dognapped! how mattie was kidnapped & held for ransom

fear #22: harm to my dog; fear #23: loss of my dog; fear #24: people
East Village, NYC, August 2002: Less than one year after 9/11, and my world is chaos both inside and out. A seven-year, live-in relationship has ended. Through a friend of a friend, I’m subletting a five-floor walk-up studio for $1,100 in the East Village. It’s me, my cat, my journal, and a case of Rolling Rock. And oh, and my new dog Mattie.
    Mattie: a 17-pound, fluffy black cocka-something I’ve adopted on a whim. A friend had discovered her while loft-hunting in Chinatown. Apparently Mattie’s former owner had left her to the apartment superintendent, but he already owned a rottweiler who ate small dogs for lunch. I find Mattie alone in an empty loft, leashed to a radiator, with a bowl of water on the floor. She clamps onto my leg for dear  life. I never knew you could stroll home with a new dog like a lamp you just picked out from Crate and Barrel. 
    Mattie arrives in shaky health. The vet guesses her to be 3 or 4, never spayed, and she has blood in her urine. She needs to pee constantly. We take countless trips to the vet (and the curb) with no improvement.
    Meanwhile, a girlfriend and I impulsively sign for a two-bedroom rental in Williamsburg. I inform my sublettor that I’ll be leaving at the end of the month. My sublettor and I have no proper lease for my studio—just our signatures scrawled on a torn piece of notebook paper. I promise to pay him the next month’s rent, even though I’ll be gone, so I'll have given him proper 30 days’ notice. He wants the money now, but I won’t have it until payday. 
    The next day the sublettor calls me at work. “I’m in the apartment,” he says. “You need to put the $1,100 check under the door or I’m not letting you in.”
     “You need to leave the apartment or I’m calling with the police,” I tell him. He refuses to leave. I call 911 and two cops meet me on the apartment stoop.
   We climb the five flights of stairs as I explain the situation. I open the door to my apartment. There's a broken picture frame on the floor. He's gone. 
    And so is Mattie.
    I begin sobbing. “He—he took m-m-my dog!” The two policemen listen to me intently, as if I’m the city mayor, not a hysterical chick who’s lost her pup.
    "M'am, this is extortion," they explain, "and it’s against the law. In fact, if he were holding your dog for more than $1,500, it would be a felony. Call him up. Tell him: the money for the dog. One clean exchange, otherwise he'll keep holding your dog for more money."
    Since when is my life an episode of “Law and Order”? My best friend arrives, the only person I know who has $1,100 cash and is level-headed enough to talk to a dognapper. The cops coach him on the phone script and he rings up the sublettor. My sublettor wants to meet at the GNC on the corner of East 14th and 1st Avenue. He’ll bring the dog for the cash.
     The cops prep him for the meeting. “Here’s the cell number,” they say. “We’ll be staking the place out from the Blimpie’s across the street. First sign of trouble, you call.”
    I can only imagine one scenario: Mattie’s dead. This sublettor, this friend of a friend, seemed a normal enough guy--in his thirties, a little nervous maybe, but not a murderer. Now he's suffering from post 9/11 trauma, he's freaking out over the economy, he's practicing taxidermy on my dog. My friend heads out like a knight into the city's dangerous wilds.
    The wait is interminable—long enough to empty a bottle of wine and a box of Kleenex. Finally, the phone rings. “I'm here with Mattie,” my friend says. I sprint downstairs, and my friend steps out of the police car, a bundle of fur, my Mattie, cradled in his arms.
   Back in my apartment, he fills me in:
   “So I go to the GNC store. He’s there but he doesn’t have Mattie. He wants $500 bucks now, and then he’ll get the dog. I tell him the dog for the money, one exchange, just like the cops said. He refuses and walks out the store. Suddenly, these two huge guys in t-shirts and gold chains appear from the vitamin aisle, follow him out the front door, and nab him.
    "‘Mister, you got 30 seconds to stop being a jackass,’ the bigger one says.
    "The two cops from Blimpie’s squeal up in a car. Then I realize: The guys decked out with the bling are undercover cops. The police sent them into the GNC. 
    "They want to handcuff him but I tell them it isn't necessary. They push him into the back seat. ‘You're gonna take us to the dog.’ We drive to the lower east side, where he was keeping Mattie at his girfriend’s place.
    "The cops have all his information. You have up to seven years to file a report.”
    Later that evening, after drying my eyes and assuring myself that Mattie is safe on my lap, I confer with my friend, and we decide to give the rent money to my dognapper. My friend meets him late that night at Starbucks with the cash and a note I’ve written. “I have seven years to press charges,” I tell him. “Please don't ever contact me again.” 
    Mattie gets major surgery soon after: a new holistic vet, whom we still visit today, quickly diagnoses her as having stones in her bladder. He removes two nickel-sized rocks that look like pretty agates you’d find on a beach. She’s about 13 or 14 now and in great health--considering she was abandoned, adopted, kidnapped, and operated on before turning four. 
    It's taken me years, but I've paid back my friend, moved into another studio, signed a real lease, and remain on excellent terms with my landlord. Mattie's innocent regard for me--her eyes misty blue now from age--never suggests her dramatic beginnings. When she isn't napping, she follows me everywhere, wagging the stump of her tail merrily, busy as a bee's wing.