Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Homing Collies

Homesick sheepdog 'walks 240 miles' home to Wales after bolting from his new farm in Cumbria

Pero the sheepdog turned up on the doorstep of his original owners Alan and Shan James  Credit: WALES NEWS SERVICE

The Telegraph  Sophie Jamieson   25 April 2016 

A homesick sheepdog made a remarkable 240-mile journey home to his birthplace in Wales after escaping from his new home in Cumbria.

In an incredible story that echoes the classic story Lassie Come Home, four-year-old working dog Pero is thought to have returned to the village of Penrhyncoch, Ceredigion by foot 12 days after escaping from his new owners in Cockermouth.

He turned up on the doorstep of his original owners Alan and Shan James limping and a little thinner than before, but in otherwise good condition.

To achieve the feat Pero would have had to travel an incredible 20 miles a day, potentially navigating busy motorways including the M6 and M62.

While the tale is reminiscent of fictional hounds like Lassie, who travelled hundreds of miles from the highlands of Scotland back home to Yorkshire, animal behaviour experts say it is not impossible that a dog in real life could make such a perilous journey.

Pero with his original owner Alan James Credit: Shan James 

Mrs James said it is a "mystery" how he found his way back home, after being sent to the Cumbrian farm for a trial.

“He obviously wasn’t happy in his new home, the farmer said he could see he didn’t settle. He was shy,” Mrs James, 48 said.

“He took him to gather some sheep and that was the last time he saw Pero, he was going across the field and not thinking of turning back.”

"I thought someone would get in touch because he had a microchip, but on Wednesday night after supper my husband went out and there he was on the doorstep waiting for him.

“He was jumping up at him he was going mad, just jumping around in circles. It’s just a mystery as to how he has turned up on the doorstep.

“They say dogs can find their way home but it’s quite a distance from Cockermouth. My sons go up there every year to shear and they have to use a sat-nav to get home so for a dog it’s quite remarkable.”

Pero was delighted to find his former owner  Credit: Shan James 

Dog behaviourist Stan Rawlinson said working dogs especially tend to have a "natural compass" and sense of spatial awareness.

The couple are now appealing for anyone who may have seen Pero on route between Cumbria and Wales to get in touch so they can piece together how me managed to get home.

After his journey Pero, one of 15 sheepdogs on the James's farm, is unlikely to be embarking on another adventure any time soon.

"I don’t think it would be fair for us to send Pero away again," Mrs James said. "He obviously enjoys his home. I’m sure Pero will see his years out here."

Is it plausible for a dog to walk 240 miles? 

Tales abound of dogs' incredible loyalty and ability to track down their owners, from the fictional Lassie to the real life Greyfriars Bobby who is said to have spent 14 years guarding the grave of his former owner.

Nick Jones of Alpha Dog Behaviour said while "240 miles is in the realm of the fantastic", there were examples of dogs having made such journeys. 

Legendary hounds include Bobbie the Wonder Dog, said to have made a journey of over 2,500 miles from Indiana to Oregon in 1924 six months after becoming separated from his owners on a road trip.
More recently, three-year-old black Labrador Bucky reportedly astonished his owner Mark Vessels by travelling 500 miles from Winchester, Virginia to Myrte Beach, South Carolina, where Mr Vessels had moved for work in 2012. 

Last year it was claimed a dog injured in a hit-and-run accident in Russia walked nearly 200 miles just to find the woman who had nursed him back to health.

For most dog finding their way home even a few miles away is too much of a challenge, but Stan Rawlinson, a dog behaviourist said some dogs, especially working dogs, have an "amazing spatial memory" and "some sort of tracking mechanism to where they live".

He added: "How homing pigeons do it is they work on the magnetism in the earth, which is how we use compasses, so it’s almost like a spatial compass they have in their head, and it is believed dogs could have the same thing."

For a sheepdog, 20 miles a day would be "very do-able", Mr Rawlinson said.

