“He’s a brave little boy,” said Aaron Woods, Blount County fireman. “And his little dog Chula deserves some recognition, too. She stayed with him all night long in the pouring rain. That’s dedication, that’s love.”

The six-year-old boy who went missing for almost a full 24 hours in a remote area in Blount County has been discharged from Blount Memorial Hospital.

Family members say little Kaydon Leach is in good health and they want to express their gratitude to the community and all the rescuers for helping bring him and his dog home.

Here’s the scoop from our friends at ABC 6 WATE:

His disappearance sparked a miles-long search in the Top of the World community, with a hundred first responders and volunteers working around the clock to find him.

“I had just looked to my right. I had come around and was going to my left and I heard ‘hey.’ I looked back around and did a double take and thought oh my goodness, there’s the little boy,” Woods said.

Blount County fireman Aarom Woods spotted the child in the woods, about a half mile from his home. Leach was behind a tree, dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants, with his little dog, Chula, right there beside him.

“He was cold, he was hungry,” Woods said. “We put jackets on him. One of the officers had a pop tart and handed it to him. He ate it fast. He was hungry.”

The search welcomed dozens of community members wanting to help, many of them walking up and down the mountain in the rain and heavy terrain in hopes of locating the child.

“A bunch of us came out here even before the police were called and decided to walk to see what we could do,” Lori Marr said. 

Tim Lawson went out with his dog, hoping its smell would help detect Kaydon and Chula. 

It’s a happy ending to a story that could have taken a very different turn, and Woods said the reunion marks a highlight in his career as a firefighter.

“I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in 20 years, that right there yesterday makes up for it all,” Woods said. “When it ends the way it ended yesterday, it makes up for it all.”

Leach’s family said that  Kaydon and little Chula cuddled all night, keeping each other warm throughout the heavy rain. When the sun came up, the six-year-old said he was going to try to find his way “back to his house.”

Do you love all of God’s beautiful creatures?