By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
SENECA, Mo. —
Ryle Smith could not have had two better companions with him on Friday night.
Smith, 6, of Seneca, followed two of the family’s dogs, Baxter and Bella, into the woods behind his parents’ house Friday evening, and became disoriented and lost as it grew dark.
It prompted a five-hour search that put Ryle back in his parents arms at 10 p.m., thanks to his four-legged friends and efforts from search parties from all over the area.
When Ryle was found, his two dogs were lying on top of him in a ditch, sharing their warmth with him as temperatures dipped into the low 20s.
“I wasn’t scared, I was just really cold,” Ryle said from his home Saturday. “Bella was my guard dog and Baxter was next to me the whole time.”
Ryle was reported missing by his parents, Ryan and Holly Smith, after he didn’t return from playing near his house shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. After checking the woods near the house, Ryan Smith contacted authorities.
“I was nervous because it was getting dark and some of the area in the woods can be really dangerous,” he said. “He was outside with the dogs, and we didn’t see or hear from either of them.”
Emergency officials from the Joplin, Seneca and the Redings Mill fire departments, in addition to the Newton County Rescue and Recovery team and the Newton County Sheriff’s Department, descended on the area to search for Ryle, Sheriff Ken Copeland said.
“We got into action quickly, and that’s what helped us find him,” Copeland said. “The Highway Patrol chopper was even in the area with infrared to see if they could help. It really was an areawide search that got him home.”
Ryle was found without his shoes, cuts on parts of his body and holes in his clothes from his excursion in the woods.
Ryan Smith said his son followed the dogs into the woods and became lost when the sun set. Despite his appearance, Ryle was released from Freeman Hospital in Joplin with no injuries, his father said.
“When we got to him at the ambulance, he was wrapped up like a mummy,” Ryan Smith said. “I hugged him and told him I loved him. I was just glad to have my son back.”
Baxter is a large boxer that has been with the family for more than 10 years, while Bella, a mixed Labrador, was a recent addition to the family over Christmas.
“They both were incredible in the way that they protected him,” Ryan Smith said. “They wouldn’t have left him for anything. You can’t ask for more in a dog than that.”
He also said he was extremely thankful for the way that everyone in the area sprang into action.
“It amazes me how quick everyone came out to look for my son,” Ryan Smith said. “An hour after word got out, you couldn’t get anywhere close to the driveway. I still haven’t got to meet the men who actually found Ryle, but I just want them to know how thankful we are.”
Copeland said Saturday he was not sure of the identities of the rescuers who found Ryle.