EDITOR’S NOTE: The circumstances surrounding Boots’ return are as mysterious as his disappearance. The woman who claims to have lost Boots also claims she hired a private investigator to find Boots. This representative, in turn, said she found the dog; however, the person who had the dog wishes to remain anonymous and wants the $10,000 reward. (January 12, 2020)
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. — Jimmy Nicholos doesn’t have much, nor does he need much.
“Since the time I was 15, I’ve been on the streets, and I’ve been on my own," he said.
But Nicholos does need his "Boots."
“He’s everything to me,” Nicholos said. “He’s my baby. He keeps me on the straight and narrow, and I give him everything he needs.”
Six years ago, when he was handed his service dog, the 8-week-old chocolate lab puppy immediately climbed into one of Nicholos' boots.
"And I looked at him, and I looked at his color, and I [named him] 'Boots.'"
This past New Year's Eve, however, somebody allegedly stole Boots. It is bitter irony because Nicholos, who is homeless, dedicates his life to saving dogs.
"I spend all my time trying to save animals," said Nicholos. "I can make more money out there flying a sign saying 'Homeless. Please help.' [But] I’m helping animals all day long, and somebody steals my dog. He’s my inspiration for everything I do. He’s the one that keeps me sane out on the streets."
Nicholos works at Start Rescue Resale Store, a Sherman Oaks thrift shop that funds pet rescue adoptions.
"We have a 'Hope' program, where we take care of the homeless and their pets, which is how we met Jimmy," said store owner Rene Ruston, who has plenty pictures of Jimmy and Boots on her cell phone — including one of Boots inside a cart that Jimmy pulls behind his bike.
"He and Jimmy are a fixture here, not only here at the store, but around town," said Ruston.
Nicholos would show up regularly to the thrift store with Boots and was hired do odd chores. Boots, didn’t do much of anything, except lounge around on the furniture and keep his eye on Jimmy.
Ruston explained that during the day on this past New Year’s Eve, a woman came to the store and offered to groom Boots who, because he was a street dog, could use a good bath. Ruston said Nicholos handed Boots over to the woman because she had groomed him once before.
But, this time, as Ruston explained, the woman drove away with Boots and never came back. Security camera footage shows the woman arriving at the store. Several hours later, Ruston said, the woman phoned to say Boots ran away in a park. Immediately, Ruston thought that was an odd explanation.
"Why was she at the park? I don’t understand. She was supposed to groom him and bring him right back," said Ruston.
Rene added that the woman contradicted herself and changed her story several times. Meanwhile, Nicholos had scoured several square blocks looking for his beloved Boots.
Ruston grew more suspicious. First, this woman gave the intersection where she said was the location of the park where she lost Boots. In a panic, Nicholos raced there — but there was no park at the intersection.
The woman then reversed herself and pointed to a park in Studio City. She claimed a pair of homeless men chased her. Before she knew it, Boots had disappeared, the woman claimed. Except, this woman could not describe or identify the alleged dog nappers. Ruston explained that after dodging pointed questions, the woman stopped taking her phone calls.
Nicholos filed a police report, while Ruston hired a lawyer to pursue the woman, noting that there is a motive for people to steal a dog like Boots. Because he is a pure breed with a beautiful coat, Boots is valuable. Also, some people think they need to rescue pets out of the hands of homeless people.
“Jimmy means everything to us,” says Ruston. “And his heart is broken. We all have a bond with our dogs. But when you live on the street, you know, that bond is really, really strong.”
“Right now, he is wondering where I am,” said Nicholos. “And I’m not there for him.”
Ruston and others in the community have put up a $10,000 reward for Boots’ return, no questions asked. In the meantime, Nicholos will not give up the search. He continues to ride his bike up and down every street in the area and in every park looking for his best friend.
People with information about Boots can call or text (818) 522-7311. They can also email information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Jimmy reunited with "Boots."
On Monday, January 11 at 11 p.m., a person claiming to be the dog groomer’s representative showed up at the Van Nuys police station to offer Boots’ return.
The representative claims to be a private investigator who helped the groomer find boots. Lawyers are meeting with this representative to see who deserves the $10,000 reward in good faith. (January 12, 2020)