by Jessie McKenna
Travis Jefferson lost his wife of 52 years and six months later — to the day — someone kidnapped his dog while he shopped at a Central District Walgreens. What happened next was unthinkable but ultimately fortuitous and rather beautiful.
At approximately four in the afternoon on a warm Sunday, July 5, 73-year-old Travis Jefferson parked at a Walgreens. For the first time in over 40 years living in the CD, a mole was tearing up his yard, so he was on the hunt for castor oil to flush it out.
Travis, a Marine veteran, lives with his disabled adult son Dennis who likes to ride around in the back seat of his car with their two Yorkies, Chuckie and Solomon. Solomon rides on Dennis’s lap so he can look out the window. They all enjoy their car rides together, especially on sunny days.
The Walgreens at the bustling historic — and all kinds of gentrified — Central District intersection of South Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue shares a parking lot with East African Imports, an AutoZone, a Magic Dragon Chinese restaurant, a T-Mobile store, and a Starbucks. Travis left Dennis and the dogs in the car while he shopped. He intended to be in and out. He left the windows down a little more than usual for ventilation due to the heat and locked the doors. It took a few minutes for staff to direct Travis to the castor oil, but not long.
When Travis returned about ten minutes later, he unlocked the doors and got back into his SUV to find Dennis and Chuckie, but Solomon had vanished.
Dennis does not speak, Travis explained. He says a few words, actually, but only his family understands him. He likes to laugh (and does so often), but otherwise he doesn’t show emotion in the ways people typically communicate them. Dennis did not seem to notice that Solomon was gone and showed no signs of confusion, concern, or distress at all.
Travis quickly got out and asked people in the parking lot if they’d seen a dog, telling them someone had taken his Yorkie from his truck. His sentiments, he said, well, “you couldn’t publish it.” A lot of people hang out in and around the parking lot there, he said, not all of them “savory,” as he put it. But everyone around there knows him. They call him “Old G” and try to bum cigarettes and change off of him. He’s friendly with the usuals. He was surprised that no one had seen anything, or — if they had — they weren’t copping to it.
He went back into the Walgreens and told staff his dog was stolen and asked if there was a camera outside that might have caught something but was told there was not one on the side of the building where he’d parked.
Travis drove home and called his youngest daughter, Nini.
“My heart immediately dropped,” said Nini, “‘cause I know how important his dogs are to him — they are his babies,” she said. Nini has a female Yorkie, Harley, and Chuckie was born from a litter her dog and Solomon had together. Yorkies are something of a family affair for the Jeffersons. Chuckie is actually bigger than his dog daddy — possibly mixed with a Shih Tzu, Travis thinks.
The day Solomon disappeared was not just any day for the Jefferson family. July 5 was the six-month anniversary of Travis’s wife’s, and Nini’s mother’s, death. “It’s hard dealing with the passing of my mom,” Nini shared. “She was our ROCK.” Since Travis lost his wife Mattie, his two faithful Yorkies have been his beloved companions. Nini said that while her mother’s passing is difficult for her, she worries more about how it affects her dad. She couldn’t sleep the night Solomon was taken.
That night, at 10:55 p.m., Nini, posted a cell phone screen shot of a picture of little Solomon with a fresh haircut to her Facebook page, along with a frantic message: “If anyone see my dad dog please contact me ASAP he was taken from the CD at Walgreens today. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 his name is Solomon.”
In the comments, Nini explained to friends and family what had happened. She said, “man I feel so bad for him that’s his life.” Many chimed in with similar sentiments in the comments, noting the recent passing of Nini’s mother. Nini and her siblings grew up with their parents in their Central District home, where Travis and Dennis still live. Travis grew up about ten blocks away. One of Nini’s friends commented “Wow that’s wack. I see your pops and pup rolling down the street everyday!!!”
Monday morning around 11 a.m., Nini met up with her dad to help him put up flyers in the hopes that someone with information about what happened to Solomon would come forward. Travis was not optimistic. In his mind, Solomon was gone for good. He knows people have a habit of stealing little dogs, and they tend to keep them. But he couldn’t fathom how someone had taken Solomon out of his SUV with the windows down only a few inches. He believes Solomon was on Dennis’s lap, as usual, and — being the socialite he is, unlike his son Chuckie, who is more reserved — Solomon probably jumped right up into the window when someone approached. They would have had to wrangle him out of the crack in the window, but Solomon only weighs about six pounds, and clearly it was possible as there was no other explanation.
Travis said Dennis was probably snickering while this was happening. He would not have understood what was going on or have tried to stop it. Mattie Jefferson had actually purchased Solomon for Dennis originally, to keep him company, which the animal did, faithfully. To lose Mattie and now Solomon was a major blow to the family, and certainly would affect Dennis in ways he might not be able to share with others.
Later on Monday, at 1:37 p.m., Chris Marcacci shared a post to the Lost & Found board on Nextdoor, an online neighborhood networking platform. The post appeared to members of eleven southeast Seattle neighborhood feeds on Nextdoor, all surrounding, and including, the Central District. Chris posted Solomon’s picture from Nini’s Facebook post and a message:
“Sharing this from Facebook.
