Thursday, November 01, 2007

Post-Dispatch runs story on Mattie

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A year later, couple still searching for lost dog
By Matthew Hathaway

A Michigan couple offering a $25,000 reward for the safe return of their dog haven't given up the search, but they're no closer in tracking down the animal that disappeared nearly a year ago when their car was stolen in University City.

Tom and Alice Matthews, of Grand Rapids, will continue the dog-gone effort when they return to St. Louis on Nov. 25 — the ninth time they've been back since the disappearance of Mattie, a 13-year-old white Lhasa apso-American Eskimo mixture.

"We've slowed down, but we're still getting calls" said Alice Matthews, 53, a surgical technician. "But a lot of the time, people call just to ask if all of this is for real."

Mattie is the family's first and only dog, which was last seen Nov. 7 when the Matthewses' 2001 Buick LeSabre was stolen with Mattie resting in a dog crate in the back seat.

Police found the car two days later in Cape Girardeau, Mo., but there was no sign of a dog. Mattie's traveling crate was found just west of Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Two St. Louis men were charged in the car theft, but they deny any involvement.

The search has proved expensive, even though no one has collected on the reward.

Tom Matthews said he and his wife, who have a grown daughter, spent $2,000 on printing "missing" posters for the inside of hundreds of buses, though an advertising company that handles the Metro account donated the wall space. The couple haven't kept track of some other costs, like copying more than 7,000 fliers and sending hundreds of mailers.

They've used just about all of their vacation time for trips to St. Louis, spending $10,000 or so on gas, meals and hotel stays. Then there are the incidental expenses, like transporting a search dog from Alabama and paying the medical costs for a volunteer bitten by a stray cat snared in a trap intended for Mattie.

"We have no regrets," said Tom Matthews, 54, who works in the accounting department of a Michigan grocery chain. "If we can get him back alive, it will have been worth it. … And I'd have no problem paying the reward."

Probably because of that munificence, the Matthewses have received dozens of tips about Mattie's whereabouts — mostly in and around Jennings, but some as far away as Arkansas and Kansas City.

The couple are getting help from Stray Rescue, the Missouri Humane Society and a hodge-podge of other volunteers, including bounty hunters, so-called animal communicators and a dog behaviorist who tried to lure Mattie using familiar scents.

The couple's top helper here is Carolyn Schaeffer, a teacher with the Special School District. Although she describes herself as "a dog lover," Schaeffer said she volunteers primarily as a gesture of hometown hospitality to right a wrong inflicted on out-of-towners.

"I think I can speak for all the volunteers when I say I was horrified when it happened," said Schaeffer, of Kirkwood. "This dog was part of their family. To think something like this could happen to visitors to St. Louis, well, it's embarrassing."

Schaeffer's telephone number, along with the Matthewses', is listed on many of the reward fliers and ads pasted in buses, shops and veterinary offices around town. She estimates that she received 300 calls last winter and spring, though she now gets only two or three tips each week.

Though Mattie remains missing, a silver lining is that searchers have found more than 50 similar-looking white dogs, all either lost or abandoned. About 40 of the animals have ended up in new homes, while the others have been returned to their owners, Schaeffer said.

The Matthewses and their helpers no longer scour neighborhoods on a hunch. But they do investigate every credible tip they receive over the phone or through their website,

The couple will return to St. Louis to check out a few leads that, at least at an early stage, look promising. The $25,000 reward still stands, though Tom Matthews sometimes worries that people might doubt the offer is for real because the figure is so large.

"But people who own dogs seem to understand," he said. "They don't say we're crazy … or at least not to our faces."

The couple ask that anyone with information call 616-706-6026 or 314-795-2363.

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