would like to remain anonymous.” He explained that he could not send a photograph because he did not want to create “suspicion.” When he called and told the family to wire him the reward money, the Kirschners realized that they were being scammed and stopped answering.
Days passed. The temperature dropped. There was heavy rain. The Kirschners spent hours inspecting the long rows of cages at the city’s animal shelters, calling veterinary hospitals, speaking repeatedly with Stray From the Heart, the agency from which Dr. Kirschner had adopted Zoey, which finds homes for dogs that have been abandoned in Puerto Rico. It was Saturday, and almost a week had passed. Dr. Kirschner was supposed to attend a wedding in Texas, but she stayed in New York to continue her search. That night, after talking to a trainer who had worked with Zoey and who urged her not to give up, she printed another 1,000 fliers.
Early the following morning, exactly one week after Zoey went missing, she headed back to East Harlem with her parents. It was just after 9 a. m. when her mother’s cellphone rang. Dr. Kirschner answered.
“I think I have your dog,” said a woman with a thick Russian accent. Dr. Kirschner asked the woman to send a photograph to her cellphone. She did.
It was Zoey.
The Kirschners raced in a taxi to the address they had been given on the telephone, a white brick building in Washington Heights. As they left the cab, a man with a baby stroller yelled to them from across the street: “Hey, I’ve got your dog.” But the man was clutching a 100-pound Siberian husky. It was someone else’s lost dog. Mr. Kirschner remained behind on the street to help as his wife and daughter raced upstairs to find Zoey.
Elena Blank and Julia Grossman, both originally from Moscow, had been walking their own small black dog in Fort Washington Park near the George Washington Bridge that morning when they noticed another small black dog in the distance. It was limping and did not seem to belong to anyone. Earlier in the week, they had noticed a flier about Zoey and Ms. Grossman said she had wondered “why someone who had lost their dog in Central Park would advertise all the way up here.” The lone dog headed in their direction and came to a stop. As Ms. Blank reached down to stroke its head, the dog buried its nose in her knees. She took her own dog’s leash, attached it to the stray and, plucking one of the many fliers posted on lampposts along Fort Washington Avenue, proceeded home.
Zoey suffered a broken pelvis on her odyssey — the Kirschners will never know how, or whether the limping dog first spotted a week ago had really been Zoey, or whether the boy who called had really seen her in the park. They just know they have their dog back.
“This is like a Woody Allen movie,” Ms. Grossman said, adding that she and Ms. Blank had not realized that they would receive a reward. “People from different cultures. Brought together by a dog and our love of animals. It is a beautiful experience. New York at its best.”