CROWNSVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A local soldier who served in Afghanistan just returned home to Maryland on Wednesday, but he wasn't greeted by his beloved dog, Zara. The German shepherd is missing, and a frantic search is on to find the soldier's pet.
Shortly after 27-year-old Army Specialist Jon Walker reported for duty in Afghanistan, he posted a photo of Zara on Facebook with the caption, "Missing my girl so much tonight. I just hope she knows I'm coming home for her when this is over. Can't live without her."
A fevered search to find Walker's missing dog ramped up last week, in anticipation of Walker's return to the U.S.
"The fact that he can't be here and help is even more heart wrenching, because we can only imagine how he feels," Heather Cappelli, a friend of Walker's, told ABC 7 News on Aug. 8.
But now that Walker is back, he is determined to find Zara.
"This is the first time I've called her name and she just hasn't been there," he said. "Every day you wake up, to do your mission and do your job, and the only thing that you think about at the end of the day is, 'I'm one day closer to getting' home.'"
On July 28, Zara's dog sitter was playing with the 4-year-old German shepherd in a field near Chesterfield and Saint Stephens Church roads in Crownsville. Zara ran off into the woods and never reappeared.
Missing posters now dot the landscape where Zara was last seen. There is also a Facebook page to help spread the word, and Walker's friends have made countless trips into the woods.
Adding to the heartbreak, Zara went missing just nine days before Walker landed on American soil.
"[Jon] is devastated," Cappelli said. "He has quite a bond with her, just like anybody would have with their pet."
"[Zara] could be out here in these woods, and even with all of the volunteers we have now, we could still be missing her," Walker said.
Walker and his friends aren't getting a lot of sleep, as they search for Zara, who was last seen wearing a pink collar. The dog has white fur on her chest and is microchipped.
The soldier's friends hope the community comes through for a man who put his life on the line for them.
Walker says there is no room for defeat.
"My dog will come home to me, no matter what," he said. "I will exhaust all means necessary to bring her home."