Siblings Jack (left) and Lola (right) at their reunion.
We wondered what a 10-year reunion would look like for dogs, littermates who had been separated as pups. We adopted Lola when she was about 10-months old. She and her brother were found wandering the country roads of Yuba county in northern California. The woman, Julie Duarte, who rescued the pair specializes in rescuing Pointer-type dogs, and she got them from the local sheriff who had told her that they had been spotted for some time, out alone, fending, somehow, by themselves. Seeing Lola’s photo on Petfinder made us think she was a scruffy mutt, we found out later that she was actually a German Wirehaired Pointer. She came to live with us in Berkeley and became the lead Bark office dog. Her brother, Jack, was adopted a few weeks later by a couple living in Utah. We stayed in touch via Julie, sharing the occasional photo and update. We had hoped to make plans to rendezvous when they came out west during their travels but never managed to do so until this year.
When I learned that Jack’s family would be traveling to southern Oregon in June for a mountain biking holiday, I was determined to meet up with them and told Lola she was going to a family reunion. We didn’t know what to expect when Lola and Jack saw each other again after a decade apart. Would they recognize each other? Would they jump for joy the way BFF dogs do at the dog park? Research suggests that dogs have the power of memory, and stories of canine recognition after years of separation are common.
To reach our destination, the small town of Oakridge, Oregon, we drove north 7.5 hours, split up with an overnight stay in Klamath Falls. We wanted to be fresh for our meeting. We had considered meeting up at Crater Lake, but were reminded that National Parks do not allow dogs off-leash—not a good option. So we decided to connect at the small off-road campsite that Jack’s family had been staying … secluded, no traffic, next to one of the many streams that feed into the Willamette River. Familiar territory for Jack. When the moment arrived, we let the two dogs out of the cars, off leash and stood back. Sniff, sniff … a few turns … but no hoopla. No outward signs of recognition, jumping for joy or howls. Lola didn’t express anything out of the regular interaction with any dog, which is one or two sniffs, and ready to move on. I’m not an expert and there may have been clues that escaped me. Erin and Ryan (Jack’s people) think that Jack showed more than the usual interest, something they interpreted as recognition. In fairness to Lola, she’s a little shy and reserved in nature under normal circumstances, and on this trip was exposed to new and changing surroundings, her normal routine completely disrupted. A show of celebration may have been too much to hope for.
None of us expressed any disappointment with the subdued greeting, and Erin and Ryan’s second dog Skye was let out to join the party. Skye is a very sociable senior GWP–Lab mix, Jack’s partner in the field. All the dogs were revved up and we immediately started on an hour-long hike down the narrow trail surrounded by forest. The dogs took their place in the procession—Jack in front, doing what GWPs do … scouting ahead and turning back regularly to check on the group. Lola followed closely behind Jack, the two moving in tandem. We started to recognize something that resembled teamwork, one dog moving further ahead, then returning to check in with the humans, then the other dog taking the lead position, then returning for a visual check. When we stopped at the stream, Lola and Jack “coursed” around (i.e. hunted) in a small meadow of grasses, rummaging through old logs, smelling holes, leaping into the air (as GWPs do) towards furtive movement in the foliage. That is typically Lola’s favorite activity and one that she usually is loathe to share with any other dog—we believe, she thinks that other dogs are “intruding” on her intense concentration.
But with Jack, her reaction was much more inviting to her bro, she seemed to relish having a partner with a similar skillset. Erin, Ryan and I all agreed this was very typical behavior for both dogs but now they were working in tandem. Skye did not join their expeditions, instead hung out with us. We saw this as a clear sign of a bond that was either familial or common to their breed. And since these two dogs had been pups “on the run” early on in life, and learned that pairing together was best for them, it was great to see them pick up that closeness again as seniors. Either way, real or imagined, this provided us the satisfaction we were seeking—littermates do maintain a connection over time and space.
After our walk, we all sat campside and shared stories of the dogs, comparing their similarities and differences—at 70 lbs. Jack was much larger than Lola, who is a petite 42 lbs. (and small for their breed). Jack has a lot more fur and his coat is really curly, Lola is fearful of loud noises, Jack is not and he is definitely more rambunctious … more of a … boy while Lola tends to be demur! They shared many of the same gestures, and we relished the kind of behavioral traits and anecdotes that only “family” would care about.
We talked of plans for our next gathering, perhaps in Utah or out west next summer. It was thrilling to share time with Jack and his family, to renew the bond between littermates and to find kinship with his people. We’re fortunate to have that connection that Julie, their rescuer made possible. We even recounted all the hoops that she, as a very picky matchmaker, made us both go through in order to adopt our dogs. Glad that we both passed the test. I am curious to know about other canine family reunions, and how dogs express their familial bonds.