Father's Quest to Aid Retarded Son : Dogged Hunt for Pet Takes to Air

Times Staff Writer

Remember Rodger Taylor, the stubborn Vietnam vet from Cupertino, and his dogged search for his missing mutt named "Black Dog"?

Well, more than six months after he vanished, Black Dog is still missing. And Taylor is still looking for him--but now he's searching in a hired helicopter at $145 an hour.

He wants to find Black Dog for more than reasons of mere sentiment.

As Taylor told it, the 12-year-old mixed-breed Labrador and the Taylors' mentally retarded 3-year-old son, Jeremy, had developed a special rapport before the animal disappeared while the family was visiting friends in Bellflower last June 25.

"It's as if Black Dog understands my boy's problem," Taylor explained. "The boy comes out of his shell for the dog. . . . He knows three words: 'Mom,' 'Bye' and 'Black Dog.' "

With the help of sympathetic staffers of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, Taylor generated considerable publicity about his quest for the missing dog, and he received thousands of tips from concerned citizens.

The 38-year-old Vietnam veteran quit his studies at chiropractic school to devote full time to checking out leads on Black Dog. He visited every animal shelter in Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

He searched on foot, by bike, by car--and wrecked two autos in the process. He printed and distributed thousands of leaflets carrying Black Dog's picture. It showed a rather nondescript black dog with a peculiar white chest marking that resembled a bird in flight.

Several times citizens collared Black Dog--or an animal closely resembling him--only to let him escape hours or even minutes before Taylor arrived to claim the animal.

Finally, in mid-November, with financial resources and search strategies exhausted, Taylor gave up the search and returned to Cupertino.

"I've done everything I can think of," he said then. "I haven't given up. . . . If I thought of a way to find him, I'd stay. . . . But I whole-heartedly believe he's not dead. In my heart, I'll always be searching for him."

Suggestion Made

Then a few days ago, Ruth Carter of Palos Verdes, wondering what had happened to Taylor and his search, phoned him in Cupertino and suggested a helicopter search.

Oddly, since he had flown scores of combat missions on helicopters in Vietnam, Taylor had never thought of making an aerial search. His intuition told him Carter's suggestion was a good idea.

"I am a strong believer in intuitions," he said Friday at Torrance Airport. "That's why I survived Vietnam. . . . There's nothing telling me right now I'm definitely going to find him. But I'm definitely going to pursue all the avenues."

He also said his son, Jeremy, had definitely regressed since Black Dog vanished. For awhile, he said, the child was entirely nonverbal.

"Now he's making verbal sounds again, but he isn't saying words. . . . I hope that if I find the dog, it would at least initiate an attempt on Jeremy's part to talk again."

Preliminary Sweep

Thus it was that Taylor climbed aboard a Peninsula Aviation two-seater McDonnell Douglas 300C helicopter about noon Friday for an hourlong preliminary sweep with pilot Bob Golden, another Vietnam vet, at the controls.

Afterward, Taylor said he and Golden had spotted several dogs from the air that looked vaguely like Black Dog and he was going to check them out on the ground before his next scheduled air search from Torrance today.

"I've got to remain optimistic," he said late Friday. "I'll probably be the least surprised of anyone when I finally do find him."

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