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May 23, 2016

What mysterious call pushes the white stork to fly for 14,000 km from Central Europe to the most extreme part of the African continent? What makes a swallow return to the nest it left the previous year? How can the gray whale swim for 22,500 Km from the Russian island of Sakhalin to Cabo San Lucas, the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico? Moreover, what instinct drives 2 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras, to move from the reserve of Masai Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania every year?

Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980) was one of the pioneers in parapsychology. At Duke University, where he taught for twelve years, he founded the Parapsychology Laboratory, where he carried out research on Extra Sensory Perceptions (ESP) and was convinced that he could use these studies to explain such mysterious events concerning living beings. Dr. Rhine also studied some episodes that did not relate to a particular species, but to individuals of different species that had been able to accomplish apparently inexplicable deeds. Among these, he studied the case of a collie named Bobbie and the extraordinary adventure he had undertaken between 1923 and 1924. However Dr. Rhine was unable to find any scientific explanation for this fact, what is more the scientific world lost interest in parapsychology from the late fifties onwards. Nevertheless the story of what this dog was able to do is well worth telling.

Bobbie was not born among the shepherds of the Scottish Highlands, he did not have a flock of sheep to look after, and he had had no training of any kind; he was a normal dog, that is if a collie can be considered  “normal”.

Born in 1921, it was bought by Frank and Elizabeth Brazier, who lived with their two children, Nova and Leona, on a farm by the Albiqua creek, just outside Silverton, in the American state of Oregon.

Country life, however, was not beneficial to Elizabeth’s poor health, so Brazier decided to move. They bought a restaurant, the Café Reo, and went to live in Silverton. The farm was sold, and so was Bobbie, so that he would not have to live in the city and lead a life he was not used to.

However Bobbie was not happy at having been left in the house where he grew up. He loved his family and so he made a habit of running away to visit the Braziers in Silverton.

Soon Frank realized he had made a mistake and did his best to buy his dog back, but in order to do this he had to pay three times the amount of the original price, $ 15. He knew that money is not everything in life, and $ 15 was not a great sum in exchange for his family’s happiness.

In the summer of 1923, Frank and Elizabeth Brazier decided to take a vacation to visit some of their relatives in Wolcott, in the state of Indiana and to avoid upsetting Bobbie, they took the dog with them.

They arrived in Wolcott after a long journey on the 15th of August, on one of those hot lazy days when it seems that time stops and the hours lazily fall asleep in the sun. Frank had taken his wife to their relatives’ house to rest, and he then went with Bobbie to refuel the car at the local petrol station.

He was doing this when he heard Bobbie yelping. Frank turned just in time to see him running away with three or four ferocious stray dogs chasing after him.

Frank did not manage to keep up with them and soon the group disappeared from view.

Frank stood waiting, humiliated for not having been able to help his dog and hoping that he would soon see Bobbie.

However, the hours passed by and there was no sign of the collie.

Frank got back into the car and began wandering around the city hooting the horn that Bobbie knew well.

He continued to search late into the night, and then he had to face the obvious facts.

The next day, Frank and Elizabeth extended their search to the neighbouring towns, but no one had seen a collie being chased by a pack of dogs.

They put an ad in the local newspaper, but after having waited a few days, they regretfully had to resume their journey.

As planned, they visited their relatives who were scattered between Indiana and Ohio, but before returning home they passed by Wolcott to leave instructions in case Bobbie came back.

The return trip was not as cheerful and carefree as the outward one. The pain of losing their collie broke their hearts.

Back in Silverton their life went on as usual, but the absence of their collie had created a gap that could not be filled.

Bobbie realized he was alone, and he was so terribly distressed that his body shook from his nose to the tip of his tail. How long had he been running? It had taken him hours to get away from the dogs that had pursued him. Now he did not know where he was and, what is worse, he did not have his family.

After hiding for a day or two and rummaging through rubbish bins in search of food, he decided it was time to move. He wanted to go home!

He headed southeast. Without knowing where he was going, he followed the traffic that was heading towards the state capital. He had to cross the White River before entering Indianapolis, which he did easily by swimming. As he had grown up by the Albiqua River swimming was not a problem for him.

Bobbie was a good collie, and made friends easily. In Indianapolis a drifter named Tom took care of him. Bobbie repaid him with all his love, but he knew that his destination was another, and his journey was just beginning.

He realized that the direction he had taken was not the right one, but just as a swallow circles in the sky and looks around before flying to the nest, Bobbie was driven more and more by an impulse that would take him home, along with a strong desire to find his family. This time headed northwest.

He crossed Illinois, from East to West. Now he walked more quickly. He felt that with every step his home was becoming closer and closer, which instilled a new strength in him.

He crossed the great Mississippi River and swerved slightly northwest, towards the town of Vinton, Iowa.

