Mr Johnson told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper that the pair joined a fireman to dig the toddler out, before scooping mud out of her mouth.
Theirs is just one story of those who perished and those who managed with inexplicable good fortune to survive the slides in the wealthy enclave of Montecito that killed at least 17 people.
"So obviously, she's looking for human remains", Cullen told ABC News, referring to her canine partner.
Five people were missing as of early Friday, down from as many as 43 a day earlier, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County. "You can't even fathom what these poor patients went through to finally make their way to the emergency department".
People in Montecito had counted themselves lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town. A mother, her newborn baby and other children were pulled out of the collapsing house via the roof and airlifted to safety.
The number of missing people fluctuated as some were located.
When wildfires raged across California in December, they didn't just cause millions of dollars of damage.
The storm is now over, and weather is no longer interfering with rescue efforts, authorities say.
The mudslides and floodwaters have destroyed around 100 homes, with another 300 residences damaged, within Santa Barbara County.
"Areas where wildfires or human modification of the land have destroyed vegetation on slopes are particularly vulnerable to landslides during and after heavy rains", the CDC warns in its fact sheet on the events.
The 101, a key north-south route in California, was tentatively scheduled to reopen on Monday, but cleanup efforts have proved more hard than expected, Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy said on Saturday.
The sheriff told reporters all of the victims were from Montecito. It followed a cellphone alert sent by the National Weather Service, he said. Some had left, many hadn't - and then scrambled to do so after the opportunity had passed. "This is an enormous loss for our community". "The whole house shook". The vast majority of those homes fell under areas that had already been designated by authorities as under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.
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"You don't know the power of a mudslide", Degeneres said.
"First we got burned out at our ranch that caught on fire and now we're flooding, so the last month has been pretty bad", said Charles Stoops, as he stood in front of his house, which was surrounded in mud 3 feet deep, or almost a meter.
Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Southern California's Orange County.
"They're an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house". Miller has tried to return, but the area remained closed off. "It's actually way worse than I thought it was going to be".
"She's leaving a huge void". Bags were packed, the auto was full of fuel.
Moments later, a wall of mud burst through their walls and swept him and Ralph "Lalo" Barajas away.
It continued to smolder before a drenching Pacific storm hit bare hills and mountains this week, unleashing debris-laden flash floods that swept away homes and killed at least 17 people. Troy looked out the window and the sky was glowing orange. "The sky was orange like there was another big fire, but in that rain?"
"Woke up to this blazing gas fire". Her brother-in-law's auto had been swept away, too. It used a phrase she hadn't heard before: "shelter in place". "Why did she go downstairs?" The mud was knee-deep.
Locally, rain should be gone from the Central Coast by midday Wednesday.
Emergency managers need to recognize the possibility of future mudslides and determine which, if any, evacuation routes might not be available. The firefighters returned later and helped Troy, her sister and brother-in-law, carrying dogs through the mud.
She noted runoff water, mud and debris are still flowing from the hillsides. "Trees were cracking. It was scary all right", he said Thursday.
Biasotti and Ufberg reported from Montecito and Santa Barbara.