Missing Toddler With Autism Found a Mile Away From Home, Family Dogs Kept Him Safe

June 13, 2020 Updated: June 13, 2020

A Florida family’s two beloved pet dogs are sure to receive some extra treats since making headlines for keeping a toddler safe.

Three-year-old Marshal Butler, who is autistic and does not communicate verbally, went missing from his home in Ponce de Leon in Holmes County, Florida, on June 3, 2020. His terrified family called the local authorities to launch a search party, reports WJHG.

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Three-year-old Marshal Butler with deputies after he was found. (Courtesy of Walton County Sheriff’s Office)

“We were panicked,” said the toddler’s aunt, Kayla Stewart. “[A]ll sorts of worst case scenarios are running through their heads,” Stewart continued, speaking of her nephew’s parents.

Law enforcement officers from both Holmes County and Walton County, plus the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, sent a search party to the little boy’s neighborhood. According to a Facebook post by Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr., Walton Correctional Institution’s K-9 team was also called to aid in the search for Marshal.

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(Courtesy of Walton County Sheriff’s Office)

Family, friends, and neighbors stepped up to lend extra eyes and ears to the effort. “Through the whole process you’re terrified,” said Stewart.

After an hours-long search effort, it was Marshal’s neighbor, Carol Shelton, who found the errant toddler.

Marshal had strayed a mile from his home near a river, wearing nothing but a diaper. However, he had not sustained any physical injuries. The only evidence of his adventure was the fact that he was dirty.

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Walton Correctional Institution’s K-9 team was called to aid in the search for the missing boy. (Courtesy of Walton County Sheriff’s Office)

Most importantly, the little boy had been kept safe owing to the company of two very dear friends: the family dogs. The Butler family’s pups, Buckwheat and Nala, had stayed by Marshall’s side throughout the entire ordeal.

“Both of his dogs were right there with him,” one of the family’s neighbors commented, speaking to WJHG. “[We’re] thankful that the pups kind of guided him along, I guess they kept him safe.”

Sheriff Adkinson later posted an update to Facebook alongside a photo of the little boy standing among the police, safe and sound. Hundreds of netizens left grateful comments in praise of both the search team and the loyal family dogs.

“Thank God he is safe, & I sure hope they fix [the dogs] an awesome dinner tonight,” wrote one netizen.

“Thank you! I just want to say y’all are amazing,” wrote another. “Keep up the great work and thank you for reaching out so well to the community.”

Butler’s relieved mother later praised the heroes of the hour, Buckwheat and Nala, for “doing their job,” according to WJHG.

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Marshall with his mom after he was found. (Courtesy of Walton County Sheriff’s Office)

However, Marshal’s safe return is not the first time a loyal family dog has kept a missing child safe from harm. On March 25, 2020, another young child that had wandered away from home was found unharmed after two whole days in the woods, accompanied by the family’s pet dog.

Four-year-old Vadie Sides, from Alabama, disappeared from the backyard while under the care of her babysitter as they were walking the dog. According to The Guardian, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones reported that the little girl was nonetheless discovered “in good condition” in the company of her dog two days later.

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(Illustration – Galileo30/Shutterstock)

Authorities searched the remote woodland and creek near the spot from which Vadie went missing, aided by hundreds of volunteers. A member of the search team recalled hearing a dog bark before Vadie’s identifying red hair became visible to her rescuers.

“We are beyond happy,” said Sheriff Jones.

Allegedly, the family dog ran away when the search party approached but later came home of its own volition.