WHEN you're lost in the mountains for three cold, wet nights, happiness is a warm dog.
Scooter the cross-bred working mutt might not look much but he is loyal - and he was the toast of the high country last night because he could have saved the life of a brumby hunter lost in remote Davies Plains north of Omeo on Friday.
Andy Purdon, 35, dressed only in T-shirt and jeans in Friday's warm weather, was knocked unconscious after roping a brumby stallion about 7.30pm. The stallion put its foot through Mr Purdon's bridle reins, causing his stockhorse to throw its head and hit Mr Purdon in the face, knocking him unconscious.
When he regained his senses late that night, his horse was gone with his saddle and blanket - but his mate's dog, Scooter, had stayed with him. Another dog - one of Scooter's sons, called Wags - had gone with the stockhorse.
Disoriented, wet and cold, Mr Purdon walked in the wrong direction on Saturday before switching back to where he hoped his friends would be searching for him. On Saturday night he crawled down a wombat burrow with the faithful Scooter, who kept him warm.
On Sunday, Mr Purdon killed a snake and tried to share it with the dog - but neither of them could eat it. They also tried eating snails but neither was impressed.
Meanwhile, Scooter's owner, Dean Backman, and about 20 other experienced high-country riders had gathered to comb the ridges and valleys with police. Mr Backman found his friend at mid-morning yesterday.
"He had no matches on him to light a fire," the laconic Mr Backman said last night. "He'll learn from that, won't he?"
The relieved searchers - including Mr Purdon's partner, Sharon Truelove - fed the famished man and dog at their camp and then took Mr Purdon to Omeo for medical treatment on the long trip home to Newry.
Scooter, meanwhile, will be heading back into the bush with Mr Backman and his crew to look for Mr Purdon's horse - and Wags, the missing dog.
Scooter, too, might have had a lucky escape, according to his relieved owner. Before he was found yesterday, Mr Purdon was wondering if a black-and-tan dog would taste better than a copperhead snake.
Man's best friend, indeed.
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