A dog called Hero lived up to his name earlier this week after spending two days by his stranded master's side, keeping his owner warm and even fending off coyotes while the man waited to be rescued from a muddy ditch in southern Alberta.

The dog's bravery and devotion have earned widespread plaudits online and prompted one local animal rescue organization to raise money to cover vet bills for Hero and other pets inadvertently drawn into the 48-hour saga.

"It touched my heart. I cried almost immediately just hearing this story. It's heartwarming," Alana McPhee, acting president of the Taber Lost Paws Society, said in an interview Saturday.

The ordeal for Hero and his owner began on Thursday morning when Taber police said they received a complaint about a possibly injured dog at large north of the community's sugar factory. 

Officers went to check it out and couldn't find the animal, but got another complaint a few hours later from a man who told them he and his dog were both bitten by a large dog in the same area.

Officers went to the property again and spotted what they described as an Akita-cross laying on a berm. When they got closer, they began hearing cries for help.

A 61-year-old man from Taber was located near the dog in a muddy ditch that was hidden behind tall grasses, and he told police he'd been stuck there for two days while his dog stayed nearby and protected him.

McPhee said her not-for-profit group has an arrangement to care for dogs when their owners are affected by crime and crisis, so Hero was brought to their shelter after being checked by a vet. She said a staff member who is neighbours with Hero's owner knew he also owned another Akita named Tora and quickly phoned the town's bylaw department out of concern.

They were already looking for Tora, McPhee said, and found her in her owner's yard suffering from what looked at first like a broken leg. It turned out her leg had been broken before, and screws in a rod in her leg had come loose.

"We're not sure how that happened but I'm going to guess she probably went back and forth between the site where her owner was and her home quite a few times over the course of those two days. And it could have been from fighting -- we don't know exactly," McPhee said, noting Tora didn't appear to have puncture wounds.

She said Hero, meanwhile, had a few scratches but was otherwise OK.

The animal owned by the man who reported a dog bite and unwittingly led to the rescue of Hero's owner had "quite substantial injuries," McPhee said.

A GoFundMe campaign launched by her organization — which had raised just shy of $3,000 as of Saturday evening — is raising money to help with vet bills for both Hero and that dog, which McPhee believes is a Rottweiler cross named Jack. It will also help pay for treatment to repair the screws in Tora's leg, she added.

Police said on social media that when the man learned the circumstances of why Hero bit him and his dog, he was  "understanding of the situation" and was grateful Hero's owner was rescued.

"(Hero) was being protective. That dog probably had not eaten for several days. He was incredibly stressed and, obviously, powerless to help his owner. He had to fight off coyotes," McPhee said.

"We see it all the time in the shelter just how loyal and amazing dogs are."

When contacted Saturday afternoon, the Taber police did not have an immediate update on the condition of Hero's owner, but McPhee said she believed he was still recovering in hospital.