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The search for Taco: 11-year-old reunited with chihuahua rescued from Fort McMurray woods

Taco the chihuahua has defied the odds, surviving 3½ days outside in the woods in Fort McMurray. The small pup was rescued by a local man and his dog, who has helped find lost pets before.

Graham Whatmough and his dog Willow found dog lost in the woods for over 3 days

Ellyse Naughton and her beloved dog, Taco, who survived more than three days outside before being rescued. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Taco the chihuahua has defied the odds, surviving 3½ days in the woods in Fort McMurray.

Taco slipped out of his harness and ran away from his owners last week. The small pup was rescued by a local man and his dog, who have helped find lost pets before.

"I missed him so much," said 11-year-old Ellyse Naughton, whose dog usually follows her like a shadow.

When Ellyse found out her beloved dog escaped on Nov. 9, she screamed and cried, she said.

She and her family started searching for the dog, driving around neighbourhoods. Dozens of other people joined the effort, but to no avail.

Ellyse reached out to friends to see if anyone had spotted Taco, while her mother asked for more help searching via Facebook.

Graham Whatmough, shown here with his dog Willow, started looking for Taco after catching wind of the situation through social media. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

That's when the situation caught Graham Whatmough's attention. 

Whatmough saw the Facebook post last Friday night, 3½ days after Taco went missing. He recognized the area where the dog had gotten lost, because he had found a lost dog there last February. 

He contacted the owners, got the most recent sightings of the town and started searching, accompanied by his dog Willow. Willow, found by Whatmough abandoned and injured in the woods just over two years ago, helped find a previous lost dog.

"I really wasn't expecting to find him," Whatmough said. 

The duo arrived where Taco had last been seen and Whatmough let Willow off leash.

Minutes later, Willow found the chihuahua sitting among the trees 300 metres down a hill.

"Without Willow I could've easily just went right past," said Whatmough.

"Taco wasn't really moving when I found him."

Girl and Taco reunited

Whatmough and Willow met Ellyse at her family's restaurant, where they reunited the girl with her dog.

"It was hard not to cry with them … it was pretty overwhelming," said Whatmough. 

Taco was happy to see Ellyse again, but he was weak, she said. The dog was 5½ pounds before he got lost, but now weighs 3½ pounds.

Taco is somewhat skittish when outside, but he's eating a lot and is otherwise recuperating nicely, Ellyse said.

Whatmough brought Taco back to the dog's owner, Ellyse Naughton. (Submitted by Erin Naughton)

Willow received a steak dinner as a reward for finding Taco.

Meanwhile, Whatmough is trying to keep a low profile, as many people reach out for help finding their lost animals.

"I'm trying to avoid the reputation of being the lost-dog guy," he said. 

He is considering doing more formal training with Willow, however, because she seems well-suited to finding dogs. 

"I'm kind of curious to find out if it's a fluke."

WATCH | Lost chihuahua defies the odds, survives the snow:

Lost chihuahua defies the odds, survives the snow

2 months ago
Duration 1:44
Taco the chihuahua spent three days lost in the woods of Fort McMurray, Alta. in freezing temperatures - but was safely brought home thanks to a neighbour and his dog's keen nose. 1:44

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Malbeuf is a reporter with CBC News, based in Fort McMurray. She started her career with CBC in 2017, after graduating from MacEwan University with a major in journalism. She covers a range of topics including health, justice and housing. Follow her on Twitter @JamieMalbeuf or email Jamie.Malbeuf@cbc.ca with a story idea.

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