When a young British Columbia family stopped to make camp in the Yukon wilderness they were surprised to see a scruffy dog that looked a bit like a coyote come out of the bush.
They saw the mongrel had porcupine quills sticking out of its face and tried to help, not knowing that simple act of kindness would be repaid in the most remarkable way - with the deliverance of their son from a life-threatening ordeal.
Two-year-old Kale disappeared into the bush wearing only a T-shirt on a cool and rainy night late last week. More than 24 hours later, search-and-rescue authorities found him alive, thanks in part to Koda, the yellow mutt with the quill-covered snout who protected the toddler and kept him warm overnight.
"A bear could have got him. Anything could have happened," said Mike Bondarchuk, a local hotel owner who volunteered in the search for Kale. "What we do know is the dog stuck with him, all night and all the next day."
Kale and Koda will now be able to stick together for good - Koda's owner has given the dog to the toddler's family.
"He was meant to be there at that time," said Kim Dolan, the owner of Koda, who had been missing for about a week before meeting the boy.
"It was tough to give him away. I was in tears … but it was the right thing to do," she said.
The toddler, whose last name has not been released, disappeared at about 6 p.m. Thursday while his parents set up their trailer near where North Canol Road crosses the Tay River, about 50 kilometres north of the Ross River, Yukon.
The parents, who asked authorities not to release their names, are experienced in the outdoors and had driven from Kamloops for the camping trip
The Tay River area is about as wild as it gets, with dense forest interspersed with willow thickets, marshes and rushing streams.
After the RCMP in Ross River - population 400 - were notified the boy was missing, a full-scale operation began, with search-and-rescue teams and volunteers responding from three Yukon communities.
But darkness fell with no sign of Kale, who had vanished into the dense bush.
Among the volunteers to arrive were Mr. Bondarchuk, who co-owns the Canol Road Hotel and Koda's owner Ms. Dolan, the daughter of his business partner.
Ms. Dolan said Sunday that when she heard the mother of the missing boy describe the yellow dog that had been hanging around, she knew instantly it was her mutt, Koda, who is also called Squeak.
"She said the dog was kind of coyote looking and he had a face full of porcupine quills … I thought what are the chances? It's probably my dog," said Ms. Dolan.
"He's a total mutt. A total kid dog … he just wants to be loved," she said of Koda, an abandoned dog she adopted from the streets of Ross River several months earlier.
Koda had wandered off before and often came home from the bush with porcupine quills in his face.
As the mother of two sons, Ms. Dolan said she knew what Kale's mother was going through, and comforted her by saying: "That's my dog out there. He won't leave your son."
Mr. Bondarchuk, who joined the ground search, said he was told the father of the missing boy had pulled some porcupine quills out of the dog's face before his son had vanished.
Keiser Sterriah, 14, was getting ready to go hunting with his father, Norman, when news about the missing boy spread through Ross River. They were among a group of about 25 volunteers who responded, along with search and rescue specialists from Faro and Whitehorse.
"They told us we were looking for a little boy in a T-shirt, he had no jacket, and he was last seen with a yellow dog," Keiser said. "They told us to look under logs because he might be curled up there. And we just started going through the bush … it's very dense there, lots of marshes … there were grizzly tracks nearby," he said.
"I can only imagine what was going through the mother's mind at the time," Michael Pealow, a member of the Whitehorse District Search and Rescue Society team wrote in blog posted on the weekend.
"The night was cold and wet and the terrain in the area is rough. . . Most adults wouldn't make it through the night before succumbing to hypothermia, let alone a two-year-old child."
At 6:40 Friday evening - nearly 25 hours after Kale vanished - a helicopter using forward-looking infrared radar picked up a heat image on the ground, about two kilometres from the camp site. The pilot saw a dog running for cover.
Bill Wood, of the Faro Search and Rescue team, said a ground crew working nearby went to the scene and found the boy, about 40 metres off the gravel road.
They later recovered Koda, who had been scared by the helicopter. He was still stuck with porcupine quills, which the rescuers removed.
"I'm sure it definitely helped [the boy survive]" said Mr. Wood of the dog.
"Overnight they would have been able to cuddle for warmth and a companion makes a world of difference - it doesn't matter if you're a little boy or an adult."Report Typo/Error