"A sheepdog is used to running round and herding sheep and doing 40, 50 miles in some places. They travel miles and miles in a day."

He added: "The bond between a shepherd and his sheepdog is very close. "It needs to get back to the person it feels totally secure with and that’s how it gets that far."
This reporter should have done his homework...  The Greyfriars Bobby story was long ago debunked.

Greyfriars Bobby tale is wrong claims Cardiff historian

BBC  5 August 2011

For around 150 years, tourists to Edinburgh have taken time out of their trip to visit the bronze statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier reputed to have kept a 14 year vigil at his master's graveside.
But now a historian at Cardiff University believes he has uncovered evidence that the legend is nothing but a shaggy dog tale.

Dr Jan Bondeson looked into Bobby as part of the five-year research for his book, Amazing Dogs, which also looked at Nazi research into what they believed to be super-intelligent canines.

However, Bobby's life story revealed itself to be so murky, that Dr Bondeson decided to devote a separate book to debunking the myths.

"The entire story is wrong - the account of the dog on the drinking fountain who supposedly kept vigil at his master's grave in all kinds of weather is not accurate," said Dr Bondeson, a social historian, originally from Sweden. 

Greyfriars Bobby the 1st.

"Bobby would go out hunting rats in the church and was kept well fed by the locals. He was not a mourning dog at all - he was a happy little dog."


Until now it was believed that Bobby had been the pet of Edinburgh constable John Grey, who died of tuberculosis in 1858. 

His period of mourning reputedly lasted until Bobby's own death in 1872; which was the first aspect of the story to make Dr Bondeson suspicious, as Skye Terriers typically only live 10 to 12 years.

As he delved deeper into contemporary sources, Dr Bondeson discovered that there were distinct differences in photos and paintings of Bobby, which fell into two groups, those before 1867 and those after.

Greyfriars Bobby the 2nd.

"I noticed that the two dogs looked quite different. The first Bobby was quite an ugly dog but in later paintings he looks just like the statue on the drinking fountain," Bondeson said.

Research into the minutes of meetings at Edinburgh City Council revealed that the truth about Bobby, both mark I and II, was known at the time. 

But by this stage the legend was attracting so many tourists to the Scottish capital, that councillors chose to ignore it.

Greyfriars Bobby's collar
It appears that the original Bobby had been a stray mongrel which hung around the nearby George Heriot's Hospital.

When he became a nuisance there, the hospital gardener dumped him in the grounds of the kirk, where he was adopted by curator of the graveyard, James Brown.

Newspaper reports of the time tell of how, for a tip, Mr Brown would beguile visitors with Bobby's Tale. 

'Handsome tip'

In return for free food for both Bobby and new owner, Mr Brown would then guide tourists in the direction of a local restaurant owned by John Traill.

Dr Bondeson believes that, when the first Bobby died, it was Traill's idea to replace him and keep the lucrative arrangement going.

"After an article about Bobby appeared in The Scotsman, visitation rates to the graveyard increased by 100 fold," said Dr Bondeson.
"They would give James Brown a handsome tip and have lunch in the Traills' restaurant."

"But a dead Bobby was no good for business, so they replaced him with a pure-bred Skye terrier who lived for a further five years until 1872. After which time, it did not take long for the fountain to be erected."

The story of Greyfriars Bobby has inspired three feature films - including a 1961 Disney version - and several books. 

On Halloween 1949, MGM released "Challenge To Lassie," which cast the famous collie "against type," considering that the film is the story of the famous Skye Terrier "Greyfriar's Bobby." (Disney would do a version of the story in 1961, using a different dog but the same actor, Donald Crisp.) Kathryn again appeared unbilled, but did manage to appear on one of the film's lobby cards.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for VisitScotland, said: "The story of Greyfriars Bobby is the stuff of legend, and has been the subject of Hollywood movies, television programmes and numerous books. 

