BOOKS / Four-Legged Miracles: Heartwarming Tales of Lost Dogs’ Journeys Home

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  April 2013:

Four-Legged Miracles:   Heartwarming Tales of Lost Dogs’ Journeys Home   by Brad & Sherry Hansen Steiger St. Martin’s Griffin (175 Fifth Ave.,  New York,  NY 10010),  2013.  264 pages,  paperback.  $14.99.

Animal lovers are familiar with the 1943 classic Lassie Come Home,  in which an impoverished rural family sells their cherished collie to a Scottish nobleman,  but the collie returns to the boy she loves. Four-Legged Miracles is a compilation of amusing,  inspirational and sometimes tearful real-life “Lassie” stories.   Often traveling long distances,  these lost dogs endure weather extremes,  hunger and thirst,  and undoubtedly dangers they cannot describe as they trek home. Among the earliest cases recorded in Four-Legged Miracles is that of Stubby,  a mixed breed dog who was the constant companion of Della,  a disabled child who had been mute since birth.  On a 1948 family vacation visit to Indianapolis,  Stubby got lost.  Harry McKinzie,  Della’s grandfather,  placed lost dog ads along the family’s route home to Colorado.  The search for the missing dog attracted some newspaper attention even then.  Months passed and the family presumed Stubby had been killed by a car.  Della clearly missed her canine friend. “Her grandparents could feel so powerfully her silent sorrow over the loss of her beloved Stubby,” say the authors. Back in Colorado,  the family relocated to another part of town.  Della slowly learned to cope without Stubby at her side. Eighteen months after Stubby’s disappearance,  Harry passed their old house.  Stubby sat there as if waiting to be let inside.  Dirty,  hungry,  and with bleeding pads,  Stubby had obviously traveled a long way.  Harry told the International News Service on April 5, 1950 that Della was “happy again.”  He could tell by the look on her face.  A quick check at verified the details as Four-Legged Miracles reports them. Some dogs adjust to new surroundings right away,  but others need more time.  For 10 weeks in 2003, motorists reported seeing a dog near Orem,  Utah,  who day after day “sat atop a hill.”  The dog seemed to be waiting for someone.  Repeated attempts by animal control to catch the dog were unsuccessful. As it turned out,  Debra Benson and her family had recently moved to the region.  Their dog Buca bolted one day from an open door.  Despite a massive search,  the Bensons could not find Buca.  Christmas that year was sad and gloomy without the family dog.  However,  when Benson saw media reports about the mysterious black dog sitting atop a hill near the highway,  she suspected the dog might be Buca.  The Desert News reported the joyful family reunion on February 13,  2003. Four-Legged Miracles demonstrates how resourceful dogs can be. But how do they find their way home from hundreds of miles away? Some scientists suggest the dogs rely on their keen sense of smell, which is the dog’s “dominant sense.”  The authors report that dogs can pick up smells over long distances and pick up the differences in odors from various footprints. In the March 1,  2003 edition of Psychology Today,  Lee Charles Kelly argues that if a dog has positive associations with a home,   the dog “feels his way and goes by sensitivity to some natural energy field––emotional, bio-energetic,  cardio-magnetic,  or morphogenetic––that allows him to plug into his internal GPS.” I’m not sure about,  that but I am sure about missing dogs who turned up on their front steps months later,  since many dozens of cases can be authenticated.  Although this book only covers dogs,  cats are known to accomplish similar  feats,  also at times traveling astonishingly far.  In today’s world,  though, microchipping provides a much more reliable way to ensure that lost pets return home. ––Debra J. White

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