A nine-year-old girl's family said they feared the worst when she went missing on Wednesday and spent a cold night in the forest alone with her three dogs.
Her uncle said the girl's disappearance from her home on a First Nation northeast of Edmonton reminded them of Chase Martens, a two-year-old boy who wandered away from his family's Manitoba farm last month and was later found dead.
"It was very scary, very stressful on everybody," Michael Cross said. "Being a little girl in the middle of nowhere, in the cold in a spring jacket. It was very overwhelming, I wouldn't wish that again for anybody's child."
Family confirmed the girl's name is Meghan, but asked that her last name not be used.
'I've never experienced it in my career,' police officer says
Meghan went missing with her dogs Starky, Brute and Prince at around 6 p.m. Wednesday on the Frog Lake First Nation, around 90 km north of Lloydminster. She was last seen riding her bike in front of her home.
Her disappearance prompted a search involving 30 to 40 community members and police officers that went well into the night, said Sgt. Barry Larocque.
'The dogs are very protective of Meghan' - Michael Cross, uncle
Police were preparing to ramp up their search efforts by bringing in a helicopter from Edmonton when the girl walked out of the bush with her three large dogs around 7 a.m.
An elder spotted the girl and drove her home in his truck, the three dogs following behind them.
She was taken to hospital as a precaution, but was completely unharmed.
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Wearing only a spring jacket and sweatpants, she told police her three dogs kept her warm through almost 12 hours in near-freezing temperatures in the dark forest.
"She said that she had laid down and her dogs kind of huddled around her to keep her warm throughout the night," Larocque said.
"It is a bit of a wild story. I've never experienced it in my career."
'She's a very strong girl'
Cross said the three dogs were treated to a big dinner for keeping the girl safe. She's rarely seen without them, he added.
"They're always by her side. They've just grown together, they've bonded very well. The dogs are very protective of Meghan," he said.
She was settled in at home on Friday, doing well but a little shy from all the attention from media and the community concern about her wellbeing, Cross said.
"She felt kind of bad about that, but we told her, 'Don't feel so bad, this is how many people love you,' " Cross said.
"She's a very strong girl to spend a night out like that. We love her lots, that's for sure."