It was my 12th birthday, and after opening my cards, I went for a walk with my mum, Julie. We'd only been gone a few minutes when we saw a bearded collie cowering beneath a tree. She was skinny, scruffy and limping.
'She's hurt,' I said, looking at a deep cut on her leg. She wasn't wearing a collar, so we took her to the vet, who estimated she was about a year old.
'She's dehydrated and near starvation,' he said grimly. She'd been living rough for some time. She was microchipped, but when we tried to contact her owners, we found out they'd moved and hadn't left a forwarding address.
'Can we keep her?' I asked. It was hard for Mum to say no - it was my birthday, after all! So I named her Lucy and she came home with us. From then on she and I were best buddies. I took her for daily walks and trained her to shake paws and play 'dead'!
Within weeks she'd put on 10 kilos and her once matted fur was shiny and soft. 'I promise to always take care of you,' I'd tell her every night. She'd nuzzle against me as if to say, 'I have your back too.'
At 16, I went camping with Mum and her friend, Sue. Lucy came along too. One evening, I took her for a walk. 'See you soon,' I said to Sue. Mum was snoozing.
We clambered up hills and over fields, and eventually I realised we were lost. The next thing I remember is plummeting down an embankment. Then everything went black.
From time to time I'd open my eyes, but I couldn't feel my body, let alone move it. I could see Lucy standing on a ledge above me. 'Get Mum,' I gasped. But she wouldn't leave me. Instead she barked loudly.
I'm not sure how many hours passed but when I next came to, I was in an ambulance. 'You had a fall,' Mum said gently. 'But we found you because Lucy was barking.' I stayed in hospital overnight. A series of X-rays revealed I had hairline spinal fractures.
I was covered in bruises and had also suffered concussion, but thankfully there was no permanent damage. I'm so grateful to Lucy. I saved her life and now she has saved mine!
Julie McMurtrie, 46, says...
Sue woke me up to say that Nikita had taken Lucy for a walk and hadn't returned. It was getting dark, so I went out to look for her. I must have spent an hour searching, but there was no sign of her. I started to worry - it was dark and the temperature had dipped to about four degrees.
I approached some nearby farmhouses and one of the farmers told me a dog had been barking constantly for a couple of hours.
He and his wife grabbed blankets and we raced over to where Lucy was barking. I shone my torch down a cliff and saw Nikita lying about five metres below on some rocks. I scrambled down to her. One of the farmers warned me not to move her in case she had spinal injuries, so I just sat beside her.
We called for help and about 10 firemen arrived, along with the police and a doctor. They worked quickly to move Nikita into the ambulance. The doctor said hypothermia was setting in. At hospital, they did dozens of tests. I was terrified she'd broken her back, but I was told she'd be okay.
I am so thankful to everyone who helped rescue Nikita - the farmers, the Waimate Volunteer Fire Brigade, the police and, of course, Lucy. If she hadn't stayed there barking, I don't think we'd have found her. Lucy saved my daughter's life.