Bobbie's Quest For Home
All Photos by Jennifer Hague of Fix Your Images
Dogs of the Past
Bobbie’s Quest for Home
Few things are as powerful as the emotional bond we have with our homes, especially if those homes are filled with the kind of love that comes from a faithful and affectionate dog. How often do we end a weary day with no other thought than to be there, where we are safe and loved? It stands to reason then that few things could be worse than not knowing one’s way home. When this happens to us, we know what to do. We look for signs. We check maps. Those of us with smart phones or GPS devices use them to guide us back to familiar ground. Now imagine life without these helpful tools. This is what a dog faces when he or she gets lost.
Countless dogs lose their way every day. Sadly, many never make it home. Some do—even, astonishingly, over great distances. Several theories have been put forth to explain how they manage it, but science is still without a clear answer.
Consider the story of Bobbie, a Scotch Collie mix who became separated from his family over 2,500 miles from home in the summer of 1923. This intrepid canine’s story comes to us through Judith Kent’s book, “Silverton Bobbie, His Amazing Journey—The True Story.”
Bobbie lived in Silverton, Oregon, in the home of G. Frank and Elizabeth Brazier. Kent tells us Bobbie was only 6 weeks old when Mr. Brazier bought him to serve as a herding dog on the family farm. The pup quickly became effective at his job and was good-natured as well. A year or so later, the family sold the farm and moved into town. Mr. Brazier, thinking Bobbie would need space to run, sold him to the farm’s new owner.
Shortly the dog began appearing in town, and soon he found the Braziers’ new home. Before long, he started showing up there every Saturday morning. He would spend each weekend with the Braziers but dutifully return to the farm on Monday morning to resume his herding job. Clearly he had developed a strong attachment to the Braziers.
The family realized that Bobbie was determined to be with them, so Mr. Brazier purchased him back from the farm. He soon became a beloved member of the family. The adventurous canine would ride on the running boards or luggage rack of the Braziers’ car. It thus seemed natural to take him along when the family decided to make a cross-country road trip some years later.
Kent tells us the travelers reached Wolcott, Indiana, on August 15, 1923. While Mrs. Brazier visited with friends, Mr. Brazier drove the car to a service station for gas, taking the dog along. All went well until Brazier went inside to pay. When he came out he saw Bobbie being pursued by several other dogs. Bobbie and his pursuers quickly disappeared into the distance. Brazier thought his dog would eventually find his way back to the home of their hosts, but hours passed without a sign of him. The family took to the car and drove through Wolcott for hours looking for their missing companion. Reluctantly, they gave up the search at midnight. It seemed Bobbie was truly lost.
The local telephone operator graciously contacted every household listed in the Wolcott phone directory. None reported seeing Bobbie. The town newspaper ran an ad for three weeks seeking information on the lost dog. Not one lead was received. Saddened, the Braziers completed their trip, believing they would never see the animal again.
Autumn came and went, and a harsh winter settled in. The Willamette River near Silverton froze over. Kent tells us the Braziers’ son celebrated his ninth birthday on December 19, 1923. When he blew out the candles on his cake, it was with a wish that Bobbie would come home safely. Four months had passed. Given the bitter cold, it seemed unlikely.
The Braziers’ daughter, Nova was walking through Silverton with a friend on February 15, 1924, when she saw a familiar looking dog. She said, “Oh look, isn’t that Bobbie?” The dog responded instantly. He was thin and filthy. His hair was matted. His paws were raw and bloody. None of that mattered. Bobbie had returned. Nova brought him home where Kent tells us he fell into Mr. Brazier’s arms “whining and crying pitifully, seeming almost human in his joy at being home.” Bobbie was fed a steak, after which he took to his bed and slept for several days. His injuries were tended by a local veterinarian.
Bobbie’s miraculous story was carried in newspapers across the country. Soon letters began to arrive from people the Braziers had met on their trip. Others came from strangers in parts of Indiana they had not visited. All reported receiving a visit from Bobbie, who seemed to be searching for his missing family. He was often given food and a place to sleep, but he would be gone early the next morning, relentless in his quest to regain the home and the family he had lost.
The ability to navigate by detecting the earth’s magnetic fields is called magnetoception. It is one theory offered to explain how lost animals find their way home. Homing pigeons are believed to use this capability; however, biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake, in a paper titled “My Dangerous Idea,” describes experiments where magnets were attached to homing pigeons to interfere with magnetoception. The birds still found their way home.
What about the sense of smell? Did Bobbie literally sniff his way home? The book, “Neuroscience, Exploring the Brain” by Mark F. Bear, Barry W. Connors, and Michael A. Paradiso, tells us a dog may have as many as 170 square centimeters of scent receptors. A human gets along with about 10. Furthermore, a dog also has approximately 100 times as many receptors in each of those square centimeters as a human. Italian zoologist Floriano Papi, in his book “Animal Homing,” suggests such navigation might be possible. He acknowledges, however, that the maximum range of this capability would be about 30 miles.
Sheldrake offers the oddest theory of animal navigation. It involves something called a morphic field—a sort of collective mind from which creatures might gain knowledge without the use of the five senses. If that sounds outlandish, consider the theory of quantum entanglement. It says that any two quantum particles that come into contact with one another become connected forever regardless of how far apart they travel. Had Bobbie’s quantum essence become so entangled with that of the Braziers that it led him home?
Perhaps in the end, what brought Bobbie home was love. Maybe the unyielding desire to be in his own home with his own family gave him the single-minded focus to accomplish his objective. If so, it is a testament to the strength of his bond with that special place in the world that each of us calls home.
Bobbie passed away in 1927. He was buried in a custom built doghouse mausoleum at the Oregon Humane Society in Silverton. Rin Tin Tin, the most famous dog in the world at the time, was brought to Silverton to help lay a wreath on his grave.