The Miami Herald

Posted on Sun, Dec. 18, 2005

MIAMI SHORES

Couple's search for missing dog has happy end

A couple went to extraordinary lengths to find a beloved lost pet, spending thousands on pet detectives, specialists and a $5,000 reward.

BY DAN ROBLEE

When Pico, a tiny teacup Yorkshire terrier, wandered out through his Miami Shores owners' open gate the afternoon of Dec. 2, it began a long, painful and costly search that finally ended with the dog's recovery Thursday.

By the time owners Alex Fernandez and Vivien Qui?ones got Pico back from a pair of Barry University students who, according to Fernandez, said they found him malnourished and hounded by vicious children on the university's campus Tuesday, they had already spent about $10,000 trying to get the word out about their pet.

When the two men, who asked to remain anonymous, were able to meet with the couple on Thursday, Fernandez happily forked over the majority of the promised $5,000 reward. He planned to pay the remainder Friday, he said -- the daily limit on his ATM card was about $3,500.

''One of the guys said the money is going to pay his next month's tuition,'' Fernandez said. ``One is from Peru; he said he's going to send some of it back to his family.''

Because of an eyewitness who said he had seen the dog picked up by someone in a van and the dog's value, Fernandez and Qui?ones quickly began to feel Pico was stolen.

According to nationally known pet detective Melody Pugh, who coordinated the couple's search from her home in Washington state, teacup Yorkies can sell for as much as $600, even without official pedigree papers.

Fernandez says Pico came home without his collar and partly shaved, and he thinks the dog might have passed through many hands, all unaware of his reward value, before being rescued by the students.

''A dog like that, 2 pounds, just can't fend for itself for 11 days,'' he said. ``It just doesn't have any body fat. The full story, I don't think we'll ever know.''

Fernandez admitted that some mistakes he and Qui?ones made might have prevented an earlier homecoming.

The couple had moved to the Shores just a few weeks before Pico's disappearance and had yet to update his tags.

The phone number listed on the tags had been disconnected, with no forwarding message.

But after the disappearance, they did everything possible to redeem the oversight.

Fernandez, a former executive who had been searching for a company to buy, put that search on hold to devote himself full-time to finding the couple's dog. After a few days spent rollerblading the area asking neighbors whether they had seen Pico and distributing homemade fliers, the pair sought some high-level help.

For 48 hours, pet detective (C). Washingttun, hired from Georgia, drove his van -- turned into a moving billboard -- to busy intersections and highway ramps, contacting as many people as possible on the theory that people who might not call would stop to talk to him in person. He found no leads.

Pugh, signed on to coordinate a more systematic search, helped get more than 25,000 glossy fliers distributed in the area, and 25,000 more had been ordered before Pico was found. She helped coordinate a targeted mailing campaign to send fliers to businesses. Fernandez and Qui?ones hired a telemarketing service that used a reverse directory to call thousands of homes and even signed on a public relations firm.

Pugh even put the couple in touch with Annette Betcher, a well-known psychic animal communicator.

The couple also used traditional approaches such as buying newspaper ads, checking in daily with pet rescue shelters, posting Pico on pet rescue websites such as petrescuemiami.com and petfinders.com and alerting postal carriers to the reward.

Before hearing from the students, Fernandez said he received several calls, but none turned up solid leads, and at least one was an extortion attempt. He said it was getting harder and harder to keep hope alive, but he refused to give up.

''His loyalty, unconditional love and constant affection inspired me,'' Fernandez said.

And now, Pico's back, ''nervous, not as relaxed, not as trusting,'' Fernandez said Thursday night, ``but he's been coming around over the last few hours.''

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