Taco the chihuahua has defied the odds, surviving three-and-a-half days in the woods in Fort McMurray.
Taco slipped out of his harness and ran away from his owners last week. The small pup was rescued by a local man and his dog, who have helped find lost pets before.
"I missed him so much," said 11-year-old Ellyse Naughton, whose dog usually follows her like a shadow.
When Naughton found out her beloved dog escaped on Nov. 9, she screamed and cried, she said.
She and her family started searching for the dog, driving around neighbourhoods. Dozens of other people joined the effort, but to no avail.
Naughton reached out to friends to see if anyone had spotted Taco, while her mother asked for more help searching via Facebook.
That's when the situation caught Graham Whatmough's attention.
Whatmough saw the Facebook post last Friday night, three-and-a-half days after Taco went missing. He recognized the area where the dog had gotten lost, because he had found a lost dog there last February.
He contacted the owners, got the most recent sightings of the town and started searching, accompanied by his dog Willow. Willow, found by Whatmough abandoned and injured in the woods just over two years ago, helped find a previous lost dog.
"I really wasn't expecting to find him," Whatmough said.
The duo arrived where Taco had last been seen and Whatmough let Willow off leash.
Minutes later, Willow found the chihuahua sitting amongst the trees 300 metres down a hill.
"Without Willow I could've easily just went right past," said Whatmough.
"Taco wasn't really moving when I found him."
Naughton, Taco reunited
Whatmough and Willow met Naughton at her family's restaurant, where they reunited the girl with her dog.
"It was hard not to cry with them… it was pretty overwhelming," said Whatmough.
Taco was happy to see Naughton again, but he was weak, she said. The dog was five-and-a-half pounds before he got lost, but now weighs three-and-a-half pounds.
Taco is somewhat skittish when outside, but he's eating a lot and is otherwise recuperating nicely, Naughton said.
Willow received a steak dinner as a reward for finding Taco.
Meanwhile, Whatmough is trying to keep a low profile, as many people reach out for help finding their lost animals.
"I'm trying to avoid the reputation of being the lost dog guy," he said.
He is considering doing more formal training with Willow, however, because she seems well-suited to finding dogs.
"I'm kind of curious to find out if it's a fluke."
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