Image Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
Australians watched on in dismay as a dog fell into floodwaters during an emergency rescue on the NSW North Coast, with the heartbreaking moment he was left behind broadcast on live TV.
There was little hope of DJ the border collie surviving three nights alone in floodwaters at Bungawalbin, but he has miraculously now been reunited with his overjoyed owners.
Strangers led a social media campaign to find the pooch and a volunteer, Dave Oneeglio, came to owner Mark O’Toole’s aid.
After a six-hour mission using a jet ski and a boat, DJ was rescued — along with 10 other dogs and six cats.
Mr O’Toole said he felt little hope that DJ would be found alive, but had to try to find the dog for his daughters.
“As we got further out I thought, ‘Oh God, I’ve wasted these people’s time. How are we going to find anything out here?'” he said.
“Everything is gone, not even a brick is left where the house was.”
The miracle moment
“I was outside yelling for DJ and after half an hour we thought we heard a dog howling,” Mr O’Toole said.
“I was up to my chest in water looking. I’d actually given up, when I had a feeling and looked to my right.
” A black-and-white dog was sitting on top of a big pile of metal of what must have been a shed. It was DJ.”
The miraculous discovery was made even sweeter when Mr O’Toole reunited the dog with his teen daughters in Lismore.
“When I got back to town with him my daughters were covered in mud because they’d been helping clean up houses in town,” he said.
“The look on their faces [when they saw DJ] was gold.
“I broke down when we were at the house seeing everything gone, especially my kids’ things.
“But then when we found the dog I thought, ‘Who cares?’ You couldn’t wish for anything better.”
A gut-wrenching fall
Mr O’Toole, his family, and an elderly neighbour were being rescued from their rooftop by an ADF helicopter when the dog fell into the water.
“I tried to grab him, but ripped a chunk of his hair out and he disappeared under the house,” he said.
“I was running around trying to find him when the chopper pilot told me we had to go.
“Do I stay or do I go? I was worried about my daughters’ dog, but I thought if they lose me it’s worse.”
Hope in the disaster
The family was heartbroken for days until a neighbour reported seeing DJ, prompting the vigorous search.
Mr O’Toole said during the search they saw at least 80 dead cows and horses.
But he is determined to now help others and save as many people and animals as possible.
“We found DJ and it means there’s hope still.There are good things that can come out of this,” Mr O’Toole said.
“There are more people and animals to be found. It gives people the encouragement to keep going and keep trying.”
Mr O’Toole said he and his family have lost everything but each other — and DJ.
They are living in a house with 18 others in Lismore and, like so many in the devastated town, are struggling to get food and clean water.