“The worst thing is the unknown — of not knowing where they are,” says Lynn Whetsell. “It’s awful. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t ever want to go through anything like this again.”

Early last Sunday morning, Whetsell let her two chocolate Labrador retrievers, Lucy and Belle, out for a run before church at her home near Bowman.

“We live in the back of a 50-acre field,” she said. “We thought they’d be safe.”

But when she went to call them back 30 minutes later, they’d vanished. She and her husband, Britton, have been living a nightmare ever since, Whetsell said.

They have not just followed the usual methods for finding lost pets. They’ve also taken some extraordinary measures to find their “babies” and bring them home.

“Some people think of them as dogs. Some think of them as pets, but we think of them as children,” Whetsell said. “Our dogs are our babies. This has been so horrible.”

When they realized Lucy and Belle were gone, Britton decided to stay at home and search for them while she went to church, Whetsell said.

“I cried the whole time,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s awful. It’s heartbreaking.”

Whetsell, managing pharmacist at Walmart, said she was barely able to work this past week.

“My husband has been devastated, too,” she said. “He literally couldn’t think straight. He has a diesel truck, and he filled it with gas. We had to get it towed from Mount Pleasant.”

Family and friends who know how much they love their dogs have rallied around them.

“People are treating this like a funeral — bringing covered dishes,” she said.

They also created a dog search team that’s been on the job as long as 18 hours a day, every day.

“It’s like we’re on an Amber alert,” Whetsell said.

They’ve searched the swamp near their home on four-wheelers for hours, using spotlights after dark.

They’ve also walked through the swamp near their home, wading through chest-deep water time after time.

“We’ve been getting coon hunters to go out and look at night,” she said. “We hoped they’d come to the sounds of dogs.”

The couple made a tape of Britton calling for the dog and played it on speakers all night, hoping Lucy and Belle would follow it home.

She placed flyers all over town, and is offering a $1,000 reward.

Her mom, Bobbie Felder, a vice president at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, took Monday off from work to tramp through the woods and search for the dogs. She’s been out every day this week looking for them, Whetsell said.

Felder is really attached to Lucy and Belle, Whetsell said.

“She’d call and ask me to bring them over, and I’d take them and drop them off for a couple of hours,” she said.

On Tuesday after their “children” had been missing two days, they decided to take more extraordinary methods to find Lucy and Belle.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Whetsell said.

They got a friend with a plane to do a search from the air, but there was no sign of Lucy and Belle.

On Thursday, they hired a helicopter service to carry out another search.

The Times and Democrat spoke to Felder by phone on Friday.

“I’m out in the woods now,” she said. “I’ve been walking the swamp in waders all day long for 10 and 11 hours. I don’t expect I’ll find anything, but I’ll feel better for trying.”

Anybody who has lost a beloved pet will understand how they feel, Felder said.

Despite their efforts, the dogs are still missing, Whetsell said.

“We’ve not received a single call, not even a misleading one,” she said. “I bet I’ve spent $5,000 searching for them so far.”

Whetsell said she’d pay the reward to anybody, no questions asked.

“We just want our babies back,” she said. “If somebody took them, they didn’t want them any more than I do.”

Anyone who has information about Belle and Lucy can call Lynn at 803-707-5903 or Britton at 803-682-0903.

The dogs are very friendly, Whetsell said. When they went missing, one was wearing a navy/pink whale collar and the other an aqua/brown whale collar.

Contact the writer: dlinder-altman@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5529.

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