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Video: Pup returns home after falling overboard

TODAY contributor
updated 4/7/2009 11:04:16 AM ET 2009-04-07T15:04:16

Australian cattle dog Sophie Tucker spent her life as a pampered house pet, but when the going got rough, showed mettle that could put her human counterparts on “Survivor” to shame.

The plucky pooch was separated from her owners when she fell overboard in choppy waters, but swam five miles to an island, surviving on a diet of wild goats for four months until miraculously being reunited with her family.

“She surprised us all,” ecstatic owner Jan Griffith told the National Australian Associated Press News Agency. “She was a house dog and look what’s she done, she’s swum over five nautical miles, she’s managed to live off the land all on her own. We wish she could talk, we really do.”

Sophie’s mind-boggling survival story, chronicled on TODAY Tuesday, began as Jan and husband Dave took their pet along for a sailing trip off the coast of Australia last November. When the sea grew rough, Sophie dropped into the water.

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“We searched well over an hour,” Jan Griffith told the Brisbane Times. “We thought once she hit the water she would have been gone because the wake from the boat was so big.”

Not so. Sophie — named after the bawdy American vaudeville entertainer — dog-paddled her way to the remote island of St. Bees, in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The island, largely bereft of humans, is known for its koala bear population, but island rangers were taken aback by the sight of a seemingly wild dog in their midst.

Griffith said she was told Sophie looked thin and mangy when first spotted, but told the AAP “all of the sudden she started to look good and it was when the rangers had found baby goat carcasses, so she started eating baby goats.”

Becoming wild in the wild
The family’s inside dog underwent a fundamental personality change to survive in the great outdoors. “She had become quite wild and vicious,” Griffith told the Brisbane Times. “She wouldn’t let anyone go near her or touch her. She wouldn’t take food from anybody.”

After four months, rangers finally managed to trap the dog. And when news broke that a wild dog had been captured on St. Bees, the Griffiths met up with a ranger’s boat bringing Sophie back to Australia’s mainland — and saw, it was indeed Sophie in tow.

The story of reuniting is one for the ages. “She’d been ferocious in the trap, but we called her and she started whimpering and crying, and so did everybody,” Griffith told NBC News.

Sophie, back at home with her owners, is once again a happy house pet.
“They let her out [of the cage] and she just about flattened us,” Griffith told the AAP. “She wriggled around like a mad thing.”

Sophie not only showed amazing adaptability living in the wild, but returning to domestic life — the Griffiths reported the dog’s transition to house dog once again has been seamless.

The dog’s survival story has even animal experts scratching their heads. Australian veterinarian Vicki Lomax told the Brisbane Times that Sophie’s is a hardy breed, but virtually no dog would have been likely to survive what she went through.

“Cattle dogs are probably the most suited type of dog to survive something like this, but it would have been a major ordeal for her,” Lomax said. “Five nautical miles is an incredibly big distance for any type of dog … she is lucky she wasn’t taken by a shark.”

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