What Would You Do If Your Dog Was Lost Overboard?

Each month I will contribute a review of a book or film on the subject of Pet Travel to A Traveler’s Library. You can find my latest review there,  Survival At Sea.


Creative Non-Fiction?

Golden Retriever in Kayak

I always wear my life jacket on a boat. By the way, there aren't any sharks in Cayuga Lake, are there?

How do you write a nearly 300 page book about a dog’s adventures that no one was around to witness? Well, journalist Emma Pearse did it by creating extensive backstory and filling in the rest with speculation.

Her book, Sophie: The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog, tells the amazing story of an Australia cattle dog who went missing from the deck of her people’s boat off the coast of Queensland, Australia. After being given up for lost, Sophie was found alive and well nearly six months later on an island at least five nautical miles from where she went missing.

Half of Pearse’s book tries to recreate Sophie’s path after talking to island dwellers who spotted signs of her and guessing what her most likely path had been. But the first half of the book introduces us to the Griffith family and their relationship with Sophie.

Evolving Dog Owners

Some people are born loving animals. They “just know” how to view the world through a dog’s eyes. And others of us need to learn. The Griffiths needed some schooling.

The Griffiths believed that dogs belonged outdoors. They certainly didn’t travel with dogs. One gets the feeling that after bringing Sophie home from the pet store, they were surprised at how she became a real part of the family.

The Griffiths had loved all their dogs. But Sophie was the first dog who earned the right to sleep in the house. And she was the first dog they took on their boat.

I believe, however, that their belief that a “dog is just a dog” prevented them from finding Sophie sooner. And caused them incredible cognitive dissonance that resulted in terrible suffering.

Missing – Your Worst Nightmare

The Griffiths did not see Sophie go overboard. When they discovered she was missing, they immediately started circling the area and calling her name while realizing the dog could have hit her head going over the side or already have become a meal for one of the Coral Sea’s giant predators.

What they didn’t do was get on the radio to ask other boats in the area to be on the lookout. And they didn’t tell most of their friends what had happened.

My speculation is that they didn’t feel anyone else would understand their deep sorrow at losing Sophie. After all, she was just a dog. The Griffiths had fallen in love with Sophie. But they didn’t know enough “dog people” to realize that they weren’t alone. And that they could have gotten help searching for Sophie or even just comforting them for their loss.

For me, reading about the Griffith’s sense of shame and grief over losing Sophie while recognizing they could have gotten help was the saddest part of the book.

They were absolutely right that the odds of Sophie surviving miles from the nearest land in rough waters filled with sharks were slim. But they should never have had to face such a horrible event alone.

How Did It Turn Out?

You’ll have to visit my review at A Traveler’s Library to be filled in on Sophie’s adventures. Needless to say, I have no interest in writing about puppy snuff books so you can rest assured Sophie returned home with not a scratch on her. Her vet was quoted as saying, “Sophie hasn’t been castaway. She’s been on an island vacation.”

You may remember the press stories when Sophie was found. Many of them got out of hand with mistaken coverage reporting that Sophie survived island life by eating koala bears on a protected nature preserve. For you Americans, imagine if a pit bull was found devouring baby bald eagles while pooping on the flag and you have a taste of the furor that arose.

Final Words

Sophie is not the kind of book I usually enjoy. But I give nonfiction a little more slack than fiction. After all, even if I don’t enjoy the writing style, I’ll probably learn something. And I did.

I learned that

  • I definitely want to explore the Australia coast,
  • it’s not stupid that I make my dog wear a life jacket,
  • and having the support of other people who love dogs makes nearly everything better.

Maybe you’ll learn something too.

I’m giving away my copy of Sophie: The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog to one lucky reader. Use the rafflecopter below to make your entry.

But first, take a peak at Sophie in this news report. See, she really is alive and well.

Disclosures: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. If you buy a copy of the book through the Amazon affiliate link above I’ll make a few cents which will go promptly to my web host so Something Wagging can remain live. Oh, and thank you.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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  1. Hi Pamela

    I read this book a while back and agree with you – I didn’t like the writing style at all, it was almost immature, however, I enjoyed the story; it is quite a tale of survival.

