by Bethany Meissner
Often when people walk their dogs, they’re in a hurry and wish that their dogs were a little bit less interested in everything off the path. Sara Wilce isn’t one of those people. She’s grateful that her dog, Dougal, has a keen interest in his surroundings. Recently the Westie became a hero when, during his morning walk, he spotted an elderly woman and her dog who had been missing for four days!
According to the Stroud News and Journal, Hazel Denham had last been seen at 1:20 the previous Tuesday afternoon as she headed out to walk her Poodle-Yorkshire Terrier mix, Bertie. Her husband, Richard Denham, reported her missing at 5:17 that evening when she and Bertie still hadn’t returned home. Richard is 85 and his wife is 71 with mild dementia. The Denhams live in Minchinhampton, an ancient hilltop town in the Cotswolds of England. When people learned that Hazel was missing, the community sprang into action. Volunteers and professionals with a number of agencies and services coordinated searching for the woman. Police officers and other officials gave out maps of areas where people should search. The National Police Air Service used thermal-imaging cameras to look for signs of Hazel and Bertie. The Search & Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) South Wales also participated in the search.
Thankfully Sara had heard about Hazel’s disappearance when she took Dougal for a walk that Friday near Toadsmoor Woods. Sara told reporters that she’d “read that [Hazel] used to walk up to three miles each day with her dog so it wasn’t beyond reason that she could make [it] this far.”
Sara continued, “Dougal spotted Bertie while we were walking in Toadsmoor Woods….I almost carried on walking, thinking that it could be someone else, but I thought we ought to go and look.” Sara described their “zigzag down the hill” and that she could see that the woman’s hair was red.
When they got close enough, Sara could see that the woman was sitting on a steep bank. There was a dog by her side. “There’s no way she would have been able to get down without help,” Sara observed. Sara and Dougal approached the woman and her dog. Sara asked “Are you Hazel?” and the woman replied, “Yes, I’ve been here for three days.”
Sara shared that Hazel “was surrounded by trees so you really wouldn’t have been able to see her unless you were looking,” so apparently Dougal was being extra observant that day. One of Hazel’s six children, James, said that the family was “absolutely shocked and immensely relieved” when they heard that Hazel and Bertie had been found. He revealed that Hazel “can’t remember where she’s been” so they can never know the full story, but that Hazel is “recovering well. She has a sprained ankle and some very minor bruises.” The family has “bought trackers for her and Bertie,” according to James, who continued “it’s great to know that [Bertie] he’ll never leave her side.” Hazel “already wants to go back out and walk Bertie.”
After Dougal and Sara found Hazel and Bertie, Chief Inspector Neil Smith told reporters, “I want to thank everyone involved in the search for Hazel – from all our officers and staff to agencies like SARA, Serve-on, SARDA South Wales and Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue, the media, and the community itself.” He noted that they had always hoped to find Hazel, but were starting to “fear the worst” given how much time had passed. He continued, “The reaction to Hazel’s disappearance highlighted the positive side of human nature and what can be done when people come together – the fact that Hazel was finally found by a fellow dog walker who was determined to do her bit was very apt. The community should be very proud of its efforts.”
We’re sure that Sara is especially proud of Dougal and his keen senses.
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