MANHATTAN – It was 7:20pm tonight when Dr. Autumn Brewer’s mother and I stood in front of a locked door. What we did next would determine whether Stella, the miniature Australian shepherd gone for four days, was alive or dead.
Jeannie tapped on the door.
“Stella?!” she called out with pure desperation in her voice.
“Stella?!” she called out again.
Silence that may have only lasted a few seconds felt like an eternity— each second more painful than the last.
“Stella!,” I shouted and banged on the door.
More painful, deafening silence.
If we did not hear this sweet little dog inside right then— we knew what was on the other side of the door.
“Stella!!” we both shouted and banged on the door.
Then, the most beautiful sound I’ve think I’ve ever heard— a distant and weak bark.
We found her.
Jeannie and I screamed with joy, “She’s alive!”
We hugged with tears in our eyes. After 48 grueling and emotional hours the search was over.
Stella, was still locked on the other side of the door.
For four days Autumn and Jeannie have made desperate pleas to the building management company for surveillance video of the day Stella disappeared— there are three exterior cameras and one lobby camera.
“Please help us— Be a kind human. Do something for humanity,” Jeannie’s words fell on deaf ears at Leads Associates today.
The voice on the other end of an intercom told us everything was under control.
It was not.
We were not defeated though. Sarah, the dog-walker had reached back out to Jeannie and Autumn, looking to help get that surveillance video— no matter what efforts it took.
Slammed with school and work, Sarah went to the NYPD’s 19th precinct to find an officer who would go with her to Leeds and demand the surveillance video.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity as officers went through their shift-change and roll call procedures, Sarah grew more worried.
A short time later Sarah texted Jeannie to let her know she was in a NYPD cruiser, her first ride in one she noted, on her way to Leeds Associates— the management company who coldly told us to go ask the Mayor about crime.
We waited. Nervous, but hopeful. Sarah is only in her early 20’s, but she has confidence and vigor that makes you take notice— she hasn’t been defeated by this world yet, she could conquer this problem.
5:29 pm, Jeannie texts me.
“Sarah and police officer were given a thumb drive by Leads and it’s an exe format,” she explained, “Do you know anyone close by with a windows computer?”
Somehow, in the year 2021, this is still a problem.
Where would we find a windows computer?
Then I remembered— a friend of mine who lives in East Harlem has a cheap windows laptop she bought only for a single remote-learning exam for grad school in January.
That one exam’s ridiculous incompatibility with modern computers prompted my friend to buy the computer that would be the key to unlocking the surveillance video we’ve been waiting for.
I raced down to my car to pick up Jeannie and head to East Harlem.
The skies were darkening when she got in my car and suddenly a downpour.
We were on our way, thumb drive in hand.
We pulled up to my friend’s building and parked.
It was still pouring and we didn’t have umbrellas.
We got out and sprinted to the apartment building door.
I punched in the code and pulled open the door.
We got into the elevator and went to my friend’s apartment— I plugged the stick into the computer and double clicked the icon— we held our breaths.
A screen popped up with multiple video streams showing each of the building’s exterior cameras.
Without any reference we struggled to identify the lockbox location and doors of each building— there are three adjacent entrances to different buildings as part of the same development— it all looks very similar.
The video began at 1:01pm Friday afternoon, minutes later Sarah would arrive, get the keys from the lock which was still by the front door and go inside.
Minutes later she emerged from the building with Stella and took the happy pup for her walk.
We let the video roll. Looking for any shifty face, anyone out of place— a few caught our attention.
We saw the mystery woman with the ‘trash bags’— they seemed to be large shopping bags from the video— she puts them outside, her dog running loose with its leash dragging behind.
We wait as the video keeps playing.
Sarah returns with Stella and sees the mystery woman’s dog run from the building— instinctively she stomps down on the leash, trying to protect the pup from running into the street.
Sarah talks with the mystery woman briefly then squeezes past her to go inside the building— the mystery woman held the door for her.
Minutes pass. The three of us are anxiously watching every detail.
Sarah said there was something wrong with the apartment door, it took her five to seven minutes of jiggling the keys in the lock to get it open.
Finally, Sarah says she got the lock open, put Stella inside inside the apartment, took off her leash and collar so she would be comfortable and left— Sarah thought Autumn’s door had a slam-lock, so she didn’t have to worry about locking it.
Sarah emerges from the building and looks for the lockbox— it’s not where she remembered it was, so she talks to the mystery woman with whom she had that awkward encounter with that left her feeling unnerved.
The video keeps playing for a few minutes with nothing notable happening and then stops.
Leeds Associates, the management company had only given us 28 minutes of video— we needed five hours.
We combed back through the video for clues, then it hit me.
The lock never moved.
We watched over and over— the lock never moved.
We were baffled.
Then, it hit me.
Sarah, distracted by mystery woman’s dog that had ran out into the sidewalk with its leash dragging behind, she found herself standing in front of the entrance to the third building— the one next to Autumn’s.
She spoke to the mystery woman, went inside the build with Stella and jiggled a lock on a strangers door for five minutes, opened the door, put Stella inside and left.
Sarah left and couldn’t find the lock— confused she looks around and finds it next to the apartment building next door— Autumn’s building.
Distracted and confused by the mystery woman and her loose dog, Sarah had managed to enter the wrong building, and somehow open the door of a stranger’s apartment in the building next door—likely the result of re-using keys within the buildings.
I learned that when Jeannie and I pulled up frantically in front of the building next to Autumn’s. She put the key in the lobby door’s lock, turned and opened it with ease— all three buildings have the same key for the lobby.
Inside, we waited for the super who Jeannie called on the drive from East Harlem back to the Upper East Side, then he arrived.
Immediately, he refuses to open the door. Screaming, begging him to open the door, he refuses over and over and says it’s not her apartment and not her dog.
I dialed 911 for help— this door would need to be broken down.
On the phone with 911, Autumn appears in front of the lobby door, I let her in.
She sprints past me to the door— I didnt hear what was said, but the super finally opened the door and Autumn went inside.
“Stella!? Stella!?” she shouted.
Woof! Stella barked and the two were reunited after four long days locked inside a stranger’s apartment with no food and only the water Sarah had left.
The tenants were on vacation for the holidays.
Autumn and Jeannie spent four days fighting to get the surveillance video from Leeds Associates— once we had it, Stella was rescued in under a half hour.
Jeannie and Autumn raced to an emergency veterinary center and is doing okay.
We have reached out to Rover for comment regarding the error and are waiting to hear back.