Dogs may be man’s best friend, but children have a special place in their hearts. That’s what the family of 6-year-old Ryle Smith learned when Ryle and the two family dogs, Baxter, a big, tough-looking Boxer, and Bella, a yellow Labrador-mix, all wandered off together about 4:30 p.m. on Friday to play in the woods behind the Smith’s Seneca, Missouri, home.
It began to get dark about 5:00 p.m. and neither the boy nor the dogs returned or responded to calls. That's when Ryan and Holly Smith became very worried, reports the Joplin Globe. “I was nervous because it was getting dark and some of the area in the woods can be really dangerous,” Ryan said. “He was outside with the dogs, and we didn’t see or hear from either of them.”
Ryan Smith also realized that the temperatures would drop quickly as night descended. After he frantically checked the woods near the house, he called 911. By 6:00 p.m. 150 to 200 volunteers and emergency officials from the Joplin, Seneca and the Redings Mill fire departments, along with the Newton County Rescue and Recovery team and the Newton County Sheriff’s Department, had arrived at the area and started to search for Ryle, Sheriff Ken Copeland said.
“It amazes me how quick everyone came out to look for my son,” Ryan Smith said. “An hour after word got out, you couldn’t get anywhere close to the driveway.
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After almost five hours of intense searching, Ryle was found in a ditch, with the two dogs lying on top of him to keep him warm, as temperatures dipped into the low ‘20's. Paramedics told Smith they knew the dogs had been covering Ryle because his upper extremities were warm.
The little boy's shoes were missing, and he had cuts on parts of his body and holes in his clothes from his harrowing adventure in the woods, but by 10:00 p.m. he was back in his father’s arms. “When we got to him at the ambulance, he was wrapped up like a mummy,” Ryan Smith said. “I hugged him and told him I loved him. I was just glad to have my son back.”
Ryle told his father he followed the dogs into the woods but he became lost when the sun set. “I wasn’t scared, I was just really cold,” Ryle told the Joplin Globe from his home Saturday. “Bella was my guard dog and Baxter was next to me the whole time.”
Baxter, the Boxer, has been part of the family for more than 10 years, while Bella, a young mixed-Labrador, was a recent addition at Christmas. “They both were incredible in the way that they protected him,” Ryan Smith said. “They wouldn’t have left him for anything. You can’t ask for more in a dog than that.”
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Despite his ragged appearance, Ryle was released from Freeman Hospital in Joplin with no serious injuries, his father said.
“We got into action quickly, and that’s what helped us find him,” Sheriff Copeland told the Joplin Globe. “The Highway Patrol chopper was even in the area with infrared to see if they could help.” “We were really concerned about the weather,” Copeland told ABC News. “It was calling for sleet and snow later that night.”
Sheriff Copeland said that he didn't have the identities of the rescuers who actually located Ryle. Ryan Smith said, “...I just want them to know how thankful we are.”