Imagine you are lost far away from home. What would you do? Would you ask a nice person for help? Make a call on your cell phone. Use a GPS device to plot a route home. What if you had no voice, cell phone, or maps because you’re a dog? To return home, you would need to travel almost 3,000 miles across the United States – across rivers, deserts, and mountains – on your four paws. Well, I know of one dog who did just that and his name was Bobbie.
Bobbie was a Scottish Collie born in 1921 in Silverton, Oregon. He was adopted by Frank and Elizabeth Brazier and their two daughters, Leona and Nova. Bobbie loved his family and spent hours chasing after the girls on the lawn. Leona and Nova would squeal in delight as Bobbie raced around them, herding them in circles like any good Collie or Shephard dog. Bobbie was very smart and knew how to find his way across town and back home after family outings. And his favorite pastime was riding in their Ford Model T car! The car was small and cramped, but he didn’t mind. He loved climbing over their laps and sticking his head out the side of the car. There were no windows – just a folding top and a front windshield – so a wonderful breeze would blow in their faces as they rode around town. The girls would laugh and put their arms out of the car, pretending they were birds flying in the breeze. Bobbie would pant and wag his tail furiously, jutting his nose into the air to capture all the glorious scents: newly-mown grass, blooming flowers, and cooking food.
One day in August 1923, the family packed a big suitcase and loaded it onto the back of the car. Bobbie knew something big was happening. He raced to the car, jumped on top of the suitcase, and waited expectantly. If they were going someplace fun, he was going, too! Soon the family was loaded into the car and headed East on a road trip! They were traveling to Wolcott, Indiana, to visit family. It was a long trip taking them almost a week through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois – a trip of over 2,500 miles. They chugged up mountain passes, across golden plains, and through dusty valleys. They marveled at amazing sunsets, green pastures, and grazing animals. At lunchtime, they stopped in a small park or quaint town. And across the miles, Bobbie soaked it all in. He smelled the land, water, and air. His tongue captured unique sensations, too – bits of pollen and dirt and particles blowing on the breeze. Every place had its own unique smell and taste.
Every night the family parked at a service station, letting Bobbie run around, explore, and eat. Then he was put back in the car for the night while they walked to a nearby hotel. If the hotel allowed animals, Bobbie stayed with his family, sleeping happily at the bottom of their beds.
Day after day this continued until they finally reached their destination, Wolcott, Indiana, about a week later. It was here that everything went terribly wrong. They stopped for a short break and Bobbie jumped out of the car. Just then a pack of dogs spotted Bobbie and charged at him. They didn’t like this new dog in their territory – and a big Collie at that. The dogs rushed at Bobbie, barking and snarling, their teeth snapping viciously. Bobbie dashed away as fast as he could, dodging people and cars trying to find a safe place to hide from the angry pack. As a Collie, he was fast and quick on his feet. He could dodge and twist and turn on a dime. Soon, he found a hiding spot and rushed inside. He could hear the pack of dogs in the distance barking and panting but they soon disappeared, unable to find Bobbie.
The night was falling and Bobbie was getting hungry. He didn’t know where he was or how far he had run. He was all turned around – this wasn’t his neighborhood and nothing smelled the same. He walked around for hours trying to pick up the scent of his family in this foreign place.
Meanwhile, Frank, Elizabeth, Leona, and Nova spent hours searching for Bobbie, too, frantically calling him over and over, walking the streets, and asking if anyone had seen a stray collie. Unfortunately, they had miles yet to travel before reaching their relative’s house and they couldn’t stand by their car all night hoping Bobbie would return. They got into their car and drove away in tears.
The days passed. The family continued their search and placed posters around Wolcott but Bobbie was nowhere to be found. The family knew they must start the long drive home to Oregon. The girls had to return to school and Frank to work. They packed the car and said goodbye to their relatives, the girls crying as the car headed out of town. They didn’t talk much during the long trip home. There was no joy left in this once-happy vacation. In their hearts, they feared they would never see Bobbie again. Once home, the sight of Bobbie’s abandoned toys and favorite bed brought them to tears again.
