Lost & Hound: 7 Dogs Who Have Found Messages in Bottles

I love dogs. One thing I find so appealing about them is their remarkable curiosity. I know dogs who simply can’t sniff enough things in this life to be satisfied. Some of 9/11’s greatest heroes were dogs (and their handlers) who worked tirelessly to find people in the wreckage. This is to say nothing of the countless other natural disasters in which dogs have saved so many lives, including earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and more. When dogs and humans work together, we can accomplish amazing things. Just ask the ancient people who domesticated dogs to help with tasks like hunting, herding, and protecting home.

With all that in mind, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that so many dogs have found messages in bottles–but it still flips me out! So here’s a post dedicated to the pups who have found some truly fascinating messages in bottles–and at least one who saved a life.

I’ll start with Sheba the rescue dog. Sheba’s human is named Idris Martin–here they are!

Idris Martin 1

Photo Courtesy: Idris Martin https://idrismartin.wordpress.com/

According to Idris, Sheba was rescued in Ireland by a dog rescue charity.

They were out for a walk together on the beach in Weymouth, which is on the south coast of England. Like many dogs, Sheba loves a good round of fetch–but, as you may recall from her appearance in the Dodo, her particular quirk is that she prefers to fetch bottles full of water, like so:

Sheba with Water Bottle.jpg

Photo Courtesy: Idris Martin https://idrismartin.wordpress.com/

So, Idris walked along, tossing a full water bottle for Sheba–until she returned with this instead of the bottle of water:

Idris Martin 2

Photo Courtesy: Idris Martin https://idrismartin.wordpress.com/

Idris Martin 4

Photo Courtesy: Idris Martin https://idrismartin.wordpress.com/

As reported by The Dodo, Idris did indeed write back. In fact, he made contact with the family who sent the bottle, and you can see the whole story here in a video made by Idris himself:

Truly an incredible find, Sheba! Well done.

Message in a Bottle Finder Sheba

Photo Courtesy: Idris Martin https://idrismartin.wordpress.com/

This story makes me wonder… We all know that dogs can learn commands in any language. But…do dogs in different regions develop different accents? I mean, do English dogs sound brilliant and charming to American dogs? Or is that just a human thing?

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Check out this next English beachcombing pup!

Brodie Dog with Message in a Bottle

That’s Brodie. Not a “pup” really, at age 11. More of a regal beach guardian🙂 As you can see, he’s holding his find in his mouth.

In that bottle is a message from a class of 5 year old primary school students. According to the Border Telegraph, the message says:

Dear the person who finds this bottle,

We are boys and girls in a P1 class at school. We are all 5 years old (apart from our teacher who is slightly older!)

Yesterday we were learning about floating and sinking. We had an idea to try a message in a bottle.

One child knew it would have to be in a plastic bottle so that it floats.

We are sending our bottle in the sea at Portobello near Edinburgh. Please write to us to tell us where the bottle ends up and who you are.

We look forward to hearing from you.

We are an eco school and would like you to recycle the bottle once you’ve read the message.

Thank you,

Primary 1 and Mrs Johnston”

Brodie’s human, Brian Millar, wrote back on his behalf, explaining that this is (incredibly!) the second time Brodie has found a message in a bottle:

Dear girls, boys, and Mrs Johnston,

I walk along the beach here in Lower Largo every morning and evening with my 2 golden retriever dogs.

Yesterday my old dog, called Brodie, picked up your bottle that you had put in the sea at Portobello last week. He loves carrying plastic bottles and tennis balls that he finds. He carried it all the way home, then I read your message.

That is the second bottle he has found with a message in it!

I cannot believe it has only taken 4 days to get blown across the Firth of forth, but then it has been very windy! Also the bottle is very light.

All the bottles my dogs carry home are recycled by Fife Council so that is good, as our beach is covered in bottles that people throw away – I wish they would take them home with them!

It really spoils our beach but my dogs always carry them home, so they are helping to keep our beach tidy.

I hope you enjoy school,

Regards to you and your teacher Mrs Johnston,

Brian Millar”

I just love the way Brodie’s message in a bottle helped make a friendship between the senders and the finder. I also love the gentle way Brian points out that plastic bottles are a plague on the environment. Of course, they also do a poor, poor job of protecting messages compared to glass. I hope if Mrs. Johnson’s class repeats this exercise, they will use only glass and cork.

