November 2009

Doggone It

Finding his pooch is the best moment of one man’s really bad vacation


chihuahua, best story Tony Ferreira

It was close to the most devastating thing to happen to a vacationing pet owner. Tony Ferreira—Barneys in Bev­erly Hills’ personal shopper, the guy who can always find the perfect little black dress—had just arrived in Atlanta, the first stop of his summer vacation, when he got a call from the sitter he had hired to care for his three dogs. Pearl the Chihuahua was MIA.

Pearl had been placed in a crate for her ride to the park, the sitter said, but what proved to be the right call for safety proved a wrong one for Pearl’s nerves. When the crate was opened on arrival at Laurel Canyon Park, Pearl slipped through her collar and took off as if shot out of a cannon. The sitter spent hours combing the neighborhood, but other than a gardener who said he saw a Chihuahua running along Mulholland, there was no sign of her.

Tony heard no words except “Pearl,” “lost” and “Mulholland.” Most L.A. pet owners can relate to his thoughts—the most frightening were of coyotes, followed by snakes, tarantulas and hawks. Not to mention images of the traffic on the twisting road. A dog as small as Pearl wouldn’t stand a chance even if hit by someone on a bicycle.

Should Tony get on a plane back to L.A., knowing it could be a trip made in vain? Should he stay put and hope? The dog sitter was searching the canyon, and it was possible Pearl would be found. Plus, this trip back east had been booked—and paid for—months in advance. It took only a minute to decide: Logic and budget lost out to what can only be described as parental instinct.

While Tony booked his ticket back home, his friend Gant Griffis, who had made the trip with him, called his sister in Atlanta to download a photo of Pearl off an iPhone and create a lost-dog poster. They emailed that to the dog sitter back in L.A., who took it to Kinko’s. Within an hour, posters with Pearl’s picture were tacked onto trees all around Laurel Canyon Park.

It was after midnight when Tony’s plane made its descent into L.A. It had been a grueling trip made worse because he was seated next to a woman who felt compelled to share how her husband had left her and their two kids for the woman in charge of their investments. As Tony listened to her life story, he was sending a silent mantra to Pearl: Go back to the park.

Which is exactly where Tony headed the minute he landed. More than 15 hours had passed since Pearl’s disappearance. When he arrived, it was literally a dark and scary night. Hearing a coyote howling up in the canyon, he parked the car, leaving the headlights on, and walked around calling for Pearl. Nothing. Hard not to think of the odds. Pearl, a dog so small she could fit in a coat pocket, was up against the wild kingdom lurking in the canyons.

Still, Tony yelled her name. And then, like an apparition, a terrified Pearl ran out from where she was hiding, jumped up on Tony’s shoulder and immediately fell asleep.

With the drama resolved, Tony prepared to resume his vacation. He was conflicted but left Pearl with the same dog sitter, because he was confident that after what had just happened, she would be super careful. In fact, Tony was certain the dog sitter wouldn’t take her eyes off his little Pearl. And, really, it wasn’t her fault. But Pearl was no longer to be put into a crate, as it obviously threw her into a panic.

He returned to Atlanta for a few days, before he and Gant headed north to Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and then on to Cape Cod for what was to be summertime fun with friends. What happened instead included a freak accident between a car Tony was driving and a telephone pole, which resulted in a third-degree burn on Tony’s wrist and a broken rib for Gant. Then shortly after leaving the emergency room, they received word that Gant’s grandfather had died unexpectedly.

Then a cold snap hit the Northeast, bringing gray skies, rain and temps so low warmer clothes had to be bought and Z-Paks consumed for the colds they’d caught. All this was in addition to the usual headaches of travel: airport delays and exhaustion.

Days later, I ran into Tony at Barneys. The burn on his hand was still nasty, but he was happy—Pearl was safe. “The miracle in the dog park,” I joked, but then I realized it was true. Sometimes real life has a Disney ending. Tony was not planning a vacation to recover from the one that got away—but it’s easy to see Pearl becoming a bicoastal Chihuahua.