Faithful dog Dasher
It was a discarded nappy, foot and paw prints, and the sound of a crying child that drew police to two-year-old Dante Berry, who was found in bush.
Grubby, with prickles in his bare feet and wearing nothing but a long-sleeved top, the Mildura toddler was found with faithful German shepherd Dasher in state forest more than 4km from their Deakin Ave home.
Almost 14 hours after raising the alarm, Dante’s mum embraced her little boy again at 10am yesterday.
More than 100 police, firefighters, neighbours and strangers were thanked by his parents for their part in the desperate search.
“We are happy, but not surprised, to learn that his faithful dog Dasher stayed by his side and was also found safe and well,” they said.
The pair’s adventure started at 8.30pm on Tuesday, when Dante’s mum Bianca Chapman discovered they had disappeared from the front yard.
A search was started as the pair wandered down dirt tracks and through scrub in thunderstorms.
Mildura Sen-Sgt Stephen Phelan said a nappy on the side of a dirt track 2km from home, with foot and paw prints around it, set search parties on the trail about 8.30am yesterday.
“From our information he’s renowned for pulling off his nappies,” Sen-Sgt Phelan said.
But it was a sharp cry in knee-high scrub that led senior constables Carol Rigby and Greg Lee to find Dante several metres from the track, “stunned” and dehydrated.
“We’ve run down here and called out at the same time, hoping he might call back, and we’ve seen the dog appear in the bushes,” Sen-Constable Rigby said.
“(Dante) was very grubby. He had very grubby feet and legs and hands. He was more stunned and amazed than anything.
“There was a bit of rain overnight and some thunderstorms, which must have been a bit nerve-racking for the child, but he was in pretty good nick considering.”
Department of Sustainability and Environment tracker Will Hannah said tracks showed the pair had gone around in circles.
“You could just imagine what was going through his little mind – lost (and) dark. Lucky he did have his dog to keep him warm overnight,” Mr Hannah said.
Sen-Sgt Phelan said with the thunderstorms, Dante “picked one of the worst nights to go missing”.
He urged parents to keep an eye on young children.
“The warning is they can disappear very quickly and they can travel a long way in a very short period of time,” Sen-Sgt Phelan said.
“A known fact is that kids do follow their pets around.”
The resilient toddler was smiling as he ate McDonald’s on his hospital bed hours after the ordeal.
Dante’s grandfather Percy Chapman thanked the army of supporters, many of whom they didn’t know, who ” went looking for my grandson”.
Mr Chapman said Dante and Dasher had disappeared before, but had never travelled this far.