Highly intelligent, eager to please, and full of energy, herding dogs have become a popular breed among ranchers and regular households alike. Herding dogs have a reputation for corralling their human charges in the absence of livestock, making sure all are present and accounted for. One Australian cattle dog, a Queensland heeler named Blue, went farther afield than most to bring his family’s toddler back to the herd.
The Bensch family of Cordes Lakes, Arizona, was outside with their dogs when three-year-old Victoria wandered away. She thought the other family dog, Rusty, was missing and struck out to find him. Soon after, Victoria’s father, Ernest, was in a panic when he realized his daughter was nowhere to be found.
Rescuers searched the surrounding woods for 15 hours in the 30-degree February cold. When foot searches turned up no leads, a rescue helicopter began circling the area near the Bensch home. At long last, a rescuer spotted Victoria in a creek bed below, but they had no way of knowing if she had survived her ordeal until they got to her.
Top Of The Class
Australian herding dogs are often ranked in the top 10 among all common breeds in intelligence. Trainers measure intelligence by how quickly a dog is able to learn new commands, and how often they respond to commands when given. Heelers are quick to pick up on new commands — after five or fewer repetitions — and respond to commands an astonishing 95 percent of the time.
Because a heeler’s job is to work in partnership with a rancher, the dogs have an uncommon understanding with their humans. A well-trained heeler can have a vocabulary of up to 250 words, about twice the amount of other familiar breeds. Heelers have to keep a herd moving over long distances and rough terrain, sometimes going far from their handlers to bring back stray animals. This is why companion heelers will often pace from room to room, keeping tabs on all the humans in their pack.
A Happy Reunion
When rescuers made their way through the brush to Victoria’s side, Blue was not immediately eager to trust them. The dog’s natural instincts were to protect the toddler from possible predators. But when Blue saw Victoria smile at and greet the search party, his temperament changed dramatically. “I think once the dog realized we were there to help them out, he was very excited,” Matthew Uhl, the helicopter pilot, told The Arizona Republic. “He ran around while the medic tended to the little girl, and when it was time to go, he jumped right into the helicopter and was ready to go.”
Doctors assessed that Victoria had some frostbite in her extremities, bug bites, and scratches from her ordeal. It was only through Blue’s protection the toddler avoided something worse. Victoria, who her aunt calls “our angel,” was quickly reunited with her family after an overnight stay in a Phoenix hospital. Victoria’s aunt told CNN that Blue keeping her warm and alert that undoubtedly saved her niece’s life.
Upon returning home, Blue and Victoria played together as usual, jumping on a trampoline in the Bensch back yard. As a toddler, Victoria couldn’t possibly understand Blue’s brave act, or how her favorite playmate saved her life that night. Luckily, Blue’s fans around the world have shared the story as more evidence of the intangible, unbreakable bond between dogs and their humans.
With evident relief on his face, Victoria’s father told reporters, “She loves that dog. Yes, she loves that dog.”
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