***

Now to a different island: Bermuda!

One day in 2015, LuVince Cann was out for a beach walk with his German Shepherd, Prince, when Prince zeroed in on a plastic bottle with paper inside.

LuVince and Prince Dog with Message in a Bottle

As The Royal Gazette reported in 2015:

Inside the bottle he discovered two letters, both written on Marriot Residence Inn stationary. One letter, signed Kristi, urged anyone who found the letter to contact her by e-mail, adding: “Life is short. Fill your heart with love and die happy.”

The second letter was written in memory of her father, whom she described as “my best friend and the best dad in the universe”.

Mr Cann said: “It’s dated December 30, 2014, so it’s not that old, but how did it get here? That’s what’s interesting to me.” He reached out to the writer, who responded yesterday that she had placed the message in the sea on New Year’s Eve while on vacation in the Isle of Palms, South Carolina — 878 miles to the Island’s west.

She wrote: “I placed my message in the ocean to honour my dad, who passed earlier in the year. 

“Amazingly enough, I got to see a falling star fall down into the ocean after I put the message in the water. I knew my dad was smiling down at me at that moment.”

LuVince and Prince Dog with Message in a Bottle2

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Okay–back to the UK, where dogs apparently find messages in bottles quite frequently…

Most of the dogs in this post are a little on the larger side. But when it comes to finding messages in bottles, Max the King Charles Spaniel shows that even little fellers can keep up! Here’s a tiny photo of Max and his people holding the message in a bottle he found, from the Lincolnshire Echo:

Monica Brown and Max Spaniel Dog with Message in a Bottle.jpg

Max and his people, Monica and Andrew, were out for a beach walk when he ran up to a bottle with paper inside and waited for the humans to catch up. Inside, they discovered a letter from a young Belgian boy named Merlijn, just four and a half years old.

On behalf of Max, Monica and Andrew wrote the sender and made contact! Merlijn and Max’s owners began writing each other, and Merlijn and his family eventually traveled to England to meet Max, Monica, and Andrew. Here they are all together, courtesy of the Lincolnshire Echo:

Max, Merlijn, and More Dog Message in a Bottle

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: Merlijn Covemaecker, who put a message in a bottle that was found in Skegness, has come to visit Monica Brown and her parter Andrew Dimbleby who found the bottle. Pictured is, from left, Jan Covemaecker, Merlijn Covemaecker, Marie-Pascale Vandeijver, Max the dog, Monica Brown, Mason Revill (Monica’s godson) and Andrew Dimbleby. Picture: Chris Vaughan Picture: Chris Vaughan/Lincolnshire Echo

Of course, dogs are great at bringing people together. Well done, Max!

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Next up: Molly the Labrador! She’s also from the UK.

Molly’s person is Kate Gabriel:

Molly the Lab and Kate Gabriel from edp24.co.uk.jpg

Kate explained to the Eastern Daily Press:

We go out walking every morning…and she loves me throwing things for her. But she picked up this bottle, and…I called her over and there was a message inside it. I’ve always wanted to find a message in a bottle.

I was lucky enough to get to email with Kate a bit about Molly’s find, and here’s what she told me:

When I was a child…an annual visit to the seaside at Filey was a magical treat. I spent hours beachcombing and peering in rock pools, so anything of interest, from seaglass to an unusual pebble, were real treasures…I moved to Norfolk, just a few miles from the coast, 6 years ago so now we can walk on the beach whenever we like. 

Molly was a rescue Labrador we adopted nearly 4 years ago. She had never been walked outside, let alone been to the beach. A few trips to our favourite beach at Waxham soon found her swimming in the sea and playing ‘fetch’ with found objects, usually pieces of rope, driftwood sticks or plastic bottles.

Molly on beach 011.jpg

Photo Credit: Kate Gabriel

This is how she came to find Nicolas’s message. When Molly brought me the bottle I could see that there was something inside it and was delighted and amazed that it was a message in such good condition.

Both Idris Martin and Kate Gabriel were playing fetch with their dogs when the dogs happened to catch sight of messages in bottles and return them instead of whatever their human was tossing. Could the dogs have known something was different about these bottles full of paper?

