“A dog is literally the best friend you can ever get,” says Jake Miller, 14, whose parents are the proud owners of a blue heeler named Max. “No matter what the circumstances are, a dog will always follow you and be loyal to you.”
Max proved his loyalty to the family in April 2018 when Jake’s three-year-old niece Aurora went missing for more than 15 hours in forbidding bushland on Queensland’s Southern Downs. When Jake finally found little Aurora – known in the family as Rory – faithful Max was by her side.
The drama took place on a Friday afternoon. When Jake returned from school to the family property at Cherry Gully, 30 kilometres south of Warwick, he was greeted by his father, who was panic-stricken. “I asked him what was wrong, and he said, ‘Rory’s gone missing,’” Jake recalls.
The family summoned a search party comprising State Emergency Service workers, police and neighbours. They began scouring their property, which covers a considerable stretch of mountainous terrain. “We went all over the place, but we didn’t look far enough,” Jake says. Rory was not found by the time night fell.
Rory’s family knew that searching the bush would be impossible overnight, so they waited anxiously for first light. Then the search resumed, this time with more than 100 people, including Aboriginal trackers. Jake trekked up a hillside towards one of the property’s dams. Some 2km from the house, he heard a faint noise. Moving towards the sound, he caught a glimpse of Rory on the other side of a fence, sitting next to Max.
“I scrambled through the fence and grabbed her and hugged her,” Jake says. “I did feel a bit emotional.” Aside from a few cuts and bruises, Rory was unharmed.
“Max stayed with her for the night,” Jake continues. “He was with her the whole time, protecting her, keeping her warm by lying on top of her.” Max is blind in one eye and deaf, but he kept watch over Rory regardless.
Back at the house, after being reunited with her mother and the rest of the family, Rory explained that she and Max had gone astray while following some “mumma cows” on the property. “On the way back it got dark, so she just plopped down and dropped herself in a ball like a turkey and waited overnight,” Jake says. “She wasn’t scared. It was just a camping trip to her.”
Rory seems to have bounced back completely. “She’s thriving,” says Jake. “She’s having fun. She’s a normal three-year-old.”
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Max has been made Queensland’s first-ever honorary police dog. In May, the local officer-in-charge, Senior Sergeant James Deacon, and Darling Downs district dog squad officer-in-charge Sergeant Trevor O’Neil visited Cherry Gully and presented him with a Queensland Police Service collar and medallion.
Jake says the experience has given him a new-found appreciation for our canine companions. The moral? “Believe in dogs,” he says. “They really are our best friends.”