Search continues for local vet’s service dog, Gigi

For Michael DiSilvio, Gigi is not just a dog. She is a guiding force that opened him back up to the world.

“She motivates me to do things,” Mr. DiSilvio said of his 18-month-old black Labrador retriever, who has now been missing for more than a month. “I’ve been retired from the military for 10 years and I never really was involved with, like, doing a suicide prevention [program] or any walks or the marches. When [Gigi] came into my life, she motivated me to take part in some of that stuff. I was more private but she actually motivated me to talk more about some of the injuries I had or be more open.

“She’s been my best friend,” he added. “She motivates me to get up in the morning and get the kids to school. My wife works really hard so she’s not around as much, while I’m fully retired from the military due to my injuries. Sometimes, those days before [Gigi] came into my life, it was hard for me to get up and get the kids going … Not only does she steer you in the right direction, when you’re going outside she can almost see where you got to go, which sounds silly, but she motivates you to get up.”

Following his time as a combat veteran, serving with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and at Fort Drum in Jefferson County, N.Y., Mr. DiSilvio isolated himself, as many veterans do. He kept his experiences overseas under lock and key and was hesitant to join peer groups for vets. He was also reluctant to seek a guide or service dog.

“We had a bunch of help from the [Veteran Affairs] in Northport and in Riverhead with my doctors where I was going to get a guide dog through one of the foundations,” he explained. “I chose not to because I felt like I’d be taking away from a fellow soldier who might have lost his legs or lost his limbs. You always feel like somebody is worse off than you.”

Gigi, however, became his service dog. They have been inseparable companions for more than a year, during which time she helped him open up and feel more comfortable. He described his dog as the glue that binds his family together. 

“She’s been with me every single day since she was a puppy,” he said. “She’s been out at the stores, food shopping with me. I dropped my daughter to school every day and she’s been with me for every car ride.”

Since Gigi disappeared July 15 from their Mattituck home, Mr. DiSilvio, his wife, Kathleen Stewart and their children, Raylan, 12, and Isla, 10, have been hoping for her safe return. Thanks to flyers spread across multiple hamlets and social media posts, countless eyes, both human and electronic, are scouring the North Fork for Gigi, including those flying high overhead courtesy of drone owners Sue Agate of Eastport and Teddy Henn of Sayville. Mr. Henn works with Long Island Lost Dog Search and Rescue.

“There’s a lot that goes on in search of a missing pet,” said Jacquie Canale-Buscemi, an administrator on the Missing Angels-Long Island Facebook group. “In Gigi’s case, where she went missing, there are creeks, there are marshes, there is plenty of woods, there are farms, there are nurseries, there are vineyards. Out on the North Fork, this is a lot of land to cover.”

The 10-year-old Bay Shore-based internet group — which has 23,000 followers — posts updates, or the lack thereof, every day regarding Gigi and other missing dogs. The organization’s admins also coordinate searches for the dogs, be it sending calendar invites for searches to all its members, r reaching out to drone pilots to scan a targeted area or blasting followers’ social media feeds and telling the community how they can help.

“I’ve been updating every morning what’s new, what’s not new, what we still need,” Ms. Canale-Buscemi said. “We’ve recently asked people to please leave food and water out if they have a security camera, if they have a ring camera, and place it in front of it. Then they can see if this is indeed Gigi eating the food, another lost dog eating the food — it could be a raccoon, it could be a deer, you just don’t know.”

Ms. Canale-Buscemi said the Missing Angels will not stop sharing updates regarding Gigi until her family has found closure. Mr. DiSilvio said he remains hopeful and has no plans to acquire another dog any time soon.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” he said. “I truly believe she’s out there, whether somebody picked her up or she’s just lost.”

While Gigi’s whereabouts are uncertain, one thing is for sure: The school year will not be the same without her if she does not return home by September.

“Not only was my service stolen, but she was my daughter’s best friend,” Mr. DiSilvio said. “Every morning, my daughter went to school and Gigi came with us for that ride. Every teacher began to know Gigi because you pull up to the school and the teachers are out there. 

“She allowed me to be more friendly and talk to people a lot more as well when I pulled up to school,” he added. “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.” 

Anyone who thinks they might have spotted Gigi is asked to contact the family at 516-443-4902 and to provide any photographs, videos and descriptions they may have.