Meanwhile, Bobbie was on a mission to find his family. Before heading out, he would run North and South before deciding on a direction to travel. He then walked and trotted for miles, searching for a familiar scent that reminded him of scents from the trip – maybe a certain park, steam, or town. Hours turned into days that turned into weeks. Day after day, and night after night, Bobbie walked through heat and rain and wind. He crossed roads and fields and bridges. He waded across cold mountain streams and rustling wheat fields. At night he huddled under trees or bushes. He was losing strength and knew he needed to find humans to get food. He wandered into towns, whimpering at people passing by. During this time, he met wonderful people who fed him and cared for him. They bandaged his swollen paws, brushed his coat, and picked brambles out of his ears. Bobbie enjoyed their love and attention but he knew he couldn’t stay long – he needed to keep searching for his real family. Eventually, he always left these nice people and headed on the road again.
His journey west brought him to each gas station his family had visited during their eastbound trip. He remembered the smells and sights. His heart would race and he would run around excitedly searching for his family. He never found them but he knew he was on the right path.
By this time, Bobbie had traveled across the plains of the American Midwest and was nearing the Rocky Mountains. Winter was descending and the days were shorter and colder. The wind whipped and howled as he climbed higher into the mountains. Snow started to fall and covered everything in sight. Bobbie’s thick fur helped protect him from the wind but he was losing weight and his paws were becoming sore and frostbitten, his toenails worn down to the nub by months of scrabbling across rocks and debris. He had to be careful, too, because he could sense other animals – bears and wolves and mountain lions. He found their droppings and heard them howling at night. But on he traveled, mile after lonely mile.
Finally, in February 1924, thin, exhausted, and dirty, Bobbie reached Silverton, Oregon, and HOME! He had traveled for six months over 2,500 miles, covering approximately 14 miles a day! Frank, Elizabeth, Leona, and Nova were overjoyed, hugging and kissing Bobbie over and over. They fed him mounds of food and soaked him in warm baths, then covered him in warm blankets. Bobbie’s heart almost burst out of his chest in happiness! He had found his forever family and he was HOME! He slathered them with wet kisses, jumped on their laps, and raced around in happy circles. This was the best feeling in the world! Bobbie knew it then: there’s no place like home and he had found his!
News quickly spread about Bobbie’s amazing return and letters poured in addressed to “Bobbie the Wonder Dog.” Newspapers, books, and magazines recounted his incredible journey. People who had helped Bobbie along the way wrote to the family and soon they were able to piece together the timeline of Bobbie’s historic journey. He became famous overnight, starring in the silent film “The Call of the West!” He received jeweled collars and keys to various cities. He was even the inspiration for the movie, “Lassie Returns.”
Bobbie was an incredibly loyal, smart, and courageous dog who accomplished an amazing feat. Many wondered: how did this dog find his way home? Scientists believe that dogs, like other migratory creatures including birds, whales, bison, turtles, and insects, can detect magnetic fields and have an internal navigation system. One study conducted in the Czech Republic tested this theory with 27 dogs from 10 different breeds. They attached GPS trackers and cameras on the dogs, then had the owners walk them for many miles before releasing them to race after prey. Most of the dogs returned to their owners using scent, but one-third actually ran a “compass run” on a north-south axis for about 65 feet before heading back to their owners. Scientists believe the dogs were “orienting themselves” to a magnetic field, which then informed them which way to go. The dogs who did this “compass run” returned to their owners much faster than the dogs who returned using scent alone.
During World War I, dog breeds such as Collies, Retrievers, Sheep Dogs, and Airedale Terriers were used to carry messages between battle stations on the Western Front in Europe. Their intelligence, bravery, and navigational skills while carrying important messages helped save many lives.
And all dogs have an incredible sense of smell. They have anywhere from 220 million to 2 billion receptor cells in their nose versus the measly 12-40 million found in human noses. These scent receptors help them find prey, their neighborhoods, homes, and even their special humans.