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Friday, 16 March, 2007, 16:43 EDT, US
Tony Soprano may be a no-good mobster with a foul mouth, a trigger temper and a habit of making Italian Americans look like thugs, but he does have one redeeming virtue. He helped reunite a 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Caesar with his rightful owner last weekend.
Of course, the local news Web site I run did lend a hand.
The story goes like this: John Stani, who owns a vacuum cleaner shop in Bloomfield, N.J. was in the back of the store one day in February and when he came back, his dog was gone. He got in touch with some local vets and shelters, but nobody had seen a dog by Caesar's description, and Stani was actually suspicious that someone had stolen his pet.
"I was so upset," he said. "My outlook on life changed. I wondered what kind of person would take a dog."
He didn't sleep for almost a week.
Caesar, meanwhile, had wandered about three miles into the next town, Montclair. He was found, during a cold snap, by the owner of an auto-detailing shop, who saw the dog running in the middle of the busy Bloomfield Avenue.
A week or so later, customer Laura Gardner offered to take in the dog, who had been sleeping at the detail shop, and either find its owner or place it in a nice home. Her daughters put up signs around town, while Gardner sent a picture of the dog to my Web site, and asked us to poste a notice on the site.
For sites like ours -- sometimes dubbed "citizen journalism," sometimes called placeblogs -- lost dogs and cats are a standard feature. Animals are always wandering off, and their phone skills are so limited; it's left for good Samaritans to take care of them.
But this story isn't that simple. Stani had never heard of our site -- in fact, he rarely goes on the Internet.
As it happens, a controversy was brewing over whether "The Sopranos"
could shoot the last scene of its final episode in Holsten's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Shop in Bloomfield.
We, of course, were all over the story. It started out as a minor anecdote. It got interesting when the town council, under pressure from the Italian American One Voice Coalition, decided to nix the shoot because of how the show portrays Italian Americans.
It got even more interesting when the county executive went to Holsten's, ordered a peanut butter swirl brownie sundae, and begged Bloomfield to reconsider -- in front of handful of local TV cameras (and us). There were twists and turns all week, and we reported them all.
In the middle of this, Stani had heard about the local Sopranos shoot and went to the Internet to find out more.
Of course, it was no surprise he landed on our page. If you Google "Sopranos" and "Bloomfield," ours is the first site to come up. But imagine Stani's shock when that search brought up a picture of Caesar, gripping a yellow tennis ball.
"I thought I was dreaming," he said. "I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't even breathe, but I knew something really good was happening."
Stani, who celebrated his reunion with Caesar by taking him out for a McDonald's hamburger, says that finding his lost dog was better than winning the lottery.
"It was one out of a billion," he said. "It was just so strange."
And the show's producers got a happy ending of their own, eventually receiving a permit from the town to shoot the scene.
But those of us who use the Internet on the daily basis, who have experienced its random connections many times, are somewhat less flabbergasted. Pleased, yes. Amused, certainly. Shocked, no.
After all, that's why they call it a web.
asap contributor Debbie Galant is founder and editor-in-chief of Baristanet, which was named the number one placeblog in America in January. Her first novel, "Rattled," published by St. Martin's Press in 2006, comes out in paperback in April.
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