July 13, 2017 at 10:55 am PDT | by Brenda Aréchiga
What I lost when my best friend Garbanzo went missing

Garbanzo, mascot of West Hollywood’s The London Hotel, who welcomed guests for years until his retirement recently, is missing. (Photo courtesy The London Hotel)

I had already gone dark on the news.

Protections for transgender students to use bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity had been rescinded. Our country had been withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord.  A healthcare bill that would simultaneously defund Planned Parenthood and deny millions of Americans access to quality medical care was being secretly crafted in the senate. The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot African-American, Philando Castile in a routine traffic stop was acquitted. A 19-year old high school student and Ecuadorian immigrant was taken into custody by ICE hours before his prom. In every headline and news teaser there was an unmistakable absence of compassion and humanity.

Even Anderson Cooper, who I could always rely on for perspective and wit was losing his cool with political commentators he invited on his show.  I knew then it was time to get myself off the news grid.

Unfortunately, adjusting the settings on all of my devices couldn’t protect me from receiving the worst news imaginable.

Garbanzo, my 12 ½ year old English Bulldog Godson had gone missing from his home in the hills that overlook the Sunset Strip.  I immediately jumped in my car and rushed to his home to assist his DogDad and DogMom in their neighborhood search for him.

At every turn of my routine commute to Garbanzo’s home from my apartment west of the 405 freeway, I expected a text beep alerting me that he found been safe. By the time I reached the iconic 9200 Sunset Building, the last milestone before turning up the hill to his home, I was nauseated and I could feel the blood of panic coursing through my veins.

Garbanzo came into my life five years ago when I was hired by his family to care for him and his Bulldog siblings.  It didn’t take long for me to fall madly in love with his soulful eyes and his gentle nature.  A spry seven years old when we met, I quickly discovered that Garbanzo preferred the cafes, shops and restaurants of our city’s trendiest streets to the trails, oceans and parks that make Los Angeles unique.

My face always hurt from smiling as he sat up tall and alert, craning his neck to take in the view outside the back passenger window of my Prius.

Garbanzo on duty at The London Hotel in West Hollywood. (Photo courtesy Brenda Aréchiga)

It all made perfect sense since as a young man, Garbanzo had been the mascot of The London Hotel where he earned $25 an hour as an appearance fee at the hotel’s evening events.  This role had made him a local Los Angeles celebrity and he reveled in the attention of an excited stranger who knew his name.

At 12 ½, Garbanzo had grown sedentary. Even with the help of the pet cannabis he had been taking for about a month, he could still only comfortably walk a quarter of a block. It seemed impossible that he could have gone far and yet he was nowhere to be found.

I suppressed my hysteria as I wandered his hilltop street calling his name into the night. The view of the sparkling city which from his house which had once seemed so magical, suddenly seemed like a nightmare — a mysterious constellation to which Garbanzo had been inexplicably transported.

This wasn’t just any dog. This was my best friend whose eyes brightened when he saw me, smiled at me when we snuggled up in bed and lulled me into sleep with his snoring when the grief from my own dog dying left me sleepless for days.

The next morning, Garbanzo’s family and I channeled our fear into a tactical search and rescue operation. We made flyers, neon posters and created ads online. Given the state of our country and the world, it was difficult to believe that anybody in a big city, especially one as competitive as Los Angeles, would care about our missing dog.

It turns out my fellow Angelenos did.

It started with the Kinko’s Fed-Ex employee who let me slip into the store to print hundreds of flyers as he was literally closing the door of for the night.  Early the following day, when I was a sweaty, emotional and rambling mess posting flyers and stopping people on the street, they stopped to listen. Whether they were walking their dogs, on their way to get a coffee or hurriedly on their way to work, they gave me a minute.

Garbanzo is still missing.

In some cases, people averted their eyes when they saw me peddling my flyers, but it only took a quick glance of Garbanzo’s face on the flyer to bring out their “higher self” and they stopped to hear me out.  Some took pictures of my flyer and posted it to their social media accounts. Others shared inspirational stories of recovering their own lost dogs.

One surreal night canvassing a neighborhood with a well intentioned but overwhelming volunteer, a Millenial on her way out for the night gave me a much needed comforting hug. Another lonely day when the sun was blasting and I thought I might lose my mind, a Gen-Xer like myself, who had taken my cell phone number the day before, sent me a simple text reminding me, “People are good.”

Despite my fatigue and despair, the world around me transformed.  It is suddenly full of kindness, compassion and understanding. There is no division or cynicism. Online and in real life, I am surrounded by the positive thoughts, prayers and love of people from all over the city, the country and the world.

Garbanzo is still missing and every day is a vigil. Many people have asked me how his family and I are managing to get through each day.  This question makes me smile because like the angelic dogs we love so much, we have learned to live life in the present. When the agony becomes too much we make the decision to choose hope, accept kindness and find joy in the simplest of things.

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