Where would the kids' movie industry be without the "lost pets try to find their way home" genre? But, of course, the only reason the grossly unlikely plots of Homeward Bound and Finding Nemo could occur is because the animals in those movies have human intelligence, and because little kids won't buy tickets to watch movies about lost animals getting run over on the highway.
But, as we so often like to point out, real life requires even more suspension of disbelief than any Pixar movie.
Dixie the ginger cat had already lived a long and happy life by 1999, when she turned 15, which is about 76 in cat years. Like all 76-year-olds, Dixie was quite content just sitting around eating dry food and mewling at neighborhood children all day, until one day she inexplicably disappeared, which is also something that geriatrics tend to do from time to time.
"If anyone needs me, I'll be catching rats over at the Sizzler."
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, Dixie's owner, Gilly Delaney, came to accept the sad truth. Her elderly kitty was certainly clawing ribbons out of God's couch by now.
So of course Mrs. Delaney was overjoyed when an RSPCA officer found her cat alive and well and delivered her home safe again. Cool story, right? No? Well, we forgot to mention that they found the cat nine years later.
"I don't remember a goddamned thing. Catnip's a helluva drug."
Yep, that means she lived in the wild until she was 24. That number doesn't even appear on the cat/human age chart -- in our years, it's like 130 or something. To put that into perspective, the life expectancy of cats is around 13 years, so Dixie was already on borrowed time when she ran away. And it's not like living on the streets gives cats magical rejuvenating powers -- wild cats only typically live to around 8. That means Dixie lived longer than your typical house cat and your typical feral cat combined.
And then there's the fact that even young, healthy cats tend to gravitate toward oncoming cars like they're made of electromagnets, so Dixie's survival story would already have been amazing even if she had only been a year old when she ran away. Once she got back, her owners claimed that her personality hadn't changed a bit, which is what you'd expect from a cat that is secretly a transfigured wizard.
"Hogwarts needed a long-term substitute and I needed a pension bump."
There are pros and cons to choosing a parrot to be your pet. On one hand, they are possibly the smartest animals short of primates. On the other hand, they are possibly the smartest animals short of primates. The Nakamura family of Japan discovered the downside to trying to keep a genius behind bars when Yosuke, their African Grey parrot, MacGyvered his way out of his cage and fled to the skies. And unlike your loyal dog, an escaped bird ain't never comin' back.
Throwing rocks at it won't help, either.
Yet it seems that Yosuke never intended to stay away forever. After doing an aerial tour of Japan and probably getting up to some avian mischief that would make a delightful kids' movie if only someone had been there to document it, the bird wound up in the custody of animal control. They for some reason handed him over to the police (maybe his "mischief" involved killing a few homeless dudes, who knows).
While at the police station, Yosuke refused to talk to the fuzz, adhering to the old parrot adage of "Snitches get stitches," until the cops handed him over to the local vet. When the people at the animal clinic got him, Yosuke suddenly got quite chatty. He actually began to entertain the vets by singing popular children's songs, and after a couple of days, he took a dramatic pause and said, "I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura." Before the veterinarian's monocle could hit the floor, Yosuke proceeded to give the exact address of his owners' home, down to the street number.
"And if you tell any of this to the cops, I swear to God it'll end in eye-pecking."
Much to the surprise of the vet, the address turned out to be real, and Yosuke was reunited with the Nakamuras. Now, you might say the parrot was just doing what it was trained to do, randomly repeating words that were to it just more meaningless sounds. But African Grey parrots have in fact been found to actually understand the words they're saying and use them in the correct context at times. So, it's conceivable that, after tasting horrible, horrible freedom, Yosuke just decided that it wasn't what it was cracked up to be. And also he was apparently too lazy to fly himself home.
Laziness is the surest sign of a highly evolved mind.
In November 2009, Jane and Dave Griffith took their dog, Sophie Tucker, on a boat trip around the Whitsunday Islands off the Australian coast. Tragically, Sophie fell overboard into the churning waters, teaching them a valuable lesson about boating with a pet species renowned for leaning out of moving vehicles.
Doggy survival instincts always take a back seat to interesting smells.
The Griffiths assumed that poor Sophie was lost after searching the shark-infested Australian waters for an hour. Unbeknownst to them, their dog had survived ... by swimming five nautical miles through the turbulent surf, and then living on an uninhabited island for four months without so much as a volleyball for company.
In order to pull off her Robinson Crusoe re-enactment, Sophie had to learn how to adapt her skills from hunting her former prey (the cylindrical meat byproduct that appeared in her bowl every morning) to surviving in the wilderness. She did this by eating wild baby goats, apparently nature's closest approximation to Alpo.
Sophie, seen here making Bear Grylls look like a wuss.
When park rangers eventually found her months later, word got back to the Griffiths, who returned to find her a cold and feral shell of her former self. But as soon as she heard her former owners' voices, she quickly reverted to a beloved family pet, albeit one with the thousand-yard stare typical of any survivor of the Australian wilderness.
If you're in the market for a pet that won't run away, you would think your best bet is a tortoise. It's pretty much second only to the sea sponge in its inability to make a beeline for the exit when your back is turned. But that's exactly what Lucy the tortoise did in 2006, when she got bored with prison life and decided to pull a Shawshank Redemption, slowly burrowing out of her pen and disappearing into the night.
