his 1906 classic, “The Call of the Wild,” the Oakland-born writer Jack London
tells the story of Buck, a remarkable dog that is stolen from California’s
Santa Clara Valley and repeatedly abused until an outdoorsman named John
Thornton rescues him and nurses him back to health.
If London were living in Eagle Rock or Highland Park today, he might have written a novel based on the true story of a missing dog and an aging man who rescues him, showers him with love and devotion, only to lose him in circumstances bordering the tragic.
The story would begin on a balmy night this past spring—April 5, to be precise. Here’s a synopsis:
An adorable Finnish Spitz—a relatively rare breed that resembles the Pomeranian—jumps out of a car being refueled at the Chevron gas station at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and North Figueroa Street, according to a detailed Examiner.com article. The owner of the dog, whose name is Firby, is unaware of what has happened and drives away.
By the time the dog’s owner, an Orange County resident and rollerblading enthusiast named Sean Cullen, returns to the gas station hours later there’s no sign of Firby. According to the Examiner article, Cullen would learn days later that a guard at the gas station did rescue a dog that matched Firby’s description but gave it to a woman after she allegedly claimed the pooch was hers. (Gas station attendant Freddy Villaasana tells Patch, however, that it was the security guard who voluntarily gave the rescued dog to the woman after nobody came to claim it.)
The good news for Cullen is that the guard is able to identify the woman from the gas station’s video surveillance footage. The bad news: Nobody knows who she is or where she lives.
Cullen posts an ad on Craigslit, accusing the woman of stealing his dog. He also puts up posters all over Highland Park, displaying an image of the woman and promising a $5,000 reward to anyone who can provide information about her.
About 10 days or two weeks later, Firby is spotted roaming on a sidewalk on the 5900 block of North Figueroa Street in Highland Park. The dog has no collar or tags. A concerned passerby asks patrons at the U.S. Post Office branch in the vicinity if the dog belongs to any of them. Nobody comes forward.
As luck would have it, there’s a birds store called The Birdman next to the post office. The passerby tells its owner, Edmundo Arellano, about the lost dog and asks if he would be willing to give the pooch refuge. Arellano agrees.
A couple of days later, one of Arellano’s longstanding customers, an 82-year-old Eagle Rock resident named Daniel Tomlinson, comes to the store to buy some feed for his pet birds. Tomlinson tells Arellano that he’s been a bit upset lately because he had to put down one of his two dogs—an old and infirm German Shepherd.
“Do you want a dog?” Arellano asks Tomlinson, showing him Firby and narrating the background to the lost pooch’s discovery outside his store. Although Firby looks scrawny and dirty, Tomlinson, who has kept dogs for the past 40 years, happily takes him to his Toland Way home.
The Tomlinsons name their newfound pet "Bear." They take him to a vet and get him vaccinated. They get him groomed. They feed him. They love him.
Four months later, Tomlinson goes to the M Shop on Eagle Rock Boulevard for some business. There, his eyes happen to fall on the front page of the Boulevard Sentinel, dated Aug. 2, which has a photograph of a dog resembling Bear and, next to it, a story titled, “Lost and Found Animal Companions.” The sub-heading reads: “Lost Dog, $5,000 Cash Reward, Pomeranian, White/Tan, Collar/Tag say ‘Firby.’” (See attached image.)
Tomlinson returns home and tells his wife about the Boulevard Sentinel article. Then he calls his son, who lives in Glendora and is also named Daniel, and says: “I picked up a newspaper from Joe’s at the M Shop and I think that Bear might be a lost dog whose family is looking for him.” He adds: “I’m not sure, but the article does say that the missing dog loves tennis balls.”
Tomlinson’s son offers to look into the matter and asks his father to send him a recent photograph of the rescued dog. The following morning, Tomlinson emails a photo of Bear to his son, who shows it to his Web-savvy wife Natalie.
Within hours, Natalie is not only able to confirm that Bear really is Firby, but she finds Cullen’s mobile phone number over the Internet and establishes contact with him.
“He was sobbing on the phone,” says Natalie, referring to Cullen’s reaction when he heard that Firby had been found. “Natalie, you’re such an angel,” Cullen says to her in a text message, according to Natalie. “You have literally saved mine and my family’s lives.”
Two days later, on Sunday, Aug. 11, Cullen is reunited with Firby at Tomlinson’s Toland Way home. “Firby was crying and jumping,” recalls Natalie. (See attached video.)
There’s just one problem. Daniel Tomlinson, who has nursed and loved Firby for four months and has suffered two heart attacks, is clearly sad to part with his “Bear.” So is his wife.
Cullen tells the couple not to worry, according to Natalie. In his text-message exchange with her earlier, Cullen evidently wrote: “I got another dog, who is same breed as Firby and tried to give him to my girls but they don’t want him. He’s really cute, perhaps you in-laws would like this dog? And if your father-in-law is attached to Firby, like I said, we can share him and leave him there half the time.”
The Tomlinsons never heard from Cullen again. Of his own accord, he had also promised to give the $5,000 reward to them, according to Natalie. “My father-in-law didn’t want the money—all he wanted was to be able to see Bear every once in a while,” she says.
There’s more to the story. In a strange twist, Natalie had lost two of her own dogs while she was away on a sea cruise with her husband in 2011 and her in-laws were taking care of the pets. The dogs escaped from the in-laws Toland Way house and, despite Natalie’s extensive efforts to find them, have remained missing.
“Well, I think perhaps the good karma you will receive by helping us get Firby will get you your dog[s] back,” Cullen texted Natalie before being reunited with Firby. “I have a print shop and will make some giant black-and-white posters of your dogs face [sic]. I think 200 posters put all over the area will get them back.”
The Tomlinsons have lost all hope of ever hearing from Cullen again.
Sean Cullen refused to be interviewed for this article but communicated the following to Patch via text message when asked why he had failed to make good on his $5,000 reward offer for Firby:
"The people who had him almost killed him and I do not believe their story the slightest. The whole thing enfuriates [sic] me beyond belief and my family is still torn to pieces from this and may never recover back to normal. I spent over 5k in the process of finding him and this is also something I have not recovered ... so the option of paying his captors the reward money disappeared about a month after his capture at which time I STOPPED POSTING THE REWARD completely and tore down all signs with the reward that were still up!! He can barely breathe right now and our family is not in a presentable state at the moment. I'm very sorry were [sic] not able to make a good story for you at this time. Perhaps in a couple of weeks things may be back to normal and I can set up a photo shoot and interview for you to come in and meet w my little girls, they are absolutely adorable and the reunion will make for a great story."
When asked who he is accusing of almost killing Firby, Cullen wrote:
"Look, I am very grateful they had the heart to finally decide to return our son. But it surely would have saved our family all the resources we had, and a whole lot of heartache that pretty much tore us apart had he been returned sooner. So as far as helping to give his former captors praise publicity for returning him, I'm not very into that ... it's not in anyone's best interest to speak poorly and negatively about an 85 yr old man and his wife. Our family is from a place far away and far different from 'Highland Park' and where we are from there is a certain set of morale [sic] in which people follow that would prevent anyone from being able to just keep a family's missing dog. I don't understand that mentality in the slightest and I never will."
A message under a photograph of Firby posted on Cullen's Instagram account reads as follows in response to a question about where he found his dog:
"The daughter in law of the old man who had him finally squealed." (See photo.)