Sunday, May 8, 2016

Book Review: Sophie, The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog

I first read about Sophie in a news article, and when I learned there was a book I knew I had to read Sophie, The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog, by Emma Pearse. I like to think of this as a story that illustrates the toughness of cattle dogs. How tough are they? So tough they can fall off a boat in rough and shark-infested waters, swim to a tiny island miles away, and successfully hunt for food for five months before being captured.
Sophie the Castaway Dog book
Photo by Erin Koski

News articles got the basics down, but there's a lot more to the story. Enough to fill an entire novel? You bet! We start with the first time a member of the family laid eyes on Sophie in the window of a pet store, and go from there. Along the way we learn about Sophie's empty-nesting owners, how they met and what family life was like before and after Sophie entered their lives. We hear about their history of dog ownership, their first Australian cattle dog, and how their attitudes changed from "dogs belong outside" to "I guess she can sleep in the armchair in the living room since she looks so comfortable up there". By the time Sophie falls off the boat, we are very much aware of her place in the family and how her loss affected them.

Sophie's adventure itself is absolutely filled with amazing and agonizing little details. The small chain of islands where she washed up have their own fascinating history. St. Bees, the island where she was finally captured, is home to a population of koalas with some unique behaviors due to the lack of predators. Sophie was first sighted on a different island, and to get to St. Bees she had to swim through a particularly treacherous strait that has claimed the lives of several experienced seamen.

The most fascinating part of the story to me was the discussion on the tides and currents around the islands where Sophie was stranded. Based on tide charts and known currents in the area, it is estimated that Sophie was swimming for twelve hours, possibly even an entire day. Unlike people, dogs can't just float for a bit when they get tired. The place where she fell off the boat was five miles from the islands, and the ocean was quite choppy at the time. It's also worth mentioning that this all happened off the coast of Australia, so of course there were sharks everywhere.

I found this book to be extremely well-written, it was very readable and flowed nicely. The pace was nice, and I didn't get bored reading the backstory before the really dramatic bits. There was a wonderful amount of science, and Emma Pearse very accurately conveyed the emotions felt by Sophie's family. News stories had informed me that Sophie was successfully trapped and returned to her family, and that upon arriving home she promptly resumed sleeping on the couch like a dog that hadn't just spent five months hunting feral goats. Still, there was a delightful amount of suspense as I read about the various coincidences leading up to her return, and the urgency with which she was captured. To me, that's the mark of a good storyteller.

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