A trusty border collie cross has been revealed as a key player in the tragic search and discovery of toddler Aisling Symes' body.
Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey has personally written to 63-year-old Rex Wahrlich, owner of 5-year-old Rusty, thanking him for the canine's part in the search last week.
When the toddler went missing, Wahrlich wanted to help. He first joined the search in Riverpark Cres with Rusty on October 7, two days after the 2-year-old went missing.
He spent five hours walking around the area looking for her. Five days later he returned with Rusty to Longburn Rd, where Aisling was last seen, and was intrigued by the dog's behaviour.
Rusty was suspicious about the drain on the property. "The dog started going off and tried to pull me down to that area."
Seeing the area around the drain manhole was flooded, Wahrlich instead walked Rusty around the back of nearby Pomaria Rd.
He said the drain water was "bubbling up", indicating the drain was blocked.
Rusty was also behaving strangely, yelping at the water.
"She talks to me," Wahrlich said. "I let her off the chain and she went down to the river where the drain was flowing."
Wahrlich said Rusty was showing a lot of interest in the water coming out from the drain. "I spoke to a police officer and I told him it needed investigating but they didn't seem too interested."
Rusty's behaviour weighed on his mind and he called the police hotline with his concerns. When he couldn't get through, he called Waitakere City Council and said he was worried about the drain.
The council passed on the information to police and later that day the police searched the drain. Aisling's body was found about 8pm.
Wahrlich said the discovery of Aisling's body filled him with sadness but he was also relieved the ordeal was over for her parents and family.
He is pleased Rusty was helpful in the search. "My dog is part of the family, she's a brilliant dog. This dog would give her life for me."
After Aisling's body was found, Bob Harvey wrote to thank Wahrlich. "I thank you for bringing your dog to join the search and I am sure that your dog helped to locate the drain," wrote Harvey.
The story of Wahrlich and Rusty has made headlines in the Irish Daily Mail - Aisling's father Alan's home country.
Meanwhile, Waitakere City Council says it will release a report this week into its management of the drain. Residents say they had complained about the drain flooding before Aisling disappeared.
- HERALD ON SUNDAYBy Portia Mao, Anna Rushworth