A HEROIC dogs persistence saved his disabled owner as she lay trapped under her motorised wheelchair in a rain-swollen ditch for two hours.
Cheryl Smith, 22, a university student, was enjoying an afternoon out near her home in Heslington, York, with her Golden Retriever Orca running alongside, when her wheelchair hit a brick on a dirt track.
The 3cwt machine plunged 20ft down an embankment and landed on top of Miss Smith, pinning her flat in the water.
Eighteen-month-old Orca, who finished specialist assistance training two months ago, immediately ran for help. The first person he encountered mistook him for a stray and tried to take him back to his home before the dog slipped its lead.
Orca ran back to check on Miss Smith, who was growing more distressed, before setting off again. This time he attracted the attention of Peter Harrison, who was jogging through a nearby field, by leaping up and down and running to and from the scene. Mr Harrison followed him and found Miss Smith, who has a neurological illness that prevents her from walking. He ran to his home nearby to call the rescue services.
He arranged to meet a fire crew half a mile away at the nearest road while his wife Julie and daughter Rosie went to stay with her. Firemen lifted Miss Smith out of the ditch and kept her warm until a paramedic vehicle arrived. She was treated at York Hospital for mild hypothermia.
Last week, Miss Smith, a chemistry student at York University, was recovering from the ordeal. She said: "It frightens me to think what would have happened if Orca had not been there. It was pouring with rain and the chances of anyone passing that way were remote. Without him I might have died in that stream. I owe him everything."
A passer-by told the emergency services that he had had mistaken Orca for a stray and tried to take him home.
Miss Smith said: "When he came back without anyone I really began to give up hope. I thought he had just been chasing animals around in the woods or something. I was lying there for what must have been about two hours and it was pouring with rain and hailstones. There was a foot of water in the ditch and I was being pushed down into the thick mud below it.
"I was really scared. I was freezing and I knew no one would find me by chance. It seemed like an eternity before Orca arrived back with a man right behind him."
Orca has been rewarded with a steady supply of carrots, his favourite treat, and bones. Miss Smith said he was able to obey 105 commands, including unloading the washing machine and pressing buttons at pedestrian crossings.
She said: "He is still only a puppy but he is so intelligent. I don't know what I would do without him. People have described it as like a scene from the old Lassie movies. Maybe Orca will become a star as well."
Fire sub-officer Carl Vinand said: "The dog is the real star. Cheryl is extremely lucky to be alive. The fall alone could have killed her as the wheelchair is very heavy."