This is a story I shouldn't be writing. I've always believed, and I'm not entirely joking, that the only good dog is a dead dog. They're noisy; they bite; and they make me nervous. My favourite record is "Old Shep" (such a happy ending); and when I'm walking in the country and three Rottweilers come menacingly along, I hum it, praying they will pass me by, unsavaged.
And then, just as I'm psyching myself up to write the first "Bull terriers maul child, 5, to death" story of the holidays, along comes Muffy. Back not only from the dead, but also from a long time ago and a great distance away. Muffy is a mutt, but her story is one to touch the flinty heart of even an old dogphobic like me.
Her origins, like so much of the non-pedigree community, are obscure. She was born heaven knows where to heaven knows what, but certainly the wrong side of the dog blanket. The first anyone heard of her was when she turned up at an RSPCA shelter near Brisbane, Australia at the back end of the last century. She was a ragamuffin item – white, curly-haired, and with the kind of bloodline that would take weeks of DNA analysis to sort out. In other words, cute. And for Natalie Lampard, looking for a dog for her four-year-old daughter Chloe, the appeal was instant. The dog went home with them, and was christened Muffy. For four years, girl and dog were inseparable.
And then, one day in 2000, suddenly Muffy wasn't there. One moment she'd been in the backyard. The next, gone. The Lampards looked, put notes on trees, but, gradually, the weeks since Muffy disappeared became months, and then years. There's only so much pining for a lost dog you can do; and so Chloe grew up, and Muffy became part of the folklore of her childhood. Until last week; when Chloe got a phone call from her mother. "Are you sitting down?", Mrs Lampard asked, and, on being told she was, delivered the news: "They've found Muffy."
"They" were the RSPCA, an organisation Muffy seems determined to keep in touch with. Officers had been called to a house in Melbourne to investigate a possible case of animal cruelty. And there in a derelict yard, sleeping on a torn piece of cardboard, was this white, curly-haired dog. They checked for a microchip, found one, and rang Mrs Lampard. Nine years after she disappeared, Muffy had been found – 1,200 miles from her home. How she got there is a mystery; but Chloe, about to graduate high school, doesn't care. Muffy will live in "star class luxury" on her return this week.
It seems a truly singular case. Until you start searching the records and find that dogs seem to make a habit of such vanishing acts. Just last month, a Staffordshire terrier called Fatty, missing for eight years this year, turned up more than 400 miles from his Sydney home. Earlier this year, there was the Florida German shepherd called Astro, awol for nine years, who reappeared hundreds of miles from home in Tennessee. And last year's crop included Tootsie the dachshund (five years and 350 miles); and Holly the Dublin terrier-poodle cross (two years and found across the water in London).
But these tales are as nothing to that of Bobbie, a mixture of collie and English shepherd. He lived with the Brazier family of Silverton, Oregon, and, in August 1923, went with his owners to visit their relatives in Indiana, the other side of the country. He was a lively two-year-old; too lively, it turned out, for while in Indiana, he went missing. The whole Brazier clan searched and searched, but Bobbie could not be found, and, eventually, the family had to return home without him. Six months later, there was a scratching at their door. It was Bobbie; mangy and thin as a whippet, but definitely him. And his paws told the story. They were worn nearly to the bone: his instinct and legs had carried him across plains and winter mountains, and he had walked all 2,800 miles home.
Bobbie's story made national headlines, his feat was investigated and attested by the Humane Society, and he became the second most famous dog in America. And when he died, four years later, the most celebrated one of all, Rin TinTin, laid a wreath on his grave. It's enough to make a cat-lover want to turn up at Crufts.