Imogen Bacon, 3, with her Jack Russell terrier Sam, who stayed with her when she wandered 40 minutes’ walk from her Mylneford home on Friday night.
Imogen Bacon, 3, with her Jack Russell terrier Sam, who stayed with her when she wandered 40 minutes’ walk from her Mylneford home on Friday night. Adam Hourigan

Dog stays with lost toddler

IT’S every family’s worst nightmare.

A dam-filled property, falling darkness, a cold fog creeping in – and a missing child.

Mylneford’s Nicole and David Bacon experienced this sheer anguish when their three-year-old daughter Imogen disappeared for three hours on their 86-acre property on Friday night.

Mrs Bacon realised something was wrong not long after sitting down to feed the couple’s sixth child, four-week-old baby Eva, about 4.40 that afternoon.

Her other children Nikita, 17, Luke, 13, Niav, 9, and Rhys, 6, had just returned to their Rogan Bridge Road home on the bus from school in Grafton.

“I sat down to feed the baby and said, ‘I can’t hear Imogen’,” Mrs Bacon recalled.

“Often she goes up to the shed with the dogs. Nikita went out to look for her and yelled out for her, and looked in the usual places.

“Sometimes Imogen won’t answer you if she’s gone where she’s not supposed to.”

However alarm bells started ringing when they discovered one of the family’s three dogs, Sam, a Jack Russell terrier, was also missing.

“Sam is always at the house,” Mrs Bacon said.

After frantically screaming Imogen’s name and running in search of her around the property, Mrs Bacon said she and her children decided to check next door.

Two days before, Imogen – the most adventurous of her brood – had gone to visit their neighbour’s sheep.

“She’s animal mad,” Mrs Bacon said. “I thought maybe she had gone back to the sheep.”

But there was no sign of the toddler.

At 5.10pm, Mrs Bacon said “it started to get cool” and her eldest children Nikita and Luke began wading through the property’s nine dams.

Twenty minutes later she rang her husband, David, a floor and timber tiler still at work at Casino, as well as the police.

“We were driving cars around by that stage,” she said. “We had all the neighbours looking for her.”

By 6.15pm her husband was home, the police, ambulance and Rural Fire Service had arrived, and the State Emergency Service was on its way.

“I rang everyone I knew,” Mrs Bacon said. This included their friends from the nearby pony club, which was staging a campdraft in South Grafton. They announced to participants a child was missing. Word was passed on to spectators at a nearby junior rugby game.

“Six or seven car loads came out – all these people we’d never met before,” Mrs Bacon said. “We just had more and more people turn up.”

From then on a mass-scale search of their property began, including quarantining of the dams and a foot sweep of the property from the top end, near the road, down.

Mrs Bacon, “exhausted” after so long searching, stayed in the house with her children.

“They (the SES and police) just said to me throughout the night, ‘if the dog hasn’t returned you have a chance’.”

Two hours into the official search, just after 8pm, Mr Bacon and his eldest son drove down to their property’s bottom gate, about 2km west of their house, with a Rural Fire Service volunteer. They were calling for Sam.

“The man in the fire truck said he heard a faint bark,” Mrs Bacon said.

After four times of driving a little further through the “really thick scrub” then shutting their engines off and calling for the Jack Russell, Sam finally came running over. Behind him was Imogen underneath a gumtree.

“He (David) said she was leaning on it with her arms around it, looking lost,” Mrs Bacon said. “She outstretched her arms and said ‘Daddy’. She was shivering cold and her socks were wet. If we hadn’t found her that night she could have been quite sick by the morning.”

Upon hearing the news, the police called off their dispatch of sniffer dogs from Newcastle and a helicopter from Sydney.

When David returned with his little girl in his arms, the backyard – full of 80 people who had joined in the search – erupted.

Daughter Nikita described it as “the best thing ever”. “There was a huge cheer and people were clapping,” she said.

“Everyone was saying how Sam deserves a medal.”

Mrs Bacon said the volunteers and police officers were in tears.

But Imogen didn’t even cry.

“Knowing what she’s like, it’s nothing to her – Imogen’s been that way all along,” she said. “She’s got no fear of anything – she’s not even scared of the dark.”

However her mum couldn’t make light of the trauma.

“It’s just the worst feeling,” she said. “You’re just numb. I was out of my body watching myself go through it.

“It’s such a rollercoaster of emotion. You hear every day of kids being found in dams. You just get flashes of possibilities – you go through those what-ifs.”

Mrs Bacon said it appeared Imogen had gone to visit the sheep with the three dogs, which then chased a kangaroo.

The other two dogs returned home on scent but Sam stayed true to his wandering pal.

“He’s incredibly loyal,” Mrs Bacon said of the two-year-old pup. “We got him for the kids. We take the animals for granted when you think what he’s done to save her.”

Mrs Bacon said Sam was allowed inside the house on Saturday while the family recovered “in tears”.

She was overwhelmed with gratitude for the help she and her husband received from so many people.

“Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” she said. “We are so grateful that everyone came and helped us.”

Imogen’s grandmother Marie Tunks, who lives in Sydney, also contacted The Daily Examiner to express her thanks.

“I just can’t describe the extent of my gratitude for the generosity of those wonderful people who were there when they needed them,” she said.

Asked about her friend Sam, Imogen responded: “He’s my boy.”

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