Sunday, August 27, 2006

Another reason to leash your dog

For reason's I can't put my finger on, I feel much more empathy towards little "Henry James" than to his (former) owners. From my observations of the Prospect Park dog owner social scene I suspect that she looked away for a bit more than just "a moment" especially when I read, "I took him off the leash and he went wildly running off in the distance".

Dog lost in Prospect Park may be hostage

By Lilo H. Stainton

The Brooklyn Papers

A missing Jack Russell terrier — who may have been dog-napped — prompted a desperate search of Prospect Park, an outpouring of help from Brooklyn dog lovers and a flood of bizarre telephone calls to the pup’s anxious owners.

Police have even joined the search for Henry James, the terrier who was last seen cavorting in Prospect Park’s Long Meadow shortly before 9 am on Oct. 27. When the dog’s owners received a call 12 hours later from a stranger who wanted $2,000 in exchange for their pet, the owners alerted the 78th Precinct.

“It was his favorite thing in the world,” owner Amy Lawday explained, recalling that last morning in the meadow, where park rules permit dogs to run free from 5 pm until 9 am. “I took him off the leash and he went wildly running off in the distance.”

Lawday said she kept close watch over the 1-year-old dog. But when she turned away for a moment, Henry James disappeared.

With the help of other dog owners and police, Lawday, a Bedford Stuyvesant resident, and her friend, Dian Needham, combed the park on foot and in four-wheeled vehicles.

The search extended beyond the park’s perimeter: one woman printed 500 copies of a flier describing the missing dog, and volunteers plastered the posters on trees and bulletin boards in communities around the park. A friend listed their contact information in the “lost and found” section of the Web site

“It was just absolutely devastating,” Lawday said, adding that she is still shaking. “We just could not believe this was happening.”

But the nightmare had only begun.

At 9 pm, Needham’s phone rang which she and Lawday were driving to a friend’s house in Brooklyn Heights for a “cheer-up” dinner. A man said, “We’ve got Henry,” Lawday recalled.

“I had never been so happy in my life,” Lawday said. But her glee was short-lived.

The caller wanted to know where they lived, but wouldn’t commit to returning the dog. He also said his niece had become very attached to Henry James. “I don’t think she can give him up,” the man said, according to Lawday.

“But it’s our dog,” Lawday told him. “This is family.”

Their desperation mounting, Lawday said they promised the man anything: a new puppy for the niece, even money. The stranger dismissed their suggestion of a $200 “finder’s fee” and demanded $2,000 — that very night. Lawday insisted they meet in a public place.

They decided on a spot for the exchange, a gas station at the corner of Caton and Coney Island avenues, and the caller promised to call again when he left work at 3 am.

When he did phone, Lawday — growing skeptical of the man’s claims — pushed him for a detailed description of Henry James. The man became testy, stalled, and eventually said the dog was elsewhere at the time. He promised to call again, when he got the pet, but Lawday and Needham have not heard from him again.

Deputy Inspector Thomas J. Harris, commanding officer at the 78th Precinct, said the “dog-napping” report was unusual. But police cannot be sure the mystery caller had the dog, he noted. “She’s put up fliers and everything,” Harris said. “And the dog’s collar has her number on it.”

In fact, the “ransom” call was not the only response the couple received in their search. Lawday said they have had dozens of calls and not all of the tipsters have been well-intentioned. The calls highlight “the best and worst of people” she said.

One person phoned to say, “We just had Henry James on the bar-be-que and he was delicious!” Lawday said.

“The hardest thing now,” after the tireless volunteer effort, Lawday said, is that the fliers are coming down and, “the calls are drying up.” And Henry James remains missing.