"Separating fact from legend is always going to be tricky but regardless of how much the story has evolved over the years it has done little to deter visitors paying homage to a true Scottish icon. 

"I'm sure that visitors to Edinburgh will continue to be inspired by Bobby's story and he is worthy of his place in Scottish history."

OK, so the bulk of the Greyfriars Bobby thing was a publicity stunt.  But there are dogs who have made their way home over long distances.  Meet  Wandering Willie.

Wandering Willie
Many a touching story has been told of the faithfulness of the dog, yet there are few, in my opinion, so remarkable as that of “Wandering Willie,” the Northumbrian collie which sixteen years ago became celebrated on the Shields ferry by its devoted and persevering search for its master. It was in August, 1873, that a shepherd was on his way from the Cheviots to the Cleveland Hills with a beautiful drove of white lambs. Great was their excitement when they crossed the Tyne at Shields by the steam ferry. The mingling noise of the steam-engine and the paddle-wheels, the gurgling of the waters, and the whirl of traffic disturbed their mountain serenity ; and no sooner had their trotters touched the county palatine, and their nostrils sniffed the unwonted atmosphere of a manufacturing town, than off they scampered in astonishment and consternation. They were in a region of glass-houses and alkali works, and soon they saw signs of what seemed to them a thunderstorm. It was simply a cloud of dense black smoke, but it brought them to a sudden halt. It was a new world to them, and they were not at all at home in it. So they fled for escape, describing all manner of curves and angles in their alarm. Every thoroughfare had now its separate flock; not a street, or lane, or alley was unvisited by the bleating mountaineers, and distress and distraction accompanied their flight.

The shepherd’s dog would fain have followed them all at one and the same time; but, if Boyle Roche’s head could be in two places at once, who ever heard of anybody being in six or seven? The dog pursued the lambs, however, in turns. Bounding and running, turning and driving, he got them at last into one flock, and, with a zeal and earnestness worthy of human imitation, brought them all to the presence of his master. At the first count one of their number was apparently missing, and the drover raised a cry in Willie’s ear which he well understood. Away he ran in chase of the missing lamb, but in his absence the drove was found to be complete.

The autumn sun had now gone down, the toil-worn shepherd had four miles to go before resting his weary charge, and he moved onward. The dog, which was expected to follow, did not return from his search for hours. He had sought the town in every conceivable corner for the supposed missing one, and late at night was once more at the ferry in quest of his master. He was not there, nor was he anywhere to be found. Men came and went, but in none of these could the poor brute identify the friend who was lost. Willie lay down in the track of his companion of the morning, moaning over his loss, and almost dead with work and want. He lingered on the spot for days and weeks, even for months, refusing comfort, growling at consolation, and setting his teeth against the kindest efforts to win him from his despair. He could only be lured into a meal by placing it within his reach, and leaving him unlocked at until the friendly purpose was served. He seemed to have a notion that whatever interest was manifested in his welfare, whether it came in the form of generous sympathy or substantial food, was but meant as a bribe to induce him to forget his former master and enter the service of some new friend; and he would enlist under no leader in the place of him whom he had followed from the hills.
For fully six months the writer visited him daily, yet nothing but a growl could be got from him in acknowledgment of any proffered attention. His independent spirit scorned all patronage. Offerings were constantly laid in his way; but he preferred to seek out on the shore rejected scraps of sustenance, and so provide for his own maintenance. About this time the miserable waif, pining away out of life and an object of generous pity, was one night, with the best and roost humane intentions, thrown overboard from the steam ferry when the tide was running strongly seawards. But Willie had endured much, and yet lived. He had a canine tenacity of life, and he clung to it still. Notwithstanding his protracted sufferings, he strove against death, and in some unknown way escaped from the waves that threatened him with destruction. He was seen a week afterwards resuming his search. Hour by hour, night and day, he was found crossing the river by the ferry, making over and over again the passage which he had first undertaken on his arrival from the Cheviots. He always warily watched to see if the arm was on board that had dropped him into the stream, and if so, having no wish to be thus relieved of his cares, waited for the next boat. His master, returning in the following autumn, heard of his long lonely wanderings, but missed him by a few minutes, and could not recover him on that journey.

