On Wednesday, a three-year-old named Marshal Butler went missing in Ponce de Leon. The local police department put out a message on Facebook that the boy had last been seen wearing only a diaper, and that a search party was being assembled that included a K9 team.
Local news affiliate WJHG/WECP reported that members of the Walton County, Holmes County, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation were all a part of the team looking for Marshal, who is autistic and non-verbal.
While this would be terrifying for any parent, knowing how difficult it would be for Marshal to communicate with a stranger ratcheted up the level of anxiety his family was feeling. Kayla Stewart, Butler’s aunt, was interviewed by reporters and explained how this was a nightmare scenario for them.
“We were panicked,” she said. “All sorts of worst-case scenarios are running through their heads.”
She added, “Through the whole process you’re terrified.”
Finally, their worry was relieved. Their neighbor Carol Shelton found Marshal, and he wasn’t alone. Guarding the toddler were the family dogs, Buckwheat and Nala. They believe they were with him the entire time he was missing.
“[We’re] thankful that the pups kind of guided him along I guess they kept him safe,” said another neighbor.
The Walton Police Department reported on Marshal’s safe discovery, shouting out the dog’s part in caring for the boy, and adding in a comment that, “We don’t deserve dogs.”
Of Nala and Buckwheat, Marshal’s mother said, “They’re doing their job.”
Marshal was completely unharmed, though he was covered in dirt, since playing in it is one of his favorite pastimes. Dogs make good guardians, but they definitely wouldn’t stop anyone from playing in the dirt if that’s how they want to spend the afternoon.