  2. You had me laughing out loud about the pit bulls eating the baby eagles while pooping on the flag. We are a passionate country!

    • And we’re certainly not alone. The Griffith family got a lot of abuse when the koala story was reported.

      Luckily for her, the island where she lived was being actively studied by researchers who were able to confirm no koalas were missing or killed.

  3. This story still amazes me. Sophie is an incredibly strong and persevering dog. I agree that her suffering probably could have been avoided but her resilience is humbling. I don’t know too many people who would have survived a similar ordeal and certainly not many dogs.

    I am so glad her story has a happy ending. It sounds like her family has learned a lot throughout their experiences and hopefully others will learn from them as well. We actually bought a life jacket for our dog last summer and I am hoping we can use it this year to encourage her to swim. Shiva is no Sophie, that’s for sure!

    • I guess most people and dogs are far tougher than we realize. You’d never know until you were put to the test.

      I also held out hopes that the extra flotation would encourage Honey to swim. I hope you have better luck with Shiva than we have with Honey. On the other hand, a boating life is probably much less scary with a dog that doesn’t try to jump off the boat all the time. :)

  4. I too like the description of baby eating, flag pooping pitts :-)
    I have a new appreciation for the ire over cattle dogs eating koalas.

  5. And one day, you’ll no doubt sail to the Australia coast with Honey in a life jacket and Mike …doing whatever sailors do on a sailboat. Make cocktails in the sunset?

    • Sounds good to me. You’re right that sailors seem to spend an awful lot of time drinking. It’s probably to buck them up after sailing through a crazy banana pants storm. :)

      • Please explain!!! Too intriguing.

        • Most of my reading and conversations are with people who aren’t just sailing for the day. They live aboard their boats and cruise the world.

          Let’s face it, if you’re in the middle of the Pacific when a storm hits, you have to ride it out. You can’t drop anchor and find a hotel for the night. It seems like most sailing memoirs are about surviving horrible storms followed by beautiful, sunny days with cocktail in hand.

          Personally, I’d like to find a way to sail that skips the storms and just includes the drinking. :)

  6. I’m not a huge nonfiction fan, but the story sounds really interesting!

    If my dog went overboard, I’d probably be overboard with her! I’d be more than a little paranoid about it. Greyhounds aren’t great swimmers, so I’d make sure she had a lifejacket on. Just the thought of it happening makes me ill, but no way would I come back to shore without her!

    • I actually read about a couple whose man overboard drills assumed that the wife would jump overboard if one of their children fell. They practiced single handed drills because no way was that mom going to sail away from her child before turning back around for a rescue. I guess it’s a good thing you live inland. :)

  7. I really enjoyed this book – I never heard the story of Sophie before! Like you, I was a little baffled with the Griffiths right from the start … buying from a pet store, “a dog is dog” (what DOES that actually mean?) and lives outside, rounded of with a Cesar Milan quote, and all in the first 5 pages. At least I had the opportunity to brace myself for what was coming. What maybe surprised me the most that after all they experienced with Sophie, the “replacement” dog Ruby, had to start all over again. Living outside and not respected. Like Sophie, who they felt was a little dum in the beginning …

    The writing style was not very appealing to me too, but I commend the author never trying to romanticize or mystify the way in which Sophie must have experienced her journey. Great book.

    • When I started the book, I had to work very hard not to judge the Griffiths. But I kept remembering that when I first started thinking about getting a dog, I expected he would live outside because that’s all I knew. And I’ve read my share of dominance based training books before discovering a better way.

      I think Sophie taught the Griffiths something about how a dog is not just a dog but a partner in a relationship. I hope they continue to learn and grow. But we all need that chance.

      I was surprised by the writing because the author was a working reporter. The book reminded me a little of something written for a much younger audience. But I still found the book worth reading. And it spurred me to learn a lot more about that region of the sea off Australia’s coast.

      Glad you took a chance on it and left your comment. I’ll try to announce my next choice soon.


  1. […] from Vera: You can win a copy of Sophie’s story. Just go to Something Wagging This Way Comes to find out how. Readers of A Traveler’s Library have a leg up (or don’t I dare say […]