by: Paul Schurke
Can dogs really find their way home over long distances a la "The Incredible Journey" and "Old Yeller"? Migrating birds and butterflies certainly can - over thousands of miles. But according to the database in the book "Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals" (1999), most accounts of dogs finding their way home involve distances of just a couple miles, at most six.
Well, a Wintergreen sled dog has doubled that record. Pyta Boy was given to us several years ago by Tom, a mushing friend of ours. He was a great wheel dog with our teams for several season. Last year when he retired, we let him run loose around our kennel and lodge area (our version of a "Walmart greeter"). Time had taken its toll on the old dog and last fall he began slowing down. One day he was missing. The staff, after a lengthy search, assumed that as old dogs often do when they know their time is up, Pyta Boy had wandered off into the woods to call it a day. He had gone to the great kennel in the sky, or so we thought.
A week passed. Then one morning his former owner Tom called us - with some astonishing news. When he'd opened his cabin door that day, there was Pyta Boy perched on the steps. He looked a bit bedraggled and his coat was covered in burrs but he was wagging his tail enthusiastically. What a journey he'd accomplished! Not only is Tom's cabin 12 miles from Wintergreen as the crow flies, but the route there includes a couple big lake chains, several road crossings and numerous stretches of swamp. No dogsled trails mark the route between Tom's place & Wintergreen. Pyta Boy's only previous journey along that way had been in a pick-up truck.
How did he find his way? We may never know. Science has cracked the code on the navigational skills of most migrating animals but the uncanny homing instincts of a domestic animal like Pyta Boy remains an impenetrable mystery. Three weeks after returning to Tom's cabin, Pyta Boy passed away peacefully in his sleep. He had gone home for a reason.