An old blue heeler named Max remained by the side of a three-year-old girl and led searchers to her after she spent more than 15 hours lost in rugged bushland on Queensland’s Southern Downs overnight.
Aurora was reported missing about 3pm on Friday after she wandered off on her own, but a search of woodlands and hills on the rural property in wet weather that night found no trace of her.
On Saturday morning, more than 100 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers, police and members of the public resumed the search and found the girl safe and well with Max the dog at 8am.
For his good work in keeping the little girl safe, Max has now been declared an honorary police dog.
Kelly Benston, the partner of Leisa Bennett, who is Aurora’s grandmother, said Ms Bennett and other searchers heard the little girl faintly from the top of a mountain this morning.
“She found the dog first. Max led her to Aurora,” Mr Benston said.
“Max is 17 years old, deaf and partially blind.”
SES area controller Ian Phipps confirmed a family member spotted Aurora and Max about two kilometres from the house, still on the family property at Cherry Gulley, 30 kilometres south of Warwick.
“The area around the house is quite mountainous and is very inhospitable terrain to go walking in, so she’d travelled quite a distance with her dog that was quite loyal to her,” he said.
“The search was actually quite hard where the volunteers and the police were, amongst the very steep slopes full of lantana and other vegetation.”
‘Smelled of dog’
Ms Bennett said she tracked her down after the three-year-old responded to her shouting.
“When I heard her yell ‘Grammy’ I knew it was her,” she said.
“I shot up the mountain … and when I got to the top, the dog came to me and led me straight to her.
“He never left her sight. She smelled of dog, she slept with the dog.”
Ms Bennett said it was an emotional reunion with “a lot of tears”.
“I think [Aurora] was a bit overwhelmed by the tears and the howling, but I explained to her how happy those tears were,” she said.
“It could have gone any of 100 ways, but she’s here, she’s alive, she’s well and it’s a great outcome for our family.”
Mr Phipps said Aurora suffered minor cuts and abrasions but was otherwise well and it was a wonderful outcome for the family and searchers.
“With the weather last night it’s quite lucky she is well because it was cold, it was cold and raining,” he said.
“She’s a very hardy young lass to survive that without any ill effects and everyone, all the volunteers are extremely happy.
“They had travelled from all over the region just to do the search and that’s one of the things they join the SES for is to look after the community and do these activities … and bring happiness to a family.
“There was a little bit of dread going into it with a cold night last night, but to get such a positive outcome the volunteers are very happy, and will be tucking into a bacon and egg sandwich very shortly.”