Alex Berg with Tesla, the dog whose disappearance caused hundreds of strangers… (HO, Los Angeles Times )
Alex Berg was visiting his hometown in Connecticut when he got word that Tesla had made a break for it, loose on the streets of L.A.
So he did what any dog owner might. He emailed friends, posted the bad news on Facebook and tweeted out a picture of the fluffy white poodle mix. Help me find Tesla, he pleaded.
By the time Berg got back to Silver Lake, it felt like the entire city was in on the hunt. More than 100 people — many of whom had never met Tesla — had volunteered to search for the dog. Singer Ryan Adams and actor Jerry Ferrara retweeted the lost-dog message. A Twitter hashtag — #findTesla — sprang up.
Strangers combed the streets for Tesla, pursuing leads that he'd been seen outside a 7-Eleven or wandering along Hillhurst Avenue. A group that billed itself as the "dawn guard" pulled early morning search shifts.
"I've got a dog back in Chicago, and I know how it would feel if she was lost," said John Roiniotis, 29, a background investigator who lives in the Miracle Mile area.
Roiniotis drove the streets of Los Feliz for several days last week, tracked his progress on an app on his phone, then sent a map of the area he'd covered to Berg.
Berg's apartment became ground zero for all things related to finding Tesla. Friends hooked up a computer to a large television, so Tesla-related tweets could be plotted and organized. A Google map was created, so volunteers searching for the dog wouldn't overlap.
Some volunteers cooked bacon and stashed it in their purses in hopes that it might draw Tesla out as they prowled the streets in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.
One day a searcher found a white dog, but it proved to be a false alarm. "Snow" was reunited with his family on New Year's Day. Two other dogs were likewise returned to their owners with the help of an animal rescue nonprofit called the Bill Foundation.
Mandy Marxen, who lives in a rural town of 4,000 in North Carolina, followed the search for days on Twitter.
"It's nice to know that even though you're across the country and probably leading very different lives ... one thing we can all relate to is the love of our pets," said Marxen, who lives in North Wilkesboro.
Late Friday, though, the search finally ended. The dog had been found. Dead.
But many of those who participated in the hunt said they were touched that outright strangers would help.
Tamar Stevens, an actress who met Berg once from his work at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles, said she was inspired by people's actions. She too had spent hours looking for Tesla.
"It doesn't just feel like Alex's dog, it feels like our dog," she said.
In Tesla's memory, Stevens and some friends plan to plant a tree in Israel in the dog's name.
Drew DiFonzo Marks, a friend of Berg, said the effort was something he'd expect in a small town, not a place as vast as Los Angeles.
"It's so sad, but the effect of it is so heartwarming," he said. "Tesla kind of becomes a symbol for something better now."