Here some good people, the Pattons, gave him refreshment and shelter for the night, but before dawn, Bobbie was back on the road. He had no time to be stroked by people.

He took the road to the state capital, Des Moines. He was tired. His paws were sore and deprivation did the rest. The days and the months flew by. He had left in August and it was already November. He had to rest and take refreshment. Only by regaining his strength could he hope to reach his goal. In Des Moines his gentle way of approaching people, handing them his paw, moved Ms. Eve Plumb, who then took care of him. Bobbie did not reject the love offered to him. He took advantage of those days to rest and recover his strength.

He stayed with her until the 22nd of November, Thanksgiving Day, and then set off westwards. He now walked quickly and steadily. A dormant instinct guided him towards home and his determination to get there enabled him to overcome all difficulties, hunger, fatigue and pain.

He crossed Nebraska in a southwesterly direction, then on the border of Colorado he turned south of Denver. It was now December. He was lucky to meet other people who were dog lovers. Carrie Abbee and her family had just lost their collie and were more than happy to take Bobbie in.

He then left Denver in mid-December. He was almost at his destination, but he still had the most difficult part of the journey to go. The Rocky Mountains were in front of him and a freezing winter would put a strain on his remaining strength.

It took two months to cross one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, in the most adverse weather conditions. He had to face snow, cold, ice, freezing temperatures and wild animals driven by hunger.

There were hardly any witnesses during this part of the trip, but we can assume that Bobbie changed direction from Denver towards the North to Wyoming and then went back again northwestwards to Idaho. He then passed through Oregon to go up to The Dalles.

The last stretch would have been easy for Bobbie if he had not been on the point of physical exhaustion. He was dirty, his paws were covered with sores, he was skin and bone, and the untreated wounds that covered his body had become infected. However, he was happy. He noticed a familiar smell in the air, the scent of sage which told him he was nearly home and that he would soon find his family and their loving care. This thought was the only thing that gave him the strength to carry on. He was about to reap the reward for his efforts!

From The Dalles he went southwestwards to Portland, but despite being so close to home, his strength failed. He was no longer able to go on. So he took refuge on a back porch of a house.

Mary Elizabeth Smith was a white-haired widow with Ireland in her heart. When she saw the condition Bobbie was in, she felt such compassion. She gave him something to drink, healed his wounds and the sores on his paws. As soon as he got a little better, Bobbie was also able to eat.

Good meals and plenty of rest gave him the strength which was missing to face the last hurdle, from Portland to Silverton.

The sight of a dog dragging himself along the roadside surprised Nova, the eldest daughter of the Braziers. It looked like Bobbie, but he was so dirty and battered that she was not sure. She called him, and the dog ran to her feet, howling with pleasure. Nova took him home weeping tears of joy. For many days he could only eat and sleep while the care he received helped the wounds on his body to heal.

He had got lost on the 15th of August, 1923 and returned home on the 15th of February, 1924. He had walked, run, trudged, swam, crawled and struggled for more than 2,500 miles through eight different states: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. He had passed through deserts and busy streets; he had climbed to the top of one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, and had swum across some of the longest rivers in America. He had survived thanks to his speed, his strength and his intelligence.

The story of Bobbie’s incredible journey travelled the world. A lot of articles were written, books were published and films were made about his adventure.

Bobbie received the keys of the city and he was given permission to run free in the streets. The Oregon Humane Society awarded him a medal. Dozens of people wrote to testify that they had met the dog during his trip, and their statements were invaluable when it came to reconstructing the journey he had undertaken.

Spring had just begun when Bobbie died in 1927; he was buried with full honours in the Oregon Humane Society Pet Cemetery in Portland. The Mayor gave a commemorative speech and the movie star, Rin Tin Tin, laid a wreath of flowers on his grave.

Twenty-five years later Dr. Rhine began to gather evidence of Bobbie’s incredible journey. He questioned many of the people who had met him and consulted the acts of the Oregon Humane Society who had investigated the story. Bobbie’s identity had been proven beyond doubt by three distinguishing marks: a scar on one of his eyes left by a kick from a horse, another one on his paw after an accident with a tractor, and two chipped teeth, the result of a clash with a gopher. In addition, his appearance and the testimony of those who had met him left no doubt that the collie who  had returned to Silverton was the same one the Braziers had lost.

The stories of witnesses confirmed that Bobbie’s return journey followed a more southerly route than the original one made by car. Therefore, he could not have been driven by memories.

Dr. Rhine was trying to prove the existence of ESP at the centre of the brain, that sixth sense with which you can explain strange phenomena such as migration and Bobbie’s incredible journey. Nevertheless, that trip was proof that Bobbie had been driven by something more than a simple hereditary genetic attitude. Bobbie had never followed the road which took him home, nor had his ancestors been along it. It was not logic that had led Bobbie home, but just sentiments of the heart. That is where you will find the love, faithfulness and devotion of a collie.