Australian sheepdog credited with saving hundreds of animals from fire

Patsy the Wonderdog helped herd sheep to safety as fires burned in Victoria.

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By Sarah Kaufman

As fires closed in around her, Patsy went to work.

Stephen Hill credits his dog, a shepherd mix, with herding more than 220 sheep to safety during Australia’s devastating wildfires.

On New Year’s Eve, Hill rushed to his cousin’s farm when he saw a massive blaze quickly approaching the small Victoria town of Corryong, which is about 220 miles southwest of Canberra.

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He arrived at the farm where he works about 4:15 a.m. local time and found Patsy, who joined him on a four-wheeler, and headed toward where the sheep were gathered.

Patsy, a shepherd mix, brought more than 220 sheep to safety during Australia's devastating wildfires.Stephen Hill

"If you haven’t got a good dog, you can’t do so much with the sheep," Hill told NBC News. "They’re really difficult to move in any way, shape or form unless you have a good dog."

Hill said Patsy helped herd the sheep into a safe barn. All but six from the flock of more than 220 survived, Hill said.

He said he couldn’t have done it without Patsy’s skill, and her night vision.

The historic fires blazing throughout Australia have killed 27 people, and the number of animals affected likely exceeds 1 billion, according to Chris Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney.

That includes animals that have died directly in the fires, as well as others killed by such causes as starvation or dehydration.

For Hill, that’s been the worst part of the fires — knowing the toll they’re taking on the animals.

"A lot of livestock were killed out here or had to be euthanized. Some have lost hundreds of cattle," Hill said. "It has made me emotional."

The fires have been "devastating," he said. "I’m really lucky. I have minimal damage."