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$20,000 SEARCH FOR SIMON OH WHERE, OH WHERE HAS HIS LITTLE DOG GONE? ENCINO LAWYER LOOKS FOR WEEKS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew

Staff Writer

ENCINO -- Steve "Bernie" Bernheim drives at a crawl through the darkest hours each night, calling out for his miniature pinscher, Simon.

Searching for the missing 12-inch pooch that could dance on his two hind feet.

"It's rough, man," said the 46-year-old Encino attorney, his hair tousled after nearly three weeks of turning L.A. inside-out for his best-of-all friend.

"It's one of the worst things that ever happened to me -- maybe the worst. But I have hope."

Each year, thousands of Angelenos lose family pets. But what sets this single, tort attorney apart may be the lengths, including spending some $20,000, he's gone in trying to find his pal.

Four years ago, Bernheim discoveredthe black-and- brown "min pin," cowering at the East Valley Animal Shelter. He named him Simon, after Simon Cowell of "American Idol," for his initial curmudgeonlike behavior.

They were soon joined at the ears -- riding on Bernheim's Vespa, hanging out at The Grove, going on first dates, taking in big-screen movies, going out for breakfast, even appearing before a federal judge during mediation.

The brave little dog could leap from balconies without a scratch. Scamper the edge of swimming pools. Hoof it on his two hind feet.

But at 3 a.m. on May 5, Bernheim ducked out of his home atop Mulholland Drive for a run down to Mel's Diner. Simon, who apparently scampered out the gate after him, hasn't been seen since.

"The first two weeks, I didn't work at all," said Bernheim, a class-action consumer lawyer who won more than $27million in insurance company settlements for work not completed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

"I worked at getting Simon 24 hours a day. ... Basically, I treated this like grass-roots advertising. I (just) want my dog back."

He's driven countless miles, his Land Rover plastered with rolling $2,500-reward billboards.

He's tacked up more than 1,000 reward signs between Chatsworth and Studio City.

He's taken out numerous ads, online and in print. He's shoved leaflets under windshield wipers and handed them to UPS drivers.

He's scoured city animal shelters.

He's contacted just about every vet in Los Angeles -- more than 400 of them -- and a bevy of rescue agencies.

He's conducted 5,000 automated "robocalls" saying, "Your neighbor, Steve, has lost his dog, Simon."

He has even hired a "pet detective," as well as a "professional dog tracker" from Oklahoma.

In recent weeks, the microchipped 10-pound min pin with floppy ears and stubby docked tail has become as familiar to Valley residents as Angelina is to L.A.

"It's so sad," said Margery Grossman, a self-proclaimed "dog mom" from Encino who has noticed the lost-Simon signs along Ventura Boulevard.

"I told my husband I just want to find that dog for him."

In desperation, the New York native paid a dog detective $950 -- for one day's advice on how to hang posters.

Bernheim then shelled out $12,000 for a self-proclaimed dog tracker from Oklahoma who arrived with five mutts guaranteed to sniff out Simon.

For eight days last week, the tracker led her dog team to supposed Simon hot spots -- from the Encino golf course, to Tom Petty's house, to the 405 Freeway.

But each time, she told Bernheim her dogs had lost the scent or were too tired to continue.

"First I believed her," Bernheim said. "(Then) she milked me for all I had."

Meanwhile, more than 100 callers responded to Bernheim's ad blitz for Simon.

Some offered leads. Others called to say "I'm looking for my dog, too," or to offer a replacement dog. Most phoned to say their prayers were with Bernheim.

There also were some cranks. "Hey, I've got your dog," growled one heckler.

Bernheim said he has no regrets about the lengths he's gone to.

"If it was reversed and he could do the same for me, he'd probably jump off a cliff for me, which is more than most humans would," he said.

"What's money for, if not to save your best friend?"

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

818-713-3730

HOW TO HELP

Steve Bernheim is offering a $2,500 reward for anyone who can help him find Simon, his black-and-brown, neutered and microchipped miniature pinscher with uncropped ears and a docked tail. Call 310-975-4728.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Steve "Bernie" Bernheim of Encino, tired and with his hair tousled after weeks of searching day and night for his missing dog, still keeps feeding dishes and a bed on the porch in case his lost pet, Simon, comes home on his own.

(2 -- color) Simon, all dressed up for a date, has been missing since May 5.

(3 -- color) A banner on the back of his sport utility vehicle advertises the $2,500 reward that Steve "Bernie" Bernheim of Encino is offering for the return of his black-and-brown miniature pinscher, Simon.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer

Box:

HOW TO HELP (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 24, 2008
Words:823
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