Kate went on to tell me:

When I brought the message home it was quite easy to translate from French to English, using my schoolgirl French skills and the help of google translate.  Within a day I wrote back to Nicolas Meulemans and his family to let then know that their message had been found.

The message was well thought through and carefully put together. The bottle was screwed shut then sealed with mastic. I know now that the Meulemans were on a day trip to the coast so Nicolas must have prepared it before they set off from home. Nicolas sent a great reply to my letter–loads of photos and postcards.

n-meulemans-reply

Photo Credit: Kate Gabriel

We may maintain a correspondence or even meet up. Who knows? We have certainly made a connection across the sea – Brexit or no Brexit we have friends in Europe.

And that–right there–is part of what makes messages in bottles so powerful. At a time when people are intensely divided politically and socially, here we have two real families cutting through all the TV and media nonsense and saying something like “Look, we’re going to be friends regardless of what our governments are doing. This connection is more powerful than their divisive rhetoric.” Messages in bottles provide a way around the political walls built by governments. They enable “renegade friendships” in a way that I really think nothing else can match.

Kate told the Eastern Daily Press, “It was a really sweet little letter, and to think it came all the way over here is brilliant.”

Some might even call Molly’s discovery “magical”. And do you know what to call a dog who does magic?

Do you?

Wait for it…

Waaaaaiiit…..

A dog who does magic is called…

A Labra-cadabra-dor!!!

Yes! I finally got to use that joke! That one comes to you courtesy of my beachcombing and life partner, Kate. Please direct all groans and rolled eyes at her.

molly-with-message-in-a-bottle-on-the-beach

Photo Credit: Kate Gabriel

***

This next story has a hint of magic to it, too, though the story doesn’t have an exactly “happy” ending.

One of the most famous messages in bottles of all time was actually found by a dog. Frank Hayostek was a soldier returning from WWII in December 1945 when he sent a message in a bottle from the ship on which he was stuck at sea on Christmas day. He had already spent a few Christmas holidays away from home, and his loneliness is palpable in the message. You can get pretty much the whole story in this fantastic podcast from Peter Mulryan, if you have the time, but he basically wrote the note in loneliness, seeking friendship.

About nine months later, Breda O’Sullivan was walking her dog Oscar on the beach when, as she writes to Frank: ” [Oscar] was running before me, and I saw him stop and sniff something lying on the sand, and then he went off in pursuit of a seagull. I found the object was a brown bottle, and I saw there was a paper in it. The cork of the bottle crumbled in my fingers. How the note kept dry, nobody can understand. So, I sat there on the beach, and I read it. I thought at first I was dreaming. Well, imagine a bottle has been on the sea for 8 months next Sunday, August the 25th. Who knows where it’s been since? The hand of Providence must surely have guided it. Well, a few words about myself: I’m an Irish colleen, 18 on the 11th of November. I’m tall, slim, and dark haired with dark blue Irish eyes. I’m Irish to the backbone, as they say. You mentioned offering no reward to the finder of the bottle. Well, I ask for no reward, as it was a very pleasant surprise. Wishing you ever good look, your loving friend, Breda.”

Following this first connection, Frank and Breda wrote to each other for years. It’s pretty clear that something was developing between them–perhaps hopes of love. That’s certain on Frank’s side, though Breda has always been a bit harder to read on this point. In any case, Frank eventually went to visit Breda. Here he is with Breda’s dog, Oscar (who found the bottle) and Breda’s cows grazing in the background.

Frank Hayostek and Oscar Breda O'Sullivan's Dog

Photo: rte.ie

And here’s Breda:

Breda O'Sullivan at Home in Kerry

Photo: rte.ie

But they were hounded by reporters everywhere they went, and the reporters incessantly pushed this as a budding love story–which is exactly what killed any chance of romance. After a while in Ireland, Frank went home alone, and their friendship cooled off quite a bit. They did continue to write each other for a few more years, though more sporadically, and with less feeling. Eventually, both married other people, raised families, and fell out of touch. Late in life, Frank remembered his experience with Breda as the great unrequited love story of his life.

All of that–two people’s whole lives, colored by a message in a bottle–was possible probably only because Oscar the dog called Breda’s attention to the bottle on the beach.

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Maybe it’s the combination of their curiosity and attentiveness–but whatever the reason, dogs, as a species, are no stranger to saving humans. But the dog in this next story was not trained to do so, and there was no natural disaster.

