Flying to New York this time of year is difficult for Bo Bengtson.
"Coming in, I get that deja vu feeling," said Bengtson, the breeder of a whippet named Vivi, whose disappearance at Kennedy Airport four years ago pulled at heartstrings across the country. "How cold and desolate, how tough it must have been for her."
But at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, those who remembered her and rallied to her cause said she left a powerful legacy: a national network of people who mobilize to find missing dogs.
"She became the poster child of lost dogs," said Honi Reisman, 57, of Baldwin, who coordinated the search for Vivi with Bonnie Folz, 44, of Howard Beach. "It made people more aware of what to do, how to look for lost dogs, how to travel with their dogs."
Champion Bohem C'est la Vie, as Vivi was formally known, disappeared from her crate en route to a Delta Air Lines flight on Feb. 15, 2006. The search team scoured cargo areas and the surrounding neighborhoods and marshland. The white-and-brown whippet sparked sightings in Flushing, Whitestone and College Point, some of which were confirmed by pet-detection tracking dogs. But while a committed group of local volunteers rescued more than 60 animals, they never found Vivi.
Now Team Vivi offers training on what to do when a pet goes missing and uses an e-mail list of hundreds of people across the country to help. Their first piece of advice: Don't bother driving around calling out your dog's name.
"The only thing that finds lost dogs is fliers," Reisman said.
Fliers should have a photo, a phone number for a phone that you carry with you always, and the cross streets where the dog went missing, she said.
The Vivi network reaches out to owners who post lost dog notices on Craigslist, Folz said. Volunteers help by faxing the information to veterinarians' offices, police departments, taxi companies, FedEx drivers and animal shelters.
Bengtson, of Ojai, Calif., attended the dog show Tuesday as a spectator, standing with an arm around Reisman's shoulders as he watched the Irish setter competition. Next year, he hopes to compete with Vivi's grandson - if he can bring himself to put the dog on a plane. Viggo, aka Champion Counterpoint Painted by Bohem, looks like his grandmother, Bengtson said, but his temperament couldn't be more different.
"Vivi was a tough cookie," he said, but Viggo "is a goofball."