Cynthia Bilodeau, WMUR New Hampshire
"That rabbit's been talking shit again, and I need to put him in his place."
Lucy wasn't one of those tiny tortoises that you keep in an aquarium, either. She tipped the scales at a healthy 25 pounds. Yet, despite being heavier than the average toddler and as agile as a senior citizen after the 4 p.m. buffet, Lucy managed to brave the United States wilderness for four years, somehow avoiding everything that would have appreciated a slow-moving 25-pound lump of free meat, the short list of which includes everything that exists.
More amazingly, Lucy was a desert tortoise, native to the blistering Sahara Desert. But she spent her four-year outdoor vacation in New Hampshire. That's kind of like a penguin getting stranded on the planet Mercury (basically, picture a tortoise designed to live in the desert with snow piling up on its shell). Still, Lucy managed somehow. The working theory is that she survived by doing exactly what got her into this mess in the first place -- digging holes to keep herself warm in the winter, and emerging to gorge on grass in the summer.
In 2010, four years later, Lucy's owners received a call from their neighbors, who said that they had found a giant tortoise happily chewing on their lawn. Astonishingly, the tortoise who returned home was more than twice the size of the tortoise who had left. Though they admit they can't be 100 percent certain that the tortoise they found is Lucy, it's not like having an identical (but bigger) tortoise show up right next to where another one disappeared is any less bizarre as a story.
Cynthia Bilodeau, WMUR New Hampshire
"Slow and steady wins the race, but the odd tractor ride doesn't hurt."
They really love their pets in Japan, and we're not even counting all the Pokemon -- over there, dogs and cats outnumber children by 6 million. So on top of all of the other horrors of the 2011 tsunami, you have all of the beloved pooches and kitties who had to be left behind when the waves swept inland. But there was at least one dog who wasn't about to let a 130-foot wave come between him and his master.
"This is a problem that can only be solved by hours of barking."
Shane the Akita happened to be the best friend and companion of Mr. Kamata, the tsunami warden of the town of Sendai. While we'd like to believe that a "tsunami warden" is the guy whose job is to pilot a gigantic mech to do battle with tidal waves, Kamata's real role was to run around and warn everyone when a tsunami was coming, so he had his job cut out for him on March 11. Unfortunately, when he tried to return home to rescue Shane, he found his way cut off by a torrent of water. Unable to get past the flood, Kamata went to the nearest evacuation center, fearing he had lost his furry friend.
Unbeknownst to Kamata, Shane wasn't the type of dog to fear a little setback like certain death. Sensing that his master was in danger, Shane took one look at the surging river that was running down his street, shrugged his little doggy shoulders and jumped right into it.
They breed loyal dogs in Japan, not smart ones.
Dodging the tons of fast-moving debris that used to be the town of Sendai, Shane paddled like an Olympic hero through the tsunami floodwater in search of Kamata. Nobody knows how he did it, whether he had a remarkable sensitivity to his master's scent or some kind of mutant canine sixth sense, but after hours of swimming, he made it all the way to the same evacuation center where Kamata was holed up.
Shane arrived at the shelter looking like he'd been through a doggy war, throwing up flood water and suffering from cuts and bruises, but thanks to the help of some vets, he made a full recovery.
If there's any justice in the world, Shane ended that night with a Milk-Bone the size of a Honda.
Imagine that you woke up tomorrow naked, hungry and 2,550 miles from your home. You have no money, you don't know where you are and you can't speak, obviously, because you are a dog (we forgot to mention earlier the part where you are a dog). The only option you have is to find your way back on foot, killing and eating whatever you can catch along the way. And that is exactly the story of Bobbie the Wonder Dog, a state hero of Oregon, who went from an everyday mutt to one of the most famous dogs in history after one amazing, Disney-worthy journey.
From The Stars
Above: Oregon's only state hero that isn't a beer.
In 1924, Bobbie's family took a trip to Indiana, six states away from their home in Oregon, where they somehow misplaced their beloved pet. If you don't have a map in front of you, let's just say that the dog was about 75 percent of the length of the USA away from his owners.
So imagine their surprise when, six months later, Bobbie showed up again on their doorstep, probably more than a little pissed off that he had been made to walk 10 percent of the diameter of the planet to get home.
His trek has gone down in dog history as the Greatest Walk of All Time.
And while nobody knows the exact details of how he got there, his owners did note that after he returned home he would eat nothing but raw meat, which says a lot about the Rambo-like nature of his ordeal. And he was wearing a different collar, which meant that someone else at some point had tried to take him in, only to have him run away to continue his faithful journey.
When the Oregon Humane Society got wind of Bobbie's story, they naturally called bullshit on such an absurdly Pixar-like series of adventures. However, after an investigation, they were forced to conclude that, yes, Bobbie's trek totally happened. Now forever dubbed "Bobbie the Wonder Dog," he was visited by more than 40,000 people, was given keys to cities, medals and jewel-studded collars and even got a silent movie made about him -- where he played himself.
The Oregon Encyclopedia
His film career lead to a disastrous coke addiction, but that's a story for another day.
For more on animals that'll blow your mind, check out The 6 Most Badass Murder Weapons in the Animal Kingdom and The 9 Most Mind-blowing Disguises in the Animal Kingdom.