When six-year-old Ryle Smith wandered away from his Seneca, Missouri backyard Saturday night, any number of things might have happened to him. Dense woods can be a dangerous place for a child lost in the winter, but not for Ryle – he had his dogs to protect him.
Ryle had been playing in his family’s backyard when he wandered too far into the woods and got disoriented as the sun began to set. His parents checked the woods as soon as they noticed him missing, but he was farther deep in the thicket than his parents would have imagined he could have gotten.
Ryan and Holly Smith called 911, and were responded to by the sheriff’s department, three local fire departments and Newtown County’s rescue team. More than 100 people combed the area while a Highway Patrol helicopter using infrared technology swept the woods from the sky.
“We were getting concerned because snow was supposed to be coming in that night,” Sheriff Copeland said. Temperatures were due to be in the lower 20s.
Four hours after their search began, Ryle was found huddling in a bush in a ditch with the family’s dogs, Baxter and Bella. The firemen bundled the barefoot boy in blankets, and he was taken to a hospital.
“When we got to him at the ambulance, he was wrapped up like a mummy,” Ryan said. “I hugged him and told him I loved him. I was just glad to have my son back.”
His feet were nearly frostbitten, and there were holes in his clothes and cuts on his body. But Ryle’s dogs kept him alive. Rescuers said his upper body and arms were warm, and that the dogs had been found lying on top of him.
“I wasn’t scared, I was just really cold,” Ryle explained. “Bella was my guard dog and Baxter was next to me the whole time.”
Boxer Baxter has been with the family for 10 years. He has known Ryle since he was born, and likely thinks of him as one of his own. Lab mix Bella has only been with the family since Christmas, but already appears to feel like a Smith.
“They both were incredible in the way that they protected him,” Ryan said. “They wouldn’t have left him for anything. You can’t ask for more in a dog than that.”