Frequently was Willie taken home by friendly butchers, farmers, seamen, and others, and detained with hospitable thoughts, for he had awakened the widest sympathy by his devotion; but in a week or two he would break away from their care to renew his solitary life. When the close of 1874 drew on, there were general doubts whether he would survive the winter. His wearing anxiety had told upon his frame, and reduced him to a mere “ruckle of bones.” Time, however, that works wonders with us all, brought alleviation at last even to Willie. With a new black coat, and the ring round his neck restored in whiteness, he began to respond to the paternal kindness which all the ferrymen, and everyone who knew his story, bestowed upon him. He was even seen at last to wag his tail ! Food was accepted more readily, and with expressions of gratitude. His strength was regained, and he had a happier countenance. Not in the least, however, did he lighten his labours. He pursued them with added energy and zeal. His daily and nightly wanderings in search of his long-lost master went forward as earnestly as ever.

Shortly after Willie’s woes were publicly known, he became such an object of interest to rich and poor alike that all kinds of food were brought to him. In fact, he grew vulgarly fat, and began to growl at every dog that crossed the ferry. On reaching land he claimed the right of being “first man” out, and would bark furiously as a proclamation that he had brought all the passengers safely over the water. 

This he did for several years. At last the street arabs, “turning to mirth all things on earth, as only boyhood can,” joined chorus with Willie, and created such a nuisance that the poor brute and his ragamuffin comrades had to be banished from the locality of the landing places. The dog, with Ralph, the ferryman, his keeper, was afterwards but occasionally seen in the streets of Shields. He once more grew disconsolate. Blindness and infirmities quickly gathered upon him, and at last, in 1880, old age finished his career. Ralph the ferryman had him stuffed and placed under a glass case. and many thousands attracted to Tynesdide exhibitions have gazed on this memorial of animal fidelity.

- Thomas Hudson
The Monthly chronicle of North country lore and legend – 1889

There's a reason that the three dogs here that really made epic journeys to return home were collies or collie-type dogs.  For a long time it was part of their job description.  For many collies and shepherds, their work included driving a flock or herd long distances to a stock market or rail-head where they could be shipped to urban markets in the south of Britain.  These drives took several days at the least, and at the end of them the stock was sold and the dogs were expected to make their way back home on their own.  

This they did, stopping at certain cottages or inns where they were fed as per agreement with the owners of the flocks they had driven to market.  The shepherds were conveyed to their homes by mail-coaches or other wheeled conveyances, while their dogs walked.  This was the usual pattern, and the dogs rarely failed to make the journey undismayed.  

Consider the case of - 

Bobbie the Wonder Dog (1921–1927) was a dog from the U.S. state of Oregon who became famous for traveling 2,551 miles (4,105 km) from the state of Indiana, to return to his master's home in the city of Silverton.

In 1923, while on a family road trip in Indiana, Bobbie—a two-year-old Scotch Collie/English Shepherd mix—was separated from his owners and lost. After an exhaustive search the broken-hearted family returned to their home in Oregon never expecting to see their beloved dog again. Six months later, Bobbie appeared on their doorstep mangy and scrawny with feet worn to the bone; he showed all the signs of having walked the entire way back alone. 

During his ordeal he crossed 2,551 miles (4,105 km) of plains, desert, and mountains in the winter to return home, an average of approximately 14 miles (23 km) per day. After his return to Silverton, he experienced a meteoric rise to fame. He was the subject of newspaper articles including Ripley's Believe It or Not!, books, and film. Bobbie played himself in the 1924 silent film The Call of the West.  He received hundreds of letters from people around the world and was honored with a jewel-studded harness and collar, ribbons, and keys to cities.  from: Wikipedia

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