The boy was lying down on the damp forest floor when the dog approached.

It was dark and he worried it might be a fox so he played dead.

The dog trotted away but when it returned, it brought its owner along, just as it had been trained to do.

Dorothy Smail and her German shepherd, Tala, were among a large group of police officers, game wardens and volunteers searching for the boy, who had been reported missing the night before.

Smail approached and the boy told her his name and in return she told him everything was going to be OK. She called the warden supervisor with the news that the 7½-hour search in a hilly and thickly wooded area in Acton was over.

Christopher Grecco, 5 years old and from New Jersey, was cold and tired but safe.

“He was hungry,” Smail said in an interview with WCSH-TV early Monday. “He wanted some crackers.”

Smail, who lives in Saco, has volunteered with the nonprofit group Maine Search and Rescue Dogs since 2012, but this was the first time she and Tala have been on the happy end of a find.

“She’s a very smart dog,” Smail said. “She does all the work.”

VISITING FROM NEW JERSEY

Christopher had come to Maine from New Jersey, where he lives with his grandparents.

He was visiting his biological parents and an aunt and uncle, according to York County Sheriff William King.

It was the aunt and uncle who accompanied Christopher on a walk in the woods off Hussey Hill Road, while the grandparents stayed behind in a hotel in Rochester, New Hampshire, just across the Maine border.

At some point during the walk, around 6:30 p.m., Christopher wandered off. King said he didn’t think the boy meant to get lost. He was just being a kid. He didn’t know the area.

His relatives searched for more than an hour and became increasingly worried when they couldn’t find him.

“I think they were amazed more than anything that he could have disappeared so easily,” King said. “But it’s a pretty treacherous area.”

Once they returned to Hussey Hill Road where the trail started, they called 911. It was 8 p.m., just as the sky was getting dark.

King’s deputies were the first to arrive. State police and game wardens followed shortly afterward. They set up a command post and began fanning out around 10 p.m.

The cold, wet conditions made the search difficult.

Normally, wardens have planes or helicopters at their disposal but the weather rendered them useless.

But dogs were available, both from wardens and from Maine Search and Rescue Dogs, a nonprofit made up of 28 teams of dogs and handlers that cover the entire state.

Spencer Fuller, one of the group’s leaders, said its members are essentially on call. If the Maine Warden Service has initiated a search and needs help, the group steps up. They are all trained and certified and most have years of experience.

Fuller and his dog, Jax, went to Acton and joined the search. So did Smail and Tala.

When they arrived, they were assigned an area to search. Fuller said that section of Acton, a small town near the border of New Hampshire, is like a lot of western Maine – overgrown and thick.

But dogs can hear and smell what humans cannot. And Tala was on to something.

Smail said her dog discovered the boy and reported back to her. He was located about half a mile from where family members last saw him. It was about 2:20 a.m., almost eight hours after Christopher went missing.

Smail found out later that Christopher was nervous when the dog approached because he wasn’t sure what kind of animal it was or if it was friendly.

“He didn’t seem to be terribly afraid. I think he was maybe afraid that he was lost, but he wasn’t afraid once we found him,” Smail said. “He was very cold and wet.”

Christopher was alert and talking when he was brought out of the woods. In a photograph provided by the Maine Warden Service, Christopher can be seen clinging to a York County sheriff’s deputy, the boy’s small arms around the man’s neck.

He was taken to a waiting ambulance and then to a hospital for evaluation, but he was not injured.

King, who spoke wearily Monday morning after staying out most of the night, said the boy was heading back to New Jersey.

The sheriff, who has been involved with searches that ended far worse, said this was the best result anyone could have hoped for.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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Twitter: PPHEricRussell