Long Island woman praises police efforts in finding missing mother: Exclusive

SELDEN, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island woman is speaking out about the police officer and canine who rescued her missing mother after she had gone missing for 18 hours.

Martine Fontus, of Islip, almost lost her mother this week.

Fontus's mother, 68-year-old Jill Zarella, walked away from her apartment on Boyle Road in Selden late Monday night.

Zarella's caretaker noticed Zarella was gone the next morning, but her cellphone, wallet and purse were in the residence. The door of the home was found slightly ajar.

"Call all the hospital, nothing," Fontus said. "And the cops did the same thing, now we start losing hope."

Fontus, who spoke exclusively with Eyewitness News, said Suffolk County police officers never gave up. They brought in Canine Officer Thomas Teufel and his German Shepherd, Maverick.

They began searching the woods near Zarella's apartment.

Teufel said Detective Luis Cabrera asked Teufel to zone in on a certain area of the woods.

"Maverick picked up his head, he had some odor in the wind and then he dragged me to an area where there were some bushes and a depression," Teufel recounted. "And there, I found the victim laying on the ground."

Teufel said Zarella told him she had fallen and couldn't get up.

Zarella is visually impaired.

Teuel said Zarella was dehydrated and he gave her a bottle of water. Police transported her to the hospital and she was released a few hours later.

"She's alive, just dehydrated after all these hours," Fontus said. "It was a blessing."

Last month, Maverick led police officers to a man in his mid-80s with dementia who went missing in the woods near Eastport.

"We went into that woods, Maverick, same thing, picked up his head, started dragging me through the woods and we find the victim laying in a little opening in the woods in the sun," Teufel said.

Fontus said police officers don't get enough credit for all the good work they do.

"People need to show respect to the cops because when we are in trouble, who do we call?" Fontus said.

Fontus said it felt like if family members, not police officers, were helping her find her mother.

"I cannot thank the police officers enough for their help of being so caring and loving," she said.

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