Search for Mr. Chili makes national news.
Residents of Mono County have volunteered in droves to help with the search for a Florida man’s missing dog in Lee Vining Canyon, in a story that has made national news.
“I grew up here, and I always let people know that 85 to 90 percent of the entire population of Mono County are dog lovers, so if you need help, you would be amazed at how this area is going to band together,” said Angelle Nolan, Mono County Animal Control Coordinator.
“It just gets proven over and over and over. And here you go—let’s go find this dog.”
On Oct. 14, John “JB” Barraco, 27, and his girlfriend Kristen Brush, 25, were on a cross-country road trip from Alaska to Florida when they visited Yosemite National Park. Along for the ride were Barraco’s dog, a yellow lab mix nicknamed “Mr. Chili,” and Brush’s cat, Sparrow. As the couple was leaving Yosemite via the steep and winding Tioga Pass, Barraco’s brakes failed.
“We were going about 40 or 50 [mph] … when I tried to pump the brakes to slow down. No brakes—and we had a left-hand turn coming up with about a 100-foot drop,” Barraco told the Fresno Bee.
“I decided during the few seconds I had to swerve across the road and hit a tree.”
In the aftermath of the accident, Barraco’s van was totaled, his foot was broken, Brush needed stitches—and Mr. Chili was nowhere to be found. The dog had jumped out of the car window and run into the wilderness in Lee Vining Canyon.
The couple were treated at Mammoth Hospital, where Barraco had surgery on his broken foot, and Sparrow was picked up and held until the couple were released. Mr. Chili has remained missing since the day of the accident.
Barraco was joined by his father, who traveled to Lee Vining to help locate the dog. However, after more than a week of searching, and no signs of Mr. Chili, they were compelled to return to Florida to care for Barraco’s injuries.
In the intervening weeks, Mr. Chili’s family has set up a Facebook page for the missing dog and told their story to news outlets across the country. “Achilles Barraco” has garnered over 500 followers on the social media site, which has become a virtual staging ground for the search.
On Nov. 11, Barraco received word that Mr. Chili had been spotted by a local who had been chasing him for several hours.
Barraco and Brush immediately flew back to California, and in the last week the search has intensified with the help of community members who have donated money, food, shelter and transport to the rescue effort.
A Mono City couple has lent Barraco their 4WD truck in which he and Kristen have been camping. Dorothy Burdette of June Lake secured a room at the Heidelberg Inn, free of charge, if they need a soft bed or a shower. “We’re all dog lovers here, and they’ve got a room waiting for them,” she said.
The Mono Lake Committee has loaned their game cameras to the search effort, and Mono County Animal Control has put out live traps, baited with wet food, to try and entice Mr. Chili. There have been offers of camping equipment, drones, and search dogs, and donations have poured in to cover the cost of the couples’ car rental and other expenses.
“It’s our opinion that this dog is in survival mode,” said Animal Control’s Nolan.
“It’s almost like they’ve reverted back to feral. They’re not by any means capable of taking care of themselves longer term, like a wolf would be or a coyote, but they definitely do revert back to a little bit of wild behavior.”
As of press time, Mr. Chili is still believed to be hiding in Lee Vining Canyon off of Highway 120. Representatives of the family and Animal Control strongly urge people wanting to help to refrain from entering the area, particularly with dogs, as experts are attempting to track Mr. Chili’s prints.
Barraco’s sister, Lauren, who created Mr. Chili’s Facebook page, expressed her amazement at the efforts of the community. “We do really, really want to thank the whole community,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole life.”
Those wishing to aid in the rescue effort should contact Mono County Animal Control, or JB Barraco at (239) 633-0365.