A two-year-old girl who wandered away from her home in a remote and heavily wooded area of Michigan was found safe and sound hours later, guarded by her family’s two dogs: an English Springer named Hartley and a Rottweiler named Buddy.
The toddler, Thea Chase, was reported missing by her mother Brooke Chase after she disappeared around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday from their home in Faithorn, a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, close to the Canadian border near Sault Ste. Marie.
Brooke told local outlet WLUC that Thea had been playing in the yard barefoot when the toddler’s uncle told her to go inside and put some shoes on.
“She said ‘OK!’ and he thought she went inside. My gut told me to go check on Thea and make sure she wasn’t getting into any trouble,” Brooke said. “That is when we noticed that she was not here, and the dogs were not here.”
For about half an hour, Brooke and her brother-in-law searched the surrounding areas for the missing toddler to no avail.
“I was just panicking, thinking the worst,” she said, noting that neither the dogs nor Thea were answering their yells.
Police were called around 8 p.m., after the sun had set, and Michigan State Police and local sheriff’s deputies coordinated to search for the two-year-old using drones, search-and-rescue crews and sniffer dogs.
“When we get a call like that, everything else stops,” Michigan State Police Lt. Mark Giannunzio told CNN.
Members of the local community also formed volunteer search parties to help look for Thea in the dense forest around Faithorn.
At around midnight, more than four hours after the two-year-old was first noticed missing, a family friend searching for Thea on an ATV came across the family’s Rottweiler, Buddy.
Buddy barked at him as he approached and that’s when he found Thea a short ways off the trail. She was asleep on the ground with her head resting on Hartley, the family’s English Springer.
“She laid down and used one of the dogs as a pillow, and the other dog laid right next to her and kept her safe,” Giannunzio told the Associated Press. “It’s a really remarkable story.”
When the family friend tried to approach the sleeping Thea to wake her up, Hartley growled at him to back off, Brooke told CNN.
“She has those dogs wrapped around her finger,” she said.
Thea was driven back home on the back of the ATV and reunited with her family.
“I ran outside when I heard she was up here. The minute she sees me she says, ‘Hi Mommy,’ like nothing happened. She was giggling. I was trying to compose myself,” Brooke told WLUC.
Police say that Thea was evaluated by medical personnel and found to be unharmed during the hours she was missing.
She was located about five kilometres from her home.