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Scott Ostler

The Saga of Yonni Is Certainly No Yawner

August 19, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

It was panic time in the San Fernando Valley last Friday morning when Martina Navratilova went to round up her herd of traveling dogs and found one of them missing.

Yonni the Shiba, no relation to Pliny the Elder, had escaped from the backyard in Sherman Oaks where he was being boarded while his owner played in a tennis tournament at Manhattan Beach.

Martina was beside herself, which, come to think of it, would make a hell of a doubles team.

Where, oh where, had her little dog gone? Dognaping was ruled out, since no ransom note was found, and since an escape tunnel was discovered under the fence.

Perhaps the doggie had defected, seeking political asylum.

After all, this is a dog which, though no doubt treated kindly, has spent most of his life in airplanes, hotels and condos. Yonni's imagination possibly got the best of him when he suddenly found himself weekending in a place he overheard was named Sherman Oaks. With a place named Thousand Oaks just up the road.

Martina acted quickly. With the help of friends, the famed tennis star flooded the area with reward posters. She took advantage of the local TV crews that came to cover her tennis exploits, holding up to the cameras a photo of Yonni and offering a $1,000 reward. By Saturday night, a massive dognet had spread over the Valley.

Martina, obviously, is very attached to her pets. Two of her dogs, and sometimes all four, accompany her to most tournaments. Yonni, being the smallest, often flies in the plane, in Martina's lap.

Now, the poor little pooch was on the loose in a strange and unfriendly world. Who knows but what he would be conscripted by a cruel and sadistic master and sent out to the driveway to fetch the Sunday edition of The Times?

Late Saturday night, a woman in the same neighborhood where the escape had taken place heard scratching at her back door. She opened the door and saw a small dog. Recognizing Yonni's face from a reward poster, the woman returned the dog to Martina.

Now to me, this story is about the real Los Angeles--a place where people care, where a stranger is a friend you have not yet met, where an entire city will work together to find a lost dog.

It's also a city that knows a good story when it sees one. I'm sure by now the Hollywood movie producers are leaping on the Yonni saga like fleas on an ugly dog.

Such drama. Martina not only got her dog back, but went out the next afternoon and beat Chris Evert Lloyd in the tournament final, earning $45,000, which should more than cover the reward.

Lloyd, who didn't lose or find a dog all weekend, did mysteriously lose her serve Sunday. It was not returned, and she suffered eight double faults. It was simply Martina's day.

Now, is this a major motion picture, or has my judgment gone sour? Producers love dogs, powerful women, great athletes, money, and thrilling true stories of potential terror and tragedy. This story has all those elements.

I can see it now. "Yonni, Come Home," starring Madonna as Martina and Slyvester Stallone as the shirtless commander of the local animal shelter's SCOOP team.

Maybe the book should come first. "Dig to Daylight," or "Call of the Wild Dumpster."

Martina herself supplied the basic uplifting theme of the book, movie, rock video or whatever else spins off this incredible tale. Saluting the honesty of the woman who returned Yonni, Martina said, "This restores my faith in humanity."

If this is all it takes to restore one's faith in humanity, I'm going to go out and buy a dog and turn it loose in my neighborhood.

Personally, my faith in humanity would be restored more quickly if someone were to return Bob Tway's watch. Tway is the hot young golfer who won the PGA Championship in dramatic fashion two weekends ago at Toledo.

During the excitement around the 18th green, Tway's golf bag was left unguarded and his watch and wallet escaped. The watch was worth $9,000.

Surely, someone found the watch, which probably is equipped with a little electronic voice that says, "Hello, I'm worth $9,000."

The finder was faced with a moral dilemma. Someone once asked Yogi Berra what he would do if he found a bag with a million dollars in it.

"If the guy was poor, I'd return it to him," Yogi said.

As of Monday afternoon, Tway's valuables were still missing. Wouldn't it be nice if someone brought the stuff back, explaining to Tway:

"It was weird. I had just gone to sleep last night when I heard something ticking on my bedside nightstand. I turned on the light, and there was this watch and wallet."

Now that story would give my faith in human nature a shot in the arm.

The way things are right now, though, if you ever have to choose between losing your dog or losing your $9,000 watch, lose the dog.

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