A big, goofy dog named Dingus went missing from Bolinas in April—on Friday the 13th.
Earlier in the day, the one-year-old pit bull and German shepherd mix swam in the ocean, while his person, Azi Lynman, surfed. Eventually, Dingus, wet and sandy, left the waves and made his way back to town by himself, like dogs in Bolinas do all the time. Only this time, Dingus vanished.
The West Marin town may (perhaps) be the dog-friendliest place in America, and big Dingus was sort of an unofficial master of ceremonies, known to crash events at the Bolinas Community Center and for holding court in the local and very dog-friendly saloon.
Smiley’s Saloon caught the last known images of the 65-pound pup that showed him walking on Wharf Road around 8pm that night. Then he was gone. Just like that.
Heartbroken, Lynman and his mother, Katie Weber, began a search for their cherished canine. Surely, they thought, Dingus would return shortly. Though sans collar, he had an up-to-date microchip containing the contact information for his human. Any visit to a vet or shelter would include scanning for the chip, which would identify Dingus and get him on his way home.
But a day passed, then two. Finally, a break: Weber saw a photo of a dog on a Sacramento shelter site that looked almost exactly like Dingus. The pound had picked up a large brown dog with black markings around his eyes and muzzle.
Weber, her daughter and Lynman made the hundred-mile trek to Sacramento, only to have their hopes dashed. It wasn’t Dingus. The trio made the long drive home, emotional and devastated.
At that point, Lynman, 24, couldn’t handle the disappointment of any more false sightings. Weber continued the hunt by herself, almost a full-time job. “It was all I focused on for two months.”
She delivered photos and missing dog flyers to vets in Marin, Petaluma, San Francisco, Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland; contacted nearby shelters and monitored their websites; and checked Craigslist daily and responded to every vague post about a found dog.
Weber met with a pet psychic at a Stinson Beach vet, who felt strongly that a couple has Dingus. According to the psychic, the girlfriend knows the boyfriend lied about buying the dog and she’s torn, realizing that his family longs for him.
Another spiritually inclined person approached Weber while she posted a flyer at the Sausalito Dog Park. This woman pulled out a deck of tarot cards. She, too, believes Dingus is in a home, with his new guardians uncertain about whether to return him to his rightful people.
It gives Lynman and Weber hope that both psychics believe Dingus will return home. And hope helps fuel Weber’s dogged search, which she resumed in August after taking a break in July.
The consensus in town is that the friendly, collarless dog was mistaken for a stray and picked up by someone who didn’t realize that dogs in Bolinas often roam about town alone—and that Dingus was well-loved and cared for by Lynman and his mother.
While Lynman surfed or worked construction, his pooch would often visit Weber, who also lives and works in Bolinas. Dingus was a fixture at her shop on Wharf Road, La Sirena Bo-tique, down the block from Smiley’s.
Now the dog mysteries are starting to pile up: In recent weeks, there’s been talk around town of a large dog missing from Horseshoe Hill Road in Bolinas. Another story involves a dog wandering alone at Agate Beach, this one wearing a collar with an ID tag. Someone called the number on the tag and threatened to take the dog if she wasn’t picked up immediately.
The culprits in these cases are likely strangers to Bolinas who don’t understand a dog culture that’s not just friendly but free. As anyone with knowledge of Bolinas knows, there are purposely no markers on Highway 1 identifying the route to town, as residents have tried to keep it off the beaten path and protect it from outsiders. But in the so-called new Bolinas, overrun with strangers occupying short-term rentals, the (perhaps) dog-friendliest town in the country now deals with a raft of canine-concerned outsiders who assume that any dog wandering around town must be a stray in need. Not so.
Of course, GPS has rendered the whole “You can’t find us” mentality somewhat moot. But any visitor to town still gets the message upon entering town: You’re about to happen upon a totally unique village, complete with its own militia (to keep the undocumented immigrants in), the most expensive gallon of gas in the country (to fund affordable housing) and lots of loose dogs.
A sign reads, “Entering socially acknowledged nature-loving town.” To Bolinas residents, this quite clearly includes the love of their dogs, leashed and unleashed (cats, too). The price of this freedom used to be the occasional coyote attack on a beloved animal. Those fears have now been supplanted by fears of human interactions with dogs that are otherwise free to come and go as they please. After all, with no busy roads nearby and the town surrounded by water on three sides, Bolinas has always been a pretty safe spot to allow dogs to wander freely.
However, the Dingus incident and the advent of fussy out-of-town animal lovers has conspired to affect the character of the town. With Dingus’ disappearance, Bolinas has lost some of its innocence and its insulation. It’s no longer so carefree. (A recent and unrelated push by some residents to throw out all the people who live in their vehicles—and there’s quite a few of them—is also a signifier of the changing character of the town.)
Townsfolk are taking heed. Some dogs now wear collars with messages such as “I live in Bolinas. Do not take me.”
Many guardians no longer allow their dogs to roam alone through town or at the beach. The local Bolinas Hearsay News recently published an impassioned plea from a dog owner directed at visitors: Leave the darn dogs alone!
One resident was so miffed about the prospect of further stolen dogs that he commissioned local artist StuArt Chapman to create and hang a sign near the local grocery store. It’s quite clear: “No stray dogs in Bolinas. All dogs loved here.”
Lynman still mourns the loss of Dingus. Tears streaked down his face during a recent interview. To the people who snatched his dog almost five months ago, he has a message: “You may think you have a better house, but Dingus had the best home any dog could have, on the ocean with family and friends that love him.”
A $500 reward is offered for information leading to the return of Dingus. Call 415.720.8809. To follow the search, check out the Facebook page Dingus Khan or #bringdingushome and #bringusdingus. email [email protected]
Tom Gogola contributed loud barking to this report.