“I’m asking my CD people for help! Travis just lost his wife of 50 plus years recently and a few day ago while shopping at Walgreens somebody went in his truck and took his dog. He is absolutely devastated!
“Keep an eye out for Solomon a cash reward is waiting on his return.
“Boy Yorkie missing from Walgreens on Jackson on 7.5.2020. His name is Solomon he weigh 6 pounds he is brown and black color with pointy ears. If you see can you please contact the owner Travis at [phone number removed] or [phone number removed]. Cash reward”
Chris knows a co-worker of Nini’s, Nichole, and had seen a post that she shared on Facebook. He then shared that post to all the Facebook groups and other social media groups he’s a member of, including Nextdoor. As it happens, Chris has a Yorkie too, and he lives with his dog across the street from the Walgreens, so Solomon’s theft hit close to home, literally.
When I, your author, checked my email after lunch and between work tasks I saw a new email from Nextdoor. Now … I’m not a fan of the platform for various reasons I won’t go into (many of you can probably guess a few). But I’m signed up for notifications for a couple of reasons, and this is one of them, because when I saw the post title — which also defaults to the email subject line from Nextdoor, if you receive email notifications — it read: “Stolen dog.”
Chris’s post had me at “Stolen dog,” but when I read about Travis, a community elder who recently lost his wife (of 50+ years!), my heart ached and it ignited an indignation deep in my core. I had to try to wield some social media power for good … knowing full well that nothing may come of it.
My mom has a small dog, Joe, who looks a lot like Solomon. He’s a Yorkie mix and while he’s kind of a jerk of a little fur brother — he still barks at me after all these years (it’s not his fault, he’s an anxious pup) — I love him! But what’s more, he means the world to my mom, as my dogs do to me. I know how devastating it would be for her, and for our family, if someone took Joe or any of our fur babies.
Little did I know, Solomon’s story was much more harrowing than his theft from under Travis’s and his son’s noses.
After reading Chris’s Nextdoor post, I went to Facebook to look for the original post, as he’d said he saw it on the platform. I quickly found Nini’s post and shared the image and a message about Solomon’s theft and poor Travis to my news feed and to the local neighborhood groups I’m a member of — Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Columbia City, Hillman City and Brighton, Othello, Rainier Beach and Skyway, plus the “Lost Dogs of King County WA” group page (I do nonprofit work in the South End, hence all the groups I’ve joined).
Aghast, people immediately started reacting to the post, commenting with sadface, wowface, angryface emojis, and saying things like, “You should post to Nextdoor! Did you do this? Did you try that?” People wanted to help, which is always awesome. But I had done what I could do for the moment and had work to do, and it was a long-shot after all that anything I could do was going to lead to Solomon, so I tuned out for a while to focus on work.
Ironically, around the time I stopped checking notifications, someone with a lead commented on one of my posts — two people actually — and soon after, I got a group message request on Facebook from someone named Alex who said, “Hi there – Gwyn and Jessie! Jessie posted the stolen dog and Gwyn saw a dog get thrown from a car yesterday!”
“Thrown” from a car?
I soon learned from Gwyn Sernesky that she’d rescued a dog the day before who she’d witnessed being thrown from a moving vehicle on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in the CD. The dog was in her care, she said. One of her best friends (Alex) had seen my post in the Mt. Baker Facebook group and put two and two together about the dog her friend Gwyn had rescued, so she contacted Gwyn and connected us via group message.
Before she replied to the message, Gwyn saw one of my posts too, in the Columbia City group. But she was apprehensive about sharing details describing the dog she had and what she’d seen: him being tossed out of a moving car into the street. She wanted to make sure that whoever she was giving the dog back to was not the same person she saw abuse him so terribly.
On June 5, Gwyn was driving on MLK near South Jackson, taking her son to his dad’s house. She would learn from Nini later that it was just minutes after Solomon was taken that she witnessed a passenger in a maroon SUV (Chevy Blazer, she thinks) in front of her throw a small dog from the moving vehicle. She estimates it was going at least 25 miles per hour.
“If you could’ve seen how hard those people just tossed him out like trash,” Gwyn recounted.
“He hit the ground on his bottom and hind legs and I immediately pulled over and as he was heading back out into the middle of the street I grabbed him,” she said Gwyn.
A woman and a little girl on bicycles were both stopped nearby and she yelled to them, asking if they’d seen what happened. They had not.
“I just couldn’t believe what I had just seen,” Gwyn said, “It was just horrific, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Gwyn took the pup home and cared for him, but not before chatting with her son’s dad and his girlfriend about what had just happened when she arrived with her son and Solomon in tow. They all cried, she said, and essentially determined that no matter what, between the three of them, the little guy would have a home.
Gwyn admitted to me in a message exchange that she had fallen madly in love with the dog she’d rescued, and he had made quick friends with her little dog, Jasmine, who “just adored him,” she said. In truth, she had figured that it was the owners who had thrown the dog from their car, and she was fully ready to be his new mom.