Robert Sinclair was apparently staying in an abandoned farmhouse in Stirlingshire, Scotland, when he became seriously weak after not eating or drinking anything for several days. In the midst of this, he suffered an asthma attack that put him firmly on the floor. Recognizing the desperate situation he was in, he turned to a tried and true, legendary way of requesting help: He put a message in a bottle. But what could such a bottle possible accomplish, dropped, as it was, out of a farmhouse window? There was no sea to wash it ashore, no friendly tides to bring it to friendly lands.

Enter Ben the Sheepdog! Ben the Mighty! Ben, the Savior of Men!

Ben’s person is Brian Besler:

Brian Besler and Ben the Sheepdog

Photo: BBC

Ben, who lived with Brian “three fields away” according to the BBC article on this incident, was out for a trot when he discovered Robert’s bottled plea for help.

The BBC reports that Brian Besler said:

“There was a message in it asking for help, it said Robert had been lying there for more than two weeks, he was ill, he couldn’t breathe right, his chest was clogged up and he’d run out of food and water.

“I thought it was a wind-up until I saw the name – Robert’s well-known round here as a bit of a recluse – and went to the police.”

The article goes on to explain that Brian led police to the farm where Robert lay suffering, and they took him to the hospital where he was treated and discharged after recovering from his episode.

I have a feeling there are more dogs out there who have found messages in bottles, and I hope this story floats around enough that their humans will reach out and share their tails. Er, tales. Ha. Sorry for the bad jokes. I know they are punishing…

As a last fun diversion, Songfacts.com reports that Sting’s dog was the first being to hear the main guitar riff for the Police’s hit, “Message in a Bottle”:

“The first person to hear the guitar riff for this song was not a person at all, but Sting’s dog. “I used to play it over and over again to my dog in our basement flat in Bayswater,” Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting, “and he would stare at me with that look of hopeless resignation dogs can have when they’re waiting for their walk in the park. Was it that hopeless look that provoked the idea of the island castaway and his bottle? I don’t know, but the song sounded like a hit the first time we played it. The dog finally got his walk, and this song was our first number-one in the UK.”

Sting with Dogs

Mystery Message #7: “Taken Prisoner by a Grumpy Old Man”

This post is named inaccurately. See, this was actually the first mystery message I solved–not the seventh!

It was 2007, and I had just found my very first messages in bottles. I couldn’t believe it was happening–this thing I’d dreamed of for years (finding a message in a bottle) had suddenly become a reality. Crazy!

Then, one day, I stepped out onto a beach where I couldn’t see another human in either direction for miles. I looked down, and bam–there it was. Like magic. It has always freaked me out how this happened. I mean, I just walked out onto the beach, and there it was, like it had been waiting for me. Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the bottle where it lay. This is the first photo I took with it:

Craig Medcroft Message in a Bottle

Since the bottle was clear and the paper loosely rolled, I could see right away that there was no writing visible. I don’t know what made me even keep it–at the time, I had no idea about hidden writing, or making the invisible visible with lighting tricks or photography tricks. What can I say? I’m a sentimental person. It was too cool of a thing! I just couldn’t bring myself to pitch it.

So I carted it home. One day, gathered with my family, we opened the bottle. A million tiny bits of paper that had once made up the missing piece tumbled out like the pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. There was no hope of putting them back together.

And after that, what was left? Pretty much what you see here:

Everything in the Camera as of 12-11-07 102Everything in the Camera as of 12-11-07 105

In the upper left corner, you see the word “To”. After that, nothing.

I decided to let the paper lie when I took it out of the bottle. I couldn’t read it, but I couldn’t throw it away. I guess there’s some truth to my mom’s accusation that I am a pack rat.

When I came back to the message later in the day, it had dried out quite a bit. Amazingly, I could see some impressions in the paper! It was in that moment that I realized there would be hope for this message and any message like it: As long as the sender pressed hard enough, I would be able to read the impressions left by the pen even if the ink was gone.

Here’s what I was able to decipher (with contact info starred out):

To whom it may concern (Halt.)

I have been taken prisoner by a grumpy old man. My position is N40____By S W 042deg.39.037 Don’t know if I can escape next port.

