Desperate Dad Refuses To Return Home Until Beloved Family Dog Is Found

It has been exactly 90 days since Derek and Alex Kirchner last saw their beloved dog, Marley. The Atlanta couple was vacationing with family on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island when tragedy struck.

As arriving family members carried in their luggage on September 6, the front door was left open. A child also opened the baby gate confining Marley and the Kirchners’ other dog, Ryelee. Marley, terrified of strangers, bolted out into the night. The well-meaning family chased after her, but this only contributed to her fear.

By the time Derek and Alex arrived back at the rental house, Marley was nowhere to be found.


The Rollercoaster Ride Begins

Sadly, many lost dogs, especially skittish ones like Marley, quickly revert to a near-feral state. They become nocturnal, hiding during the day and scavenging for food by night. They may avoid all human contact, even their own family.

The Kirchners scoured the island, spread the word to locals and tourists to be on the lookout for Marley, and reached out to lost pet groups on social media. They also created a dedicated Facebook page to raise awareness, collect leads, and share updates.

Hilton Head has a no-flyering policy, but the couple pled their case to the Town Manager. Soon, businesses were displaying Marley’s image in their windows and handing out flyers with their to-go orders. Derek and many community members even began covering their vehicles in flyers.

“In short, we have received absolutely amazing support from the locals all around,” Derek told iHeartDogs.


The first few weeks were a whirlwind of potential sightings, but by September 25, the leads dried up. Alex was forced to return home to Atlanta with Ryelee and the couple’s baby son, Ryker, while Derek stayed behind.

Groundhog’s Day

Due to Covid, both Derek and Alex work remotely. While this has afforded them the freedom to live separately during the search for their beloved Marley, it has been far from easy. While Alex is home in Atlanta caring for Ryker and Ryelee, Derek is stuck in a daily loop similar to Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.

“Our life has been put on pause indefinitely,” Alex explained. “We are getting by with managing our day to day as best as we can making sure the basics of living are being done, but aside from that we are a catastrophic mess mentally, physically, and emotionally, living life on a repeat.” 


He went on to offer a snapshot of his daily routine.

 “I usually wake up around 5 am, get a little work done, coffee, and then go out for a few hours in the morning. Usually back by 10 am, and will work until about 3-4ish, and then back out looking for Marley until after the sun sets. Then I eat dinner, and go back out until at least 10 or 11 on weekdays. Weekends I pretty much stay out until it is no longer safe and I have to call it a night.


A Loving Investment

Derek estimates they have spent about $20,000 on lodging, paid ads, living expenses, trail cams, professional trackers, and other miscellaneous expenses. They have also benefitted from the kindness of strangers, which they have received in spades. A couple Derek met while canvassing has put him up in their guest house free of charge, and others have donated their time, money, supplies, and much-needed encouragement.

Marley has been a source of love and light for the Kirchners since they rescued her as a puppy four years ago. Despite her timid nature with strangers, she is extremely loving with Derek and Alex. She has even appointed herself young Ryker’s personal bodyguard.

“Our Marley would do anything for us – so we will go to the ends of the Earth for her,” Derek said. “She may still be out there in feral mode moving around at night for safety, but we have to spread awareness nationally to ensure we cover every base. PLEASE consider helping us spread the word. We need our Marley back and we need to be together again as a family.” 


How YOU Can Help

Visitors and residents of Hilton Head Island can help by keeping their eyes peeled for Marley. She may be hiding out in the woods, under someone’s porch, near a construction site, or in an empty vacation home. If you spot her, keep your distance, snap a photo, and call Derek at (404) 444-0569 right away.

Since Hilton Head is a popular tourist spot, it’s possible that a well-meaning dog lover picked Marley up and brought her home. This means she could be anywhere. While the search is still concentrated on the island, the Kirchners are asking everyone to share this post and her missing flyer far and wide. The more Marley’s face is seen, the more likely she is to find her way home.


This loving family deserves a Christmas miracle. Let’s help them get it!

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