BEDFORD CORNERS, N.Y. — Diana Heimann is the kind of person who traps mice in her farmhouse and releases them into nature preserves. The kind of person who kept Silkie chickens in her living room and their eggs in the cup holders of her car.
She’s not the kind of person who loses a llama.
But there she was Wednesday, speeding from the North Castle Town Hall in Armonk, New York, to the police station in Mount Kisco, the footwells of her Toyota scattered with spilled llama treats, passing out bushels of flyers: “LOST LLAMA,” one read. “Try not to scare him.”
“Gizmo,” she said aloud, as if a missing llama roving the hills of Bedford Corners, a wealthy, equestrian pocket of Westchester County, could hear her. “Where are you?”
Word of the weekslong hunt for Gizmo, the 7-year-old llama who absconded on Dec. 13, had already ricocheted around the town, the state and far beyond. Prayers and tips poured in from people who knew neither Heimann nor the first thing about pack animals. But a llama was on the loose, and it had captured the public’s imagination.
As the days stretched into llamaless weeks and concern grew, Heimann’s increasingly desperate Facebook posts morphed into calls for llama search parties.
Tipsters from around the region began calling her at all hours. Someone sent pictures of a llama — a different llama, safe in its paddock. Someone else sent a photo of “llama” dung that turned out to be the leavings of a deer. Complete strangers took to the hills and dales between the mansions and horse estates of the surrounding towns to find Gizmo. One caller said she had located him — with her psychic.
In this moment of unfathomable worry, of airborne plagues and economic ruin, the opportunity to fret over a lost llama became its own kind of balm. The search for Gizmo drew in strangers perhaps seeking a simpler thing to care about at a time when even our quotidian cares — to not get sick, to muddle through, to survive — are monumental.
“Everything is going real crazy in the world, so anything that shows some love, being there for others, is important,” said Steven Brink, who with his daughter Celena, 9, spent four hours Wednesday hiking the 225-acre Arthur W. Butler Memorial Sanctuary in Mount Kisco, looking for Gizmo.
“The people in the woods thought I was a little crazy when I asked them if they saw a llama,” said Brink, who works in construction. “But I got the word out.”
Gizmo, whose coat is a patchwork of white and brown spots and whose face wears a permanent expression of mild offense, had arrived only the day before his disappearance, from Fairland, Indiana, just southeast of Indianapolis. He came with his best friend, a blondish llama named Sandman, whose unusual hair resembles the fronds of a mop.
But as soon as they arrived in their paddock beside the mansion on a 120-acre farm Heimann manages in New York, where Martha Stewart has an estate nearby, the pair went renegade, jumping the 5-foot fence of their new pasture. It was all too much for the sheltered Indiana llama, said Gizmo’s former owner, Heather Bruce: “He only knew his llama buddies.”
Both llamas had jumped the fence, but Sandman was apprehended quickly. Leo Garcia, the farm’s groundskeeper, spotted the pair loose on the lawn that morning. A cowboy who learned roping on the ranches of Guatemala, he grabbed a lasso from his truck bed and hurled it — right over Sandman’s head. “In one shot!” Garcia, 35, said later.
Sandman had been apprehended, but Gizmo, for all his supposed fealty to his stablemate, took off. Llamas can reach speeds of up to about 35 mph, and Gizmo was out of Garcia’s lassoing range immediately. “Llamas,” said Garcia, “are too smart.”
Back on her farm in Indiana, Bruce, 45, prayed for Gizmo’s safe return. “The Lord loves animals as much as I do,” she said. “He took the care to put them all on the ark — and I believe truly that that happened — and he has always cared for them and will continue to care for them.”
But in Bedford Corners, Heimann was leaving nothing to divine providence. On Dec. 14, days before a walloping nor’easter would dump more than 1 foot of snow on her town and any llamas unlucky enough to be outdoors, she placed a panicked call to Rochester Aerial Photography.
The owners of the drone photography business outside Rochester — David Olney Jr., 29, and Doug Grotke, 34 — have been experimenting with infrared drones but admitted they had never hunted the heat signature of a llama before.
As the storm barreled toward New York, the pair packed their drones and drove the six hours south to Bedford Corners on Dec. 15, where they spent another six hours fruitlessly scanning the area with their aircraft.
“I am an animal lover, and my wife is an animal lover,” Olney said. “She more or less said, ‘You need to get down there and help find that llama.’”
As the days wore on, Heimann began to fear the worst. She contacted the New York State Department of Transportation, she said, to ask, with trepidation, if any llamas had been hit by cars. None. Next, she called local hunting clubs asking them to keep an eye out — and hold their fire.
A specialist who uses sniffer dogs to find lost people and animals suggested she employ her two Tibetan spaniels to track Gizmo, she said, but they were better at barking than searching. An animal rescue organization said she should leave clippings of Sandman’s hair in the woods to draw out his friend, but the blond llama wouldn’t let her snip his locks.
And so on Wednesday, she whipped up $750 worth of posters featuring the patchwork llama and his typical perturbed face. (They also include a photo of his rear: “In case people see him while he’s running away,” she said). By late afternoon, Gizmo’s legion of online worriers had picked them up at the precinct and the town hall and posted the flyers from Main Street in Mount Kisco to the gravel roads of Bedford Corners.
That night, on the 17th day of Gizmo’s absence, another picture of a llama flashed on Heimann’s phone. The familiar patchwork, the same mildly miffed air. Could it be?
Just under 1 mile away from where Gizmo escaped, Jose Blanco and four colleagues had spent the last two weeks remodeling a bathroom in a house on Lounsbery Road — and not paying much attention to the llama wandering the yard of the vacant home next door.
“I never said anything because I thought the llama belonged to the other house,” said Blanco, 20. That changed when he saw a poster Wednesday. After he texted the picture to her, Heimann sped over with Garcia — and his lasso.
By 7 p.m. Gizmo was wrangled and back home with Sandman; thinner, wearier, found.
At their job site the next morning, on the final day of the year, Blanco and his colleagues toasted Gizmo over their coffees. “Horrible things are happening in 2020, and we did a good thing: We found the llama, and everybody felt so good,” Blanco said.
“Maybe it could be a sign for all of us,” he added. “It’s like good things are coming.”