At first, I didn’t think it was the same dog. Gwyn said he looked “a bit different” from his photo but that it might be because his hair was a little longer. She asked if the picture I posted was recent. I didn’t know.
It was time to loop in Solomon’s family, but I worried about getting their hopes up — especially Travis’s. So rather than call the numbers in Chris’s Nextdoor post, I sent a message request to Nini to let her know what I knew (being careful not to sound too hopeful that this was Solomon).
I wasn’t able to comment on Nini’s post due to her privacy settings, but because message request notifications on Facebook (from non-friends) can be easily missed, I also commented on another post I had seen when searching for Nini’s original post. That post was made by CD Panther Football and Cheer and appeared to be the same message as Chris’s on Nextdoor but was addressed to “Panther Nation.” The organization provides to inner-city youth “a safe place for student athletes from 6–14 years of age who have a desire to participate in football and cheerleading” and teaches “the fundamentals of football and cheer while promoting education discipline, team work, and building self esteem.” (Gotta plug the community orgs!) So I commented on that post and sent a message to the page owner(s) as well, letting them know I had a lead and was hoping to get in touch with Nini, specifically, to ask her some questions about Solomon’s features as I had a possible lead.
Nini responded within half an hour. I told her what Gwyn had told me and then connected the two of them and waited.
I’m usually pretty optimistic, but I thought it was too good to be true that Solomon had been located just like that. And the way Gwyn talked about how he didn’t look like his picture … I wasn’t holding my breath.
Nini messaged me to tell me that Gwyn was sending her pictures of the dog she found—ok, I was holding my breath a little by then, but mostly because I was ready to be disappointed and feel really bad for having gotten Nini’s hopes up.
Two hours later, Nini finally wrote back. She thanked me for connecting her to Gwyn and said that (deep breath) … it was Solomon! Nini said, “we are so happy I cried.”
Soon after, I got a message from CD Panther Football and Cheer that read, “Thank you!!!! I really appreciate your help our community rocks!” It really does.
Travis had to wait a couple of days to reunite with Solomon as Gwyn had actually turned him over to animal control to start the process of adopting him legally (you can’t just keep a dog you find, after all). There was some confusion between Travis and animal control staff and he missed the opportunity to pick Solomon up on Tuesday, so he brought him home Wednesday — three full days after he was taken. On the wait to get him back, Travis was pragmatic, saying simply, “As long as it didn’t take forever … ”
At the animal shelter, a woman had called in looking for her missing Yorkie, so the staff had questions for both she and Travis, who was standing there while they took her call. While he waited, he could hear Solomon barking — Travis knows his voice. And as soon as he saw him, there was no doubt he’d found his little boy, his scruffy hair atop his head falling over his eyes in just the way it always does between haircuts.
“It just about broke my heart,” Gwyn said of ultimately giving up Solomon. “And my little dog, she just adored him [Solomon].” She added, “But I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart that [the Jefferson family] could all be reunited with Solomon.”
Nini and her dad wanted to do something for Gwyn and I, to thank us for helping them find Solomon and get him back. The reunion was thanks enough, but we all agreed that a story like this should be shared. It’s a gift, if you will, that we can give to the community during a turbulent time — a time when fear and uncertainty loom large, and sad, rage-inducing stories saturate the news cycle.
But Travis, who called Gwyn Solomon’s “Godmother” and wants her to remember the gratitude he feels, felt compelled to offer a gesture for Gwyn that his wife Mattie would have appreciated. Apparently, Mattie loved plants, so Travis drove to Gwyn’s house on Friday to give her two plants he told her will remind her of Solomon whenever she waters them. What’s more, he offered to set up doggy playdates for Solomon, Jasmine, and Chuckie, of course, in the future so all the new friends could see each other again.
What happened to Solomon — and the Jefferson family (and Gwyn) — was scary, is scary, unexpected, sad, and rage-inducing, but at the heart of it is a loyal and loving family who loves their dogs dearly, two men who are surrounded by family and a community who supported them in their time of need — something the South End is really good at. And Solomon? Well, he’s loved by a virtual village of humans, as it happens! And one new dog friend.
“He’s one lucky little dude,” said Gwyn.
Travis said he doesn’t know much about social media, but he’s grateful to Nini for posting about Solomon. “I’ll leave that social media to you young folx,” said Travis. But he said he now knows the power of the medium for spreading a vital message.
Travis and Dennis’s Yorkies are apparently safe under the protection of South End social media and neighbors ready to take action when the call comes in. Will you answer the call the next time the “bat signal” illuminates the skies over South Seattle? What form might that signal for help take? This time it was in the shape of the little guy below, but it might not always be so ridiculously adorable. It’s probably worth it either way.
Jessie McKenna is a marketing and communications specialist with a focus on South End nonprofits and small business. She began working for the South Seattle Emerald in 2017 as a volunteer and eventually as a content contributor and content manager. She lives in Beacon Hill on unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish people. If you do too, you can pay them rent at RealRentDuwamish.org.
Featured image: Travis Jefferson and his dog, Solomon. (Photo: Jessie McKenna)