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Vivi's fate still unknown as Westminster resumes

NEW YORK -- 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.

Oh, the tips keep 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.


"No money will change hands and it's purely for entertainment," John Avello, director of race and sports book operations at the Wynn Las Vegas, told msnbc.com. "But people are going to have a lot of fun with it, because it is without doubt America's premier dog sporting event and has a huge following."

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."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.