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CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. -- A family dog is credited for helping a missing woman with Alzheimer s survive 17 hours lost in the woods behind her home.

(Click here to view a photo of Dororthy and her dog, Duchess)

Dottie Schnabel, 68, has always been a dog person. Frequent walks with Duchess, her Doberman, have been a way of life in rural Mount Pleasant.

She goes three or four times a day, for 40 years now, said Dottie s husband, Dick Schnabel.

Tuesday afternoon, Dottie and Duchess left their house on Dutch Road but didn't return. It's the first time that's ever happened.

I guess her brain didn't function properly that second, and she went off, Schnabel said. I think she's deteriorating.

Dick called 911. Dozens of rescue crews started searching. Neighbors who have known Dottie forever drove around and yelled her name.

I would stop and turn the truck off and call her. I thought maybe she'd recognize my voice, said neighbor Sandy Harvell. We never got an answer.

Crews stopped searching around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

You always think of the worst, Schnabel said.

They started again a few hours later. A helicopter finally spotted Dottie and Duchess in a wheat field near the woods.

After rescuers found Dottie, Duchess didn't want to leave her side and even tried to get in the ambulance and go to the hospital with her, Schnabel said.

She was comforted by having that dog with her. She wasn't scared because the dog was with her. She was relaxed because the dog was with her.

If Dottie is a dog person, it s clear Duchess is a person dog.

She just keeps an eye on my wife constantly. I don't know when that dog ever sleeps, said Schnabel.

The answer Tuesday night was in a field, never leaving Dottie s side.

Schnabel has a few cuts and mosquito bites, but is expected to come home Thursday from the hospital.

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