Noon had just passed, her dog was wearing down as the temperature rose, and searcher Laura Totis had nearly finished with her assigned sector in yesterday's urgent hunt for little Michael Donohue.
The 2-year-old had walked away from his mother and disappeared into briar-choked woods around his Charles County home Tuesday afternoon. An all-night search yielded nothing but a report from volunteers of a child calling, "Mommy," in the dark hours before dawn.
And now Totis and Torrie, her Rottweiler, struggled through sweltering heat into a fifth hour of searching. Totis called the missing child's name. Finally, from the woods came what she hoped for: a reply from a healthy Michael. Totis's dog led her to the child, who sat calmly in shaded underbrush less than a mile from his home.
"He seemed happy and content right there in the woods," Totis said. "He was a trouper. That kid's going to make quite a Boy Scout someday."
The successful recovery ended a wrenching 23 hours for the Donohue family, for scores of Southern Maryland police officers and firefighters who helped look for the child, and for hundreds of volunteers.
Michael had been playing on a swing set with his Denise Donohue, when he followed his family's dog around the corner of the home in Charlotte Hall, in eastern Charles County, about 1 p.m. Tuesday. The dog apparently led Michael into the woods, for when Denise Donohue rounded the corner moments later, child and dog were gone, said Charles County sheriff's Capt. Joseph C. Montminy.
The dog returned later, loping home -- alone -- along a fire trail.
Word quickly spread. By midmorning yesterday, authorities were overwhelmed with offers of help and beseeching volunteers not to go into the woods unsupervised, fearing that untrained searchers would themselves get lost or confound dogs searching by scent.
By then, about 125 sheriff's deputies, state troopers, firefighters and other searchers had crisscrossed a 2,500-acre area, using horses, all-terrain vehicles, motor bikes and a helicopter equipped with a sensor to detect body heat.
None of it seemed to be working, to the increasing dismay of volunteers who paced about a mustering area, many clad in military-style fatigues, some carrying walking sticks.
"It's just frustrating," said Pam Aguelles, of Hughesville, as she waited to be assigned a search area. Aguelles, a Navy program analyst, offered a simple reason for taking the day off to help. "We have a 2-year-old. We live in [nearby] Hughesville. That's all it takes."
Patrick Dodson, 20, of Clinton, said he arrived at the search about 9 p.m. Tuesday and plunged into the woods. "It was just civilians out with the flashlights and the sticks going through the brush," he said.
Dodson said that about 2 a.m., he and others heard a child crying and calling, "Mommy." The woods' wall of green repulsed them. "It was too thick," Dodson said. "There were sticker plants and swamps."
Totis, who found the child, played down her role. Still, she reveled in the happy ending to a job that too often concludes in tragedy.
"We were thrilled," said Totis, a member of the Rockville-based Mid-Atlantic DOGS Inc., a volunteer search group. "We all do this in the hopes that someday we will find a missing 2-year-old who is alive and well."
Totis gave the child a chocolate bar and water. A search companion, La Plata police Sgt. Wayne Wathen, slipped one of Michael's sneakers back on and carried him a half-mile to the nearest road head. The boy chatted along the way, Wathen said.
Michael was taken to Civista Medical Center in La Plata, where doctors pulled a few ticks off him, pronounced him well and sent him home, said Jan Black, director of clinical services.
Upon returning from the hospital, Michael's parents gave him a bath. The second priority was a long sleep, said his father, also named Michael. "He's so tired," the father said.
"Besides being covered by ticks and being filthy dirty, he's doing well," said Judy Gainer, of Mechanicsville, a cousin of Michael's mother.
She said the boy was working on his second powdered doughnut as the ambulance pulled away. "He looks great. He has rosy cheeks. He's smiling," Gainer said. "I praise God for this. Our prayers were answered."
Neighbor Robin Windsor shared the family's ordeal, staying awake with the distraught parents until 1 a.m. and rising again at 4 a.m.
"It's a nightmare with a most wonderful awakening," Windsor said.
CAPTION: Michael Donohue, 2, leaves Civista Medical Center on a stretcher with a couple of cuddly friends after being checked out by physicians. He was fine except for a few ticks.
CAPTION: Michael Donohue heads home from the hospital with his mother, Denise, and a rescue worker, among others, by his side.