In the summer of 1965, a female Dalmatian was stolen from a farm in Pennsylvania. Her story changed America.
Miller returned to Easton Wednesday morning, as promised, with money to pay his fines and a larger vehicle. The shelter turned him away—the new truck had no air vents in the back, and he hadn't yet provided any documentation for the animals.
At 9:15 that evening, Miller showed up at the shelter once more—in a third, still-larger truck, a bundle of receipts in hand. The staff at the shelter went over the sales slips and, having stalled as long as they could, reluctantly turned over the cargo. Months later, Frank McMahon of the Humane Society would tell Congress that the receipts may have been forged.
The next day, the Allentown Morning Call ran a story about the episode, under the headline "18 Dogs, 2 Goats Seized; Ownership Proof Sought." By that point, though, Pepper was back on the road.
Peter Lakavage knew his wife was frantic, but there was only so much he could do from a hospital bed in Allentown. Sometime in late June, Peter had suffered a heart attack, one of several he would have over the next few years. (The final, fatal blow came in 1969.) On the morning of Friday, July 2, Peter flipped open a copy of the Morning Call in his hospital room and saw an article following up on the previous day's story: "20 Animals Resume Their Trip." Among the dogs listed in the article were two purebred, female Dalmatians. Peter climbed out of bed and called his wife.
Julia dialed the Easton shelter as soon as she got the news. One of the impounded Dalmatians had been 8 months old, the shelter's proprietor told her, and the other was an adult. Julia could try to identify Pepper from the photographs taken Tuesday night, but those weren't due back from the developer until later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the county SPCA had already gotten in touch with animal activists in Washington, D.C., and in upstate New York, where Miller said he was taking the dogs.
Within the hour, Julia had her grandson Michael and daughter Star in the back seat of the Ford Fairlane and Carol in the front, and they set off on the 130-mile drive to High Falls, N.Y. Star remembers stopping at pay phones along the way so her mom could arrange meetings in New York and make sure there was someone to cover her nursing shift at Good Shepherd.
The family arrived that afternoon at an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Ulster County. Star remembers the well-appointed houses and manicured gardens: "Here we were, this little family from god-awful nowhere on some farm," she says, "and these people from really nice homes were talking to my mom. … I thought, 'Holy cow, we're just looking for our dog—we just want to know what happened to our dog.' " Having conferred with members of the local humane groups, Julia drove out in search of the Nersesian farm.
At 2 that afternoon, she arrived with her children at the New York State Police station on the highway near Kerhonkson. Julia described her search for Pepper and asked for help. Would the troopers please come up to the farm on Clove Valley Road?