Incredible Journeys

Incredible Journeys

Incredible Journeys

A black cat and a collie each travel hundreds of miles to get back home to their owners.

In May of 1992, the Riesgraf family went camping at Bear Head Lake State Park, Minnesota. According to Susan Riesgraf, they brought along their dogs, a collie named  Lady, and Wolfka, a Belgian shepherd.

“It was springtime. Ice was coming off the lake. Green leaves were starting to bud out.  And it was just a good time to take a break.”

The family had been to the cabin a couple of times. They felt perfectly safe letting the dogs out on their own. Normally, Lady and Wolfka returned within an hour. But this time  they didn’t return at all. The next day, a forest fire erupted just a few miles southwest of the cabin. Flames were headed in their direction and they had to evacuate immediately.

The fire burned out of control for three days, consuming more than 9,000 acres. From their home in Duluth, 100 miles away, the Riesgrafs waited for news that the dogs had been found. John Riesgraf:

“We had called Susan’s father and I had asked him to go back to the cabin a few times because I thought they’d come back to the cabin. I thought that would be our best hope, but he had done that and not seen anything.”

Then, almost two weeks after Lady disappeared, a hungry, scruffy collie wandered up to a house on the outskirts of Duluth. Susan Riesgraf said she received a phone call:

“Out of the blue, some folks that were about 15 miles from our house called and said ‘Your dog’s in our yard.’  I said, ‘What?’  They said, ‘Your dog’s a collie. Her name is Lady.  Is this the telephone number?’ I said, ‘Yes. Do you realize this dog has traveled a long way to get to your yard?’”

After 13 days apart, Lady was reunited with her family. When her amazing journey made headlines, several people called to tell the family they had seen the dog on her journey. A railroad worker had spotted the collie 30 miles from the cabin. About a week later, someone spotted the dog near an old logging trail, approximately 15 miles from Duluth. Altogether, Lady had traveled more than 150 miles. Susan Riesgraf said she has no doubt that Lady would have reached their house one way or another:

“She’s found her home and she’s there to stay. Since this long walk home, she stays home. It’s like she realized, too, this is my family, and we just appreciate her a whole lot more.”



The Riesgrafs never learned the fate of their other dog, Wolfka. They hope he was perhaps adopted by a caring stranger. Meanwhile, they continue to marvel at Lady’s return. But dogs aren’t the only pets that show this remarkable instinct.

Sue Anderson of Baltimore, Maryland, has been an animal lover for as long as she can remember. In the spring of 1992, she packed for a cross-country move. The last things she loaded were her most valued possessions: her five beloved cats:

“I had Puss and Cinderella and Woolly Booger and Nova and Stardust. They’re like children to me in a way, and I feel when I take on the responsibility of a pet, then that responsibility is mine until the pet dies.”

Sue traveled with her brother, who was also moving west. As for the cats, Sue said it was the first time they’d been farther from home than the local vet:

“I got Nova about four years ago. She was left outside of my apartment. She just kind of clung to me and got very attached to me, and ever since then, it’s been a very, very close relationship.”

After 10 days on the road, Sue and her brother reached California. They stopped to rest for the night, 200 miles from Modesto, their final destination. They planned to sleep until daybreak before pushing on. Sue awoke to discover Nova was gone:

“I felt devastated. She was in a strange place, had never been here before. It scared me.   I was worried about her survival.”

Sue said she and her brother searched for an hour without any luck:

“I was very, very anxious about her, very, very frightened for her, and very upset about the whole incident.”

When Sue told a co-worker about Nova, he gave her a picture of a black cat as a memento:

“People would stop by and always say, ‘Get real. She’s never going to come back. You’re just dreaming.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe one day she will.’ So I kept it up there the entire time that I was working there.”

A full year later, on July 16, 1993, Sue came across two stray cats outside of work. One resembled Nova. Could Nova have traveled 250 miles to find her? Sue Anderson thinks she did:

“She had a mole inside her ear. She had 5 or 6 distinguishing white hairs on her chest, and she let me look at her claws. I could identify her claws. All these things were adding up that this was indeed my cat.”

How do we explain Nova’s incredible journey? Noted animal behaviorist Miriam Yarden has a theory:

“She told me that she spent 10 to 12 hours at her place of work, and by thinking of the cat and seeing her own surroundings, subconsciously, she was sending the visual images to the cat; ‘Come to this area. Come to this place. This is where I am.’  Can I prove it? No. Anyone can disprove it? Probably not.”

Sue Anderson has said love is the key:

“I like to think that there’s enough of a bonding that if you really believe in your capacity to love and let that love be a kind of a guiding light, that they will use that love to get back to us when they want to and that’s a sort of communication in some way.”