In a city where no one walks, hundreds of volunteers took to the hilly streets of Silver Lake this past week in search of Tesla, a 25-pound Terrier/Poodle mix, who bolted from her home in search of her owner, Alex Berg, just before New Years Eve. Berg, the artistic director of the L.A. branch of the Upright Citizen's Brigade, one of the top comedy theaters in the city, was in Connecticut for the holidays when Tesla went missing. Upon hearing of her flight, he immediately emailed friends and created a Craigslist post, but it was the hashtag #FindTesla going viral on Twitter that mobilized comedians and dog lovers alike to aid in the search to find Tesla.
“A few friends came up with the #FindTesla idea,” said Berg over email Friday when the search was still ongoing. “Former students of mine who'd met Tess when I'd brought her to class started tweeting about it, then performers at the theater, then total strangers who don't know me or her. Without them, the search for Tesla would probably be me sitting around in my underwear being depressed. Now, underwear-clad depression is just one part of a multi-faceted scheme to get her back.”
Upon returning home, Berg transformed his Silver Lake apartment into #FindTesla Headquarters. Real-time maps were used to document confirmed Tesla sightings and more than 100 local volunteers, many of whom had never met Tesla or Berg, were organized into teams to maximize their ground coverage and potential impact. The word continued to spread as #FindTesla was tweeted out by celebs such as Gillian Jacobs, Rich Eisen, Jeff Garlin, Ryan Adams, Taran Killam and Jerry Ferrara (aka Turtle from Entourage). #FindTesla was even mentioned on radio station KOST, with the Dido song “Thank You” dedicated to their cause.
Annie Hart, Executive Director of the Bill Foundation, an animal rescue non-profit, was one of the many to receive a tweet. “I actually thought this was a bad practical joke because of all the comedians tweeting,” said Hart, when we spoke on the phone Friday. But after verifying Tesla's disappearance, the Bill Foundation and fellow animal rescue Hope for Paws, immediately came on board to help. “It is so inspiring to see all the people who came together to search for Tesla,” enthused Hart. “Alex had the groundwork already built, so we were able to come in and give helpful tips to the amazing group of people already there”.
Hart helped the #FindTesla team use more effective search strategies, taking into account that Tesla was currently in what rescue experts call “flight mode.” “Tesla as she normally is isn't there right now,” explained Hart. “She's not hearing or smelling things as she normally does. She's in survival mode. Even if she saw Alex right now she may not recognize him.”
“Our original strategy involved covering places she'd been sighted with people, dogs and smells familiar to Tesla in hopes of luring her towards us,” explained Annie Lane, a volunteer who found herself heading up #FindTesla HQ during the search. “We were carrying squeaky toys, fresh-cooked bacon and leashes. But from the Bill Foundation we learned not to call her name or attempt to lure her to us. We were instructed that if we see her, to keep her in our sight, to not approach her and to immediately call Berg.”
At Hart's urging, the street team also stopped posting flyers on telephone poles, which get taken down quickly due to an L.A. ordinance, and started handing flyers with photos to store owners as well as UPS, FedEx, and USPS workers whose beats were in areas Tesla had been sighted. “You want to make sure those who are already pounding the pavement in your area are sensitized to the search,” explained Hart.
Unlike a missing person, the statistical chance of finding a dog does not go down by the day. Most dogs stay in flight mode for 14 days, during which they are able to decompress enough to approach people again and even attach to a kind person willing to feed them or take them in. Hart has first-hand experience with this “14-day rule.” Her own 95-pound great dane Arnold jumped the fence while she was away and disappeared. On day 15 he found a family and on day 20 she got a call. “I'm a true believer that this works. I don't think the fact that sightings have been less is a negative sign,” she said early Friday of the waning sightings of Tesla.
Unfortunately, the 527 miles of freeway in Los Angeles make this city a particularly dangerous place for a distressed pet to take to the streets. Tesla's body was found Friday evening on the 110 Freeway. She was recognized by a former student of Berg's and reported to #FindTesla headquarters. Berg drove out with friends to confirm it was her and take her home.
There have been almost a thousand likes and comments on the Bill Foundation's remembrance page for Tesla. The Upright Citizens Brigade theater donated the money from ticket sales of their Sunday night show Sentimental Lady, in which Berg performs, to the Bill Foundation. Berg tweeted Saturday that he hopes others will remember Tesla by donating as well. “Don't let the spirit of #FindTesla die with her,” Berg tweeted “Donate to @billfoundation to help other lost dogs find their way home.”