How Far Would You Go For a Pet?

Photo by Jackie VestalJackie Vestal, 34, a business systems analyst at a Los Angeles real estate agency doted on her 7-year-old miniature pincher Maddox, rarely leaving home without him. So when Maddox went missing on Christmas Eve Vestal made an extraordinary vow to never give up looking for him—and 84 days later, she's still on the hunt.

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During the holidays, Vestal and her husband went to visit her in-laws in Oklahoma City and naturally Maddox came along for the ride. From Oklahoma, the family had planned a quick getaway to a resort in Dallas. The only problem? The resort didn't allow dogs so Vestal was faced with the uncomfortable dilemma of leaving Maddox behind with a friend of the family, a fellow dog owner for several nights. "I really didn't want to leave him even for a night and had this weird, awful feeling in the pit of my stomach," says Vestal. "But I didn't want to spoil everyone's good time and the fact that this woman owned a dog was comforting. So we left him with her."

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About ten minutes after reaching the hotel in Dallas, Vestal got a call from the neighbor who said she had arrived home from church and had gone to check on Maddox in the garage. "I'm not sure what happened but apparently Maddox had somehow gotten into the garage and he bolted out when she drove in," she says. "I literally fell to the floor, hysterical." That night, she and her husband made the three-hour drive back to Oklahoma City in two hours flat.

Upon arriving, Vestal and her husband drove around the snowy neighborhood until dawn, searching for Maddox. In the car, Vestal issued a pet amber alert that sent pre-recorded phone messages to vet offices, animal clinics, and neighbors in a certain mile radius. In the morning, she made hundreds of fliers, distributing them around the neighborhood and knocking on doors to ask if anyone had seen Maddox. A few days later, calls about miniature pincher sightings started trickling in but none were of Maddox.

A few days later, Vestal hired pet detective Karin TarQwyn who flew to Oklahoma City from Nebraska with her crew of canines to track Maddox's scent. "Karin asked me to put a harness with Maddox's hair on it in a plastic bag to keep his scent fresh and we hit all the spots that reported sightings," says Vestal. "We set up feeding stations there and if the food was gone in the morning, we installed deer cameras. But we never caught anything on camera."

Next, Vestal alerted the media, renting billboard space, appearing on three different local television stations and even a local dog talk show called "Dog Talk with Pat Becker." People on Vestal's Facebook page have also searched for Maddox, although large search parties don't seem to help. "He might be scared by a group calling his name so I tell people to not catch him if they spot him but rather to call me and I'll come right over," she says.

A few times Vestal has received false alarm sighting but she says she will never give up on finding Maddox. "My heart beats faster every time someone says they've seen a min-pin," she says. "It's always a let down when it's not Maddox but it gives me hope that he's still out there. I've heard of people finding their dogs five years later."

It's been almost 100 days since Maddox has been missing and Vestal has taken a leave of absence from her job in Los Angeles to focus on finding him in Oklahoma City. Her husband had to return to California where he works as a comedian but Vestal won't return home until she finds Maddox.

There has been one silver lining to Vestal's journey. Her efforts to find Maddox have resulted in her helping to find 13 other dogs, many of whom are miniature pinchers, just by pounding the pavement. "Whenever someone calls with a tip, I follow the lead and it often brings me to a dog that unfortunately isn't Maddox," she says. "But I'm not the type of person who can just abandon a dog so sometimes I'll spend the day trying to gain the trust of one until I get close enough to put a leash on him and bring him to a rescue group, find him a home, or even temporarily keep him myself. One time I took a dog with a rabies tag to the vet and found its owner."

As for Maddox, Vestal had a microchip implanted in him so if anyone sees him, a vet can simply scan him which will send an alert to Vestal. For now, she's relying on determination and the help of strangers to bring Maddox home. If you'd like to help, check out his Facebook and Twitter accounts or his website Bring Maddox Home. Best of luck!

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