Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Richard Sugg's account of Merlin the spaniel's remarkable tale reveals the limited understanding humans have of canines.

Richard Sugg’s account of Merlin the spaniel’s remarkable tale reveals the limited understanding humans have of canines.


On New Year’s Day, Daniel Horsley’s springer spaniel, Merlin, went missing from his front yard in Cumbria after experiencing a possible seizure. A team of one hundred individuals aided in the search using drones and thermal-imaging cameras. After 16 hours, Merlin miraculously returned home unscathed. This event served as a reminder that animals have the power to bring people together.

However, what went unnoticed by many is that no man-made technology can rival the remarkable homing skills of dogs. In the past, a collie mix in the United States was surpassing all others. In August 1923, the Brazier family lost their dog, Bobbie, during their vacation in Indiana; but by February 1924, he had made his way back to their home in Silverton, Oregon. All indications suggest that he walked the entire distance of 3,000 miles in just six months, enduring harsh winter conditions. His strength and determination were impressive, but the question remains: how did he know where to go?

According to Robert Charman’s book, “Telepathy, Clairvoyance and Precognition,” Dr. Bernhard Müller conducted trials in 1965 with 75 dogs who were released far from their homes. While most of the dogs got lost, 26 of them successfully made it back home. These dogs would initially point in different directions before suddenly stiffening up and entering a trance-like state. Despite encountering obstacles such as low fences, they were able to make their way home, with their progress being most successful at night.

A statue honouring Bobbie the Wonder Dog, at the Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon.

A study conducted in the Czech Republic with 27 dogs discovered that 33% of them relied on the Earth’s north-south magnetic axis as a navigational tool, rather than relying on scent or visual cues. This may explain how a blind fox terrier in the 1930s was able to consistently walk between its old and new homes in Bedfordshire.

To my knowledge, there has been no dog who has completed a 3,000-mile journey like Bobbie the Wonder Dog. However, there are numerous other remarkable tales. On Christmas Eve in 1973, a German Shepherd named Barry returned to his previous home in Solingen, Germany after getting lost in southern Italy during a vacation six months earlier. He had apparently traveled 1,200 miles on foot. In April of 1949, a Pomeranian named Jeep was found in New York City, 16 months after going missing in the Blue Ridge Mountains approximately 1,000 miles away. In 2016, a Collie named Pero also disappeared in Cumbria while helping with sheep-herding near Cockermouth. Two weeks later, Pero miraculously appeared back at his original farm in Penrhyn-coch, a distance of 240 miles.

In most cases, dogs typically go back to their owners, while cats usually go back to their previous residences. However, in 2020, a retriever-collie mix named Cleo, who was four years old, made the choice to leave her owners and return to her former home. She went missing from Olathe, Kansas on July 12th and was discovered a few days later at her old house in Lawson, Missouri, which was almost 60 miles away. Luckily, her microchip allowed the new homeowners to recognize her and bring her back to her family.

One of the most remarkable tales to come out of World War I is the story of Prince, an Irish terrier owned by Pte James Brown. In August 1914, Brown was called to serve in Armentières, France. In September, Prince went missing from their home in west London. Brown’s wife wrote to him about the dog’s disappearance, and he responded that Prince was with him in France and unlikely to be found. Prince quickly became a beloved mascot for the regiment, even sporting his own khaki jacket and sometimes riding on horseback. He was known for his impressive rat-killing skills, with a record of 137 kills in one day. Both Prince and Brown survived the war.

Some dogs have the ability to find their previous homes, as seen with Cleo. However, Prince was particularly loyal to his owner James Brown, rather than his wife, and was able to track him down 200 miles away in an unfamiliar place. This type of behavior is not uncommon among animals. In the 1950s, a Persian cat named Sugar followed her owners from California to Oklahoma, covering a distance of about 1,000 miles over the course of a year.

One day, we may comprehend the precise scientific explanation behind these strange experiences. However, at present, the most precise and believable explanation for how they were all able to accomplish it is love.

  • Richard Sugg is a writer and scholar. He recently published the book “Kali the Wonder Dog” (2023).

Source: theguardian.com