Pups Prep for NYC's Westminster Show; Missing Whippet, Vivi, Still Sought

Bill Cosby's prized Dandie Dinmont terrier will be in the ring, as will a top-winning English springer spaniel. So will a 13-year-old schipperke, along with a vizsla that survived a rattlesnake bite.

There are 2,628 entries in the Westminster Kennel Club show, yet chances are none of them will attract as much attention as the one dog that's missing.

Vivi, come home.

Click here to view photos from this year's show.

Oh, the tips keeping trickling in, a year after the woebegone whippet ran away at Kennedy Airport right after Westminster.

There even was a supposed sighting a few days ago near a picnic area. A bunch of searchers rushed into the frigid night to look for her but before they got there, the dog ran down a path and disappeared.

"If she'd been hit by a car or shot on the tarmac, at least we'd know what happened," said Vivi's owner, Jil Walton. "I know that sounds bad. But not knowing, that's the worst part."

America's top dog event runs all day Monday and Tuesday, featuring 165 breeds and varieties from all over the country. Interest seems to be on the rise — this year, for the first time, odds were posted on the big board of a Las Vegas casino.

Still popular, too, is the missing whippet.

"Everyone wants to know about Vivi," said David Frei, longtime host of USA Network's telecast. Frei plans to talk about her Tuesday when whippets are shown.

Walton will skip this year's event at Madison Square Garden. She delayed her wedding several months while flying back-and-forth from her home in Claremont, Calif.

"It's been a rough year," she said. "She was more than a show dog. She used to sleep in my bed."

Last February, her 3-year-old wisp of whippet won an Award of Merit. The next day, wearing a black sweater and set for a flight back to the West Coast, she broke free from her travel cage, eluded security and bolted down the runway at 25 mph.

And the skinny, little champion formally known as Bohem C'est La Vie was never seen again. At least, not for certain.

A rescue effort immediately combed the cargo bays, restricted areas and almost 5,000 acres at JFK.

In the past year, more than 100 people searched the surrounding marshland, adjacent boroughs and beyond. The city's Animal Care & Control department joined in. A pet detective brought her dogs to track the scent. Cemeteries, parks and 50 other spots were checked.

"She grew up around horses, so we thought she might've been around Aqueduct," said Vivi's breeder, Bo Bengston. "No luck."

A phone hotline was set up (1-877-JFK-VIVI). A $5,000 reward was posted. A charity party raised money to help. Volunteers drove in from the Northeast, others flew in from California and Florida. Animal psychics called to assist — one of them e-mailed last week from Israel.

All that, and no sign that the brown-and-white pet worth nearly $20,000 is alive. No indication that she's not, either.

"It's so sad she hasn't been found," search team coordinator Bonnie Folz said. "In the last year, more than 60 animals have been rescued, including a whippet. It's just too bad we haven't found the one we're looking for."

Folz has shown Pharaoh hounds at Westminster and lives close to the airport. When she heard a dog from California was missing, she jumped in her car and started looking.

"I just imagined if my Glory or my Peanut was lost 1,000 miles away and I didn't know the area," Folz said. "I would hope somebody would help me."

"No, I did not think we'd still be out there a year later looking," she said. "I thought I'd take a run out to the airport, round up the dog and be in bed by 9 p.m."

Resembling a greyhound, whippets aren't built to withstand the cold, so there is a chance Vivi died. Or she may have been found by someone with no idea everyone was looking for her. And there's a chance that somebody aware of her fame decided to keep her.

Like many show dogs, Vivi had a microchip implanted for identification. The chip, however, is not linked to a global positioning satellite for location purposes.

Exactly how Vivi got loose was never resolved.

Walton was sure she secured the cage before checking it with Delta Air Lines. Delta fulfilled its legal liability by paying $2,800 for the loss and also contributed $2,000 to the cost of the search, said Joyce Randazzo, Walton's attorney.

"If you can possibly take your pet on a plane with you, that's the preferred way," Randazzo said. "You'd be avoiding a lot of potential problems."

Walton plans to return to Westminster next year with her sister, possibly to show Vivi's son. In the meantime, she's in the midst of moving to Montana.

"Vivi will have an amazing new spread," she said, "when she decides to come home."

• Click here to view photos from this year's show.