Janet Mihalyfi can picture her dog, Havoc, wandering somewhere in Rock Creek Park, his black-and-tan fur matted as he plods through soggy leaves.
The image is clear in her mind, even though she hasn’t seen the 7-year-old Rottweiler with her own eyes since he went missing on a Bethesda trail in November 2013.
Over the past three years, Mihalyfi has devoted more than $40,000 to looking for him across Washington, D.C., Silver Spring and Chevy Chase. She’s stapled thousands of signs to poles and even sent up drones to scan the parkland.
And she says she’s not finished.
“Of course I’m discouraged,” Mihalyfi, 41, of Arlington, Virginia, said Tuesday. “Obviously, I love him, and I know he’s still out there. …I don’t think that you can give up on something when you know that it’s just right there.”
Havoc became separated from Mihalyfi about three years ago when he ran after a deer in a wooded area. She had taken him off leash to drink water from the stream, as she’d done many times before, she said.
Havoc and Janet Mihalyfi together before he was lost. Courtesy of Janet Mihalyfi
The last confirmed sighting of Havoc happened in Northwest D.C. in August. A woman who’d read about the dog on a neighborhood listserv spotted him traveling along 16th Street and reached out to Mihalyfi.
That set in motion the complex routine that’s become part of Mihalyfi’s life.
First, she called in an Ohio-based tracking expert who used Havoc’s scent to confirm he was the dog from the sighting. Then she papered the area with posters. She rigged up critter cameras nearby, setting out dog food to lure him into their sights. And then, she waited.
August’s flurry of activity ended with nothing, as most others have. Her cameras have only caught Havoc three times since he went missing, Mihalyfi said. When they do, Mihalyfi upgrades the bait to raw meat like sirloin steak in hopes that Havoc will begin frequenting the location.
At this point, she says she’s scaled back the time she spends on her search to about 10 hours each week. However, in the early days, she was spending upward of 30 hours weekly to track down her dog. She mobilized hundreds of volunteers and even paid for robocalls urging residents to keep watch for her missing pet.
At one point, she consulted with animal psychics.
“I’m not the type of person who’s into that kind of hocus pocus, but when you’re so desperate, if somebody can help, that’s great,” she said.
Her efforts have been profiled in The Washington Post and the Washingtonian, which speculated she might be conducting “the most extreme lost dog search ever.”
But a growing number of pet owners are going to similar lengths to recover a missing dog or cat, said Katherine Zenzano, community outreach coordinator at the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center in Derwood.
“It’s getting to be pretty high-tech. Finding a lost pet—it’s not just about putting up signs on trees and posts in the neighborhood anymore,” Zenzano said.
And there are stories of owners reunited with pets even after lengthy separations, she added. Last year, a Wheaton terrier named Cookie turned up in a Bethesda storm drain after being missing for about 13 months, a local TV news station reported.
“Stories like this, when an animal is reunited with their owner, gives give hope to people who are missing a pet,” she said.