A dog lost in the woods is a pet parent’s worst nightmare. Finding a lost pet can be difficult but imagine being far from home- unable to fight on the front lines to find your pet and bring her home safely.
That is what Specialist Jon Kenneth Walker- an aviation mechanic and service member in the Maryland Army National Guard- has endured. Jon’s dog Zara went missing on July 28th 2014 in Crownsville, Maryland while he was deployed in Kuwait. Now Jon is back home but still no sign of his girl Zara.
"I am currently back in the United States and got back just a few short days ago," Jon said in an August 19th correspondence. “I was activated to active duty and began my deployment last October and spent the majority of my time while deployed in Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan."
On July 28th at around 4:30 PM Jon’s pet sitter Ashley went out for a game of fetch with Zara- a pure bred German shepherd- at Chesterfield road and St. Stephen’s Church road in Crownsville, MD. Zara chased a ball over a hill and ran out of sight. By the time Ashley got up the hill Zara was gone. Ashley had called out to Zara but she didn't recall like she normally does- which according to Jon is out of her character.
"Zara was very disciplined when I left. She would come when I either called her verbally or when I whistled for her. If she was getting a little too far away from me out in a field she was always glancing over her shoulder to make sure I was actually letting her travel that far and not trying to recall her,” Jon explained. “Never once did I throw a ball- after she was trained of course- that she never brought back to me. Her drive to impress me was uncanny."
That is why Jon and those close to him suspect that Zara could have been abducted. Zara was a model student from the beginning. When Jon selected her from a breeder she was the one puppy who was able to focus on him despite all the other distractions.
“I drove 2 hours the week before purchase to pick the puppy I wanted and to put down a deposit on the puppy. All of the pups came out and ran up to me to explore and eventually got bored and bounced away to chase all the other smells in the yard,” Jon said. “All of a sudden one little puppy got about 15 feet away from me and turned away from the group and ran back to me for more attention.”
“Since then Zara has always chosen me over all other distractions and it has made her a wonder to train,” he said.
Zara adapted fast to Jon’s army lifestyle quickly and soon became his assertive soldier dog. She grew up to be athletic, highly intelligent and well traveled- a great example of her breed.
“She would travel everywhere with me whether it was to the grocery store, to visit friends local or far and even went with me to some of my duty assignments. She ran a physical fitness test with me one day to get a little bit of a workout while I had to do diagnostic testing to validate I am living by the ‘army values,’” Jon said. “I would not even go on vacation if I could not take Zara with me.”
Zara is now three and a half years old and still missing. While in Kuwait Jon received news that Zara had disappeared.
“It was so unbearable! I was 7000 miles away and felt absolutely helpless,” said Jon. “I instantly ran to the internet café.”
Jon got in touch with his pet sitter and those closest to him to find out what the next step was to find Zara. They all rallied together on social media pages to enlist the help of the community to bring this soldier’s dog back to him.
“Within the hour I had five of my closest friends out at the site of where Zara was reported missing and they split up to speak with local community members,” Jon said. “Facebook and the internet café became my only lifeline to the world and I would stay there as much as I could. I was always in there (as) if I was on mission.”
One of those people is Sarah Melton- a long time friend of Jon's who considers him a part of her family. Although Sarah claims that she has not heard of any other dogs stolen in the area she finds it suspicious that Zara would not return when called.
"Zara is very well trained," Sarah explains. "She stands at your side and will not leave it. When she hears her name called she is right back by your side."
Close friend Heather Cappelli has been working with Sarah and the others trying to bring Zara home while Jon was in Kuwait.
“We have made a ton of flyers and hung them on every pole, door, sign and store we could,” Heather said. “(We) spent countless hours and days in the woods of the area she went missing, been in contact with every single neighbor in that area. Some of the neighbors we have talked to every single day- they all have been so supportive and considerate with us.”
Heather and Sarah even hired professional dog search team Dogs Finding Dogs to follow Zara’s scent several times but it still turned up nothing. Sarah, Heather and Jon maintain a Facebook page to raise awareness and support to find Zara. The page now has over 3, 000 followers. The group has also tried some more creative ways to find the missing dog.
“In the woods we have left feeding stations surrounding the area she was lost in with articles of Jon’s clothing and flour around the food- to see her paw prints- in hopes she would smell his scent and travel back there to wait for us to come get her,” Heather explains.
"Also when we hear of any sightings of a German shepherd we go to the sight and have the scent dogs come out," Sarah elaborates. "Many, many hours searching, looking and calling for her have been spent every day."
The search to find Zara has not been without difficulties and obstacles along the way. Flyers don’t pay for themselves and search dogs aren't free. They started funding their own flyers but soon ran out.
“I never realized the costs of (finding) a lost pet until now,” said Heather. “We had a nice and gracious lady who donated about 200 heavy duty flyers. She was following Jon and Zara’s story and offered to donate the flyers- we were so grateful!”
Although money is not what the group has after they have been fortunate enough to have community members reach out to help Zara in other ways as well.
"Money is not the point of finding Zara," states Sarah. "Tons of people have reached out and helped. (With) emails, calls, ride-bys, walks (and to) help post flyers."
A Go Fund Me account was created to accept donations to aid the search for Zara. The total donation goes towards finding Zara and the account raised $1, 500 in only 16 days.
“We cannot stress enough how grateful we are to everybody that has donated,” Heather said.
According to Pet MD the most important things to do when a dog is lost is to act right away, make flyers, consider offering a reward and search repeatedly- focusing on hiding places. Pet MD also recommends pet owners practice safe steps all year round including using collar identification tags and considering micro-chipping pets. So far team Zara was doing everything right. Zara is micro-chipped, has ID tags and a reward is offered for her safe return.
Zara looks like a slender, pure bred German shepherd but does have some marks and behaviors that can help identify her. She answers to her name and is advanced in her training. She knows Jon as 'daddy.' She has large ears and a white patch of fur on her chest. She does not like people touching her feet and will only volunteer her paw if instructed to- responding to the command ‘paw’ or ‘other paw.’
“Zara has a black dimple marking just behind the corners of her mouth that I have always thought (was) the cutest thing,” said Jon. “She also has a small hard cyst about the size of a US Nickel on her front left elbow.”
She also has some quirks when she’s playing fetch that make her easy to identify.
“When she drops a ball at your feet she will back up and sit down. If you do not pick it up within 5 seconds she grabs it again and will throw it in the air towards you like she is trying to get you to catch it and then throw it for her,” Jon explained.
Jon hopes that with the help of social media and the Maryland community he can find Zara. Like most people in the army Jon travels for work and can’t bear the thought of leaving Maryland again without knowing that his best friend is safe and sound at home where she belongs.
“My relationship with Zara was one that not many people could place words to. I was devoted to her and trusted her with my life just as she looked to me to be her rock and her provider,” Jon said. “I could not even fathom not having her by my side. She is everything to me and is my entire world.”
*If you have any information about Zara please call Jon 410-490-394, Sarah 410-215-1809 or Heather 443-600-8312. Visit the Go Fund Me page to find out how you can help with the search or visit the Facebook page for updates and information about the search for Zara. Jon, Sarah and Heather would like to thank Jon's family, Chris, Lee, Dottie, Hope, Jill, Kate, Karen, Danny and Linda, Dogs on Deployment, Dogs Finding Dogs and everyone else who had contributed to helping find Zara. There are far too many people to mention but all are equally appreciated.*