North Carolina resident and Alzheimer’s patient Dottie Schnabel, 68, survived 17 long hours wandering in the woods behind her Cabarrus County home, lost, and confused. If it wasn’t for her faithful canine companion, a Doberman Pinscher named Duchess, Dottie might not have made it through the night.
Dottie’s husband, Dick Schnabel, tells NBC News his wife is a lifelong lover of dogs, and has always enjoyed taking walks with the dogs the couple has rescued over the years — including devoted Doberman Duchess, whom the Schnabels rescued from a shelter three years ago.
“She goes three or four times a day, for 40 years now,” Dick explains. He never expected his wife would leave for a routine walk and end up losing her bearings entirely.
“I guess her brain didn’t function properly that second, and she went off. I think she’s deteriorating,” Dick says sadly.
When Dick returned home around 6:30 Tuesday evening to find that Dottie still hadn’t returned home from her walk with Duchess, he knew instantly something was wrong. Police issued a silver alert soon after Dick reported his wife missing. A search party of family, friends and longtime neighbors joined local authorities in searching for Dottie and her beloved Doberman.
After searching nearly all night with no sign of Dottie’s whereabouts, the search party threw in the towel at 2 a.m. Dick says he was terrified of what might have become of his wife.
“You always think the worst,” he explains.
Finally, around 10 Wednesday morning, a search-and-rescue helicopter spotted Dottie in a wheat field near the woods. The rescue crew describes her as disoriented, confused about her location, and aside from a few cuts and a slight case of dehydration, Dottie was otherwise unharmed. Dottie was alert and able to communicate with her rescuers.
Dick credits Duchess with helping his wife stay calm and collected through the night.
“She was comforted by having that dog with her,” Dick says, grateful Duchess had been there for Dottie. “She wasn’t scared because the dog was with her. She was relaxed because the dog was with her.”
“It wouldn’t leave her side,” the Schnabel’s neighbor Michael Britt tells The Charlotte Observer of Duchess.
Dottie was transported to an area hospital Wednesday morning for observation and remained there Wednesday night. Britt says Duchess, loyal to the end of the ordeal, even tried to accompany Dottie on the ambulance ride to the hospital, not wanting to leave her owner’s side for even a moment.
Dick says he isn’t surprised Duchess guarded Dottie the way she did, with an unwavering sense of commitment.
“She just keeps an eye on my wife constantly,” Dick says of Duchess. “I don’t know when that dog ever sleeps.”