Please try to contact my mom at area code = ********** or **********

Or write Craig ********

(address here)

This was an important moment for me. As the years went by and I found more and more messages in bottles, I realized that, in fact, the majority of MIBs have faded to the point of invisibility. Only a small percentage arrive on shore with all writing intact. So the discovery that some simple, home-made forensics could reveal hidden writing and connect me with MIB senders was huge!

Even though I was able to read some of the writing, some was really hard to see–including the contact info. The sender’s name, I found, was Craig. But the only phone number I could read lead nowhere. The second phone number was simply too faded for me to see.

That is, I couldn’t see it at the time.

Four years later, in 2011, I got the message out again. In those four years, I had learned a lot about how to reveal even more hidden writing, and how to extrapolate from the info on hand to “fill in the gaps”.

This time, I was able to see the second phone number. I called it, and it was Craig’s mom!

She told me Craig had indeed sailed with his dad a while back, though the part about being taken prisoner was a joke🙂

Craig and his dad sailed from Virginia Beach to Bermuda, and then from Bermuda to the Azores. Along the way, they got caught in a hurricane for six days. She gave me Craig’s phone number, and that was that.

Later, I called Craig and we got to chat for a few minutes, but he had to go since he was on a job. He was working in construction at the time.

As I write this, it is now five years after I got to chat with Craig on the phone, and almost ten years since I found his bottle.

I still hope we get to talk more one day, and maybe even meet. He struck me as an interesting guy with interesting stories.

Some people may have been bummed to find an “invisible” message with the writing all faded. But I was stoked! I wish I could tell Craig how important his message is to me. I wish I could tell him how much I learned from it about deciphering “mystery messages”. As I see it, Craig’s faded message was not a burden–it was a gift.

Whether I ever hear from Craig again or not, whether he ever sees this post or not, I will always be grateful for our brief connection. Whether out of loneliness or boredom or something else, Craig reached out across the void to see what would happen, to see who was out there, and that’s the only reason we ever connected.

Of course, we all cherish the deep, meaningful, long lasting relationships in our lives the most. But in an age when humanity is more fragmented than ever, lonelier than ever, I find myself cherishing every little fleeting connection, however brief. I’ll take what I can get! You see, I have this theory that every time you acknowledge another person’s humanity, every time a stranger becomes real to you and you understand that they have goals and regrets and brothers and sisters and love and sadness as deep as your own–every time that happens, your heart gets a little bigger. At least, that’s my hope. It’s what I feel.

I got to experience this with Craig only because of his faded, crumbled note in a bottle. And man, am I grateful.

Mystery Message #6: Two Names in a Medicine Bottle

It has been a while since I have posted one of the “Mystery Messages” that keep me up nights, wondering who on earth sent them and why.

You might remember The Case of the Crazy Dollar Bill, or the mystery message from Christopher aboard the Gripsholm, also known as the Sagafjord. You might recall The Mystery of the Beautiful Terrorist, or the Mystery Cameras I found washed ashore–one of which contained photos of a man I am hoping to identify. Continue reading

Messages in Bottles, Social Media, and Online Dating

A lot of folks like to compare messages in bottles to social media—particularly Facebook. Reporters often suggest that sending a message in a bottle is like the original “friend request” and that responding to one is like accepting it.

Friend in a Bottle!.png Continue reading

Seeking Ray from Philadelphia!

Howdy folks! Today’s post is a brief one, because it’s only part of a story, and it’s mainly a plea for your help. Here it is: I found a message in a bottle from someone named Ray who lives in Philadelphia, but I need help finding Ray!

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Why Do We Romanticize Messages in Bottles?

Well, sports fans, those of you who have been keeping up with the blog know that I have been posting about my travels in Europe in 2015 to meet the senders of bottles I have found. This post takes a break from that in order focus on the question in the title.

Recently, I was asked a series of questions about why people send messages in bottles and why we romanticize them so much. I’m sharing my response to those questions here in hopes that you will comment and respond to this line of questioning, too. Why are we so fascinated by messages in bottles? Why do we send them? Why do we hope to find them? What do they tell us about ourselves and about our world? My responses are right here. I hope you’ll respond in the comments below🙂

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Canterbury Trails

Here’s that bottle I found while shuffling past a bunch of plastic body parts on the beach in 2011:

103_3854 Continue reading