Many happy returns – Alison Healy on wandering pets

These paws were made for walking

Our neighbour’s cat recently disappeared, and the worst was feared. But to everyone’s great surprise, he turned up 25 kilometres away a few weeks later. Now, he is a very handsome cat and he always looked like he was too good to be slinking around our locality. We don’t know how he did it, but he ended up in the leafy suburbs of Rathfarnham in what I believe was a clever plan to improve his social standing.

I suspect it was a stepping stone to his final destination – the promised land of Ailesbury Road. There he would ingratiate himself with an ambassador and spent his nights licking crumbs of Ferrero Rocher from marble floors as a string quartet played at one of those fancy ambassador’s parties. Unfortunately for our feline friend, the DSCPA scanned his microchip, and his social climbing plan was foiled. The prodigal cat is back in the countryside, looking as crestfallen as any cat could look, as he ponders the unfairness of life.

He reminded me of the canon’s cat. Some 60 years ago, a canon in a small Leitrim parish I know had a tom cat. He was getting up to all sorts of mischief with the local females – the cat, of course, not the canon. Perhaps thinking that the cat’s salacious nocturnal activities might lessen his moral authority, the canon entrusted the care of the cat to a relative in Longford. But the cat was having none of it. Three weeks after he was dispatched to Longford, the errant cat reappeared on the canon’s doorstep, looking slightly dishevelled but otherwise fine after his 95km journey.

How he found his way back is anyone’s guess, but he’s not the only animal with an unerring sense of home. Have you heard of Bobbie the Wonder Dog?


This two-year-old collie travelled between 4,000 to 5,000 km from Indiana to Oregon in 1923/1924. The Brazier family from Oregon had taken a road trip to Wolcott, Indiana, to visit relatives in August 1923. As Frank Brazier stopped to refuel the car in Wolcott, Bobbie was chased by some street dogs. The family spent a fruitless week searching for him and thought they would never see him again.

Six months later, a very bedraggled Bobbie turned up at their restaurant in Silverton, Oregon. The local newspaper told his story and he became a national sensation. People wrote to say they had encountered him on his journey and the Oregon Humane Society investigated the claims. It concluded that the dog had indeed travelled the journey, which took him through rivers, plains, deserts, and over the Rocky Mountains in the throes of winter.

Many people helped him along the way, but an Irish woman was singled out in several reports. Mary Elizabeth Smith, described by author Charles Alexander as “a white-haired, roly Irish widow” took him into her home in Portland, when he was 70 miles from his final destination.

In his book Bobbie, a Great Collie, the author described how Mrs Smith opened the door of her tiny cottage to him. “The big heart that is the glory of her country men was hers, was Mary Elizabeth Smith’s, and it opened on the instant for Bobbie”, he wrote with a dramatic flourish.

She bathed his paws, tended to his injuries and gave him water but he would eat no food. After resting for several hours, he padded back onto the street and continued his odyssey.

Bobbie became a hero after his exploits and when he died the mayor of Portland gave the eulogy at his funeral. Another canine celebrity, Rin Tin Tin – a German shepherd with a film career – laid a wreath at his grave.

And what of the white-haired roly Irish widow? Charles Alexander’s book tells us that Mary Elizabeth Smith’s role in the drama only came to light a year after Bobbie’s return. By then he was a celebrity and was getting fan mail from as far away as England and Australia. Portland Realty Board put him on exhibition in the city and she went along to see her erstwhile canine companion.

When Bobbie saw the Irish woman, “he came to life, rushed at her howling and crying as was his wont when an old and lost friend reappeared. He stood in the weeping woman’s arms and gave every evidence of as deep and emotional recognition as she herself bore”.

And what became of the canon’s cat? There is no record of a similarly emotional reunion when he arrived on the canon’s doorstep.

But there were unconfirmed reports of a surge in the cat population two months after his dramatic return. Make of that what you will.