(KCRA) After a year and a half lost in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Murphy the golden retriever has returned home.
On Oct. 6, 2012, Nathan Braun and his son Matthew were camping near Hell Hole Reservoir.
Braun said he thinks a gunshot may have spooked Murphy and sent her running into the woods.
"We just started calling and calling and calling," he said. "And I couldn't sleep at all that night."
Braun spent two more days searching before reluctantly packing up.
"It was the worst drive home," he said.
Soon, the Brauns made missing posters and returned week after week to the Tahoe National Forest to post them and search for Murphy.
Nathan and Erin Braun would jump into the car with their three kids to chase down dozens of reported sightings, all of them false.
Snow started to fall and winter came to the high country, but the Brauns held out hope.
"After the third month, we were asking people, 'Do you think we're crazy? Do you think that we're crazy that we're doing this?'" Erin Braun said.
Nathan Braun said sometimes he would take his family on drives or camping trips without telling them that the real purpose was to look for Murphy.
Two weeks ago, the Brauns were back at French Meadows, met the new campground host and told him their story.
Jason Smith told the family he had seen a dog hanging around the campsites recently, looking for scraps.
"(It) was pretty mangy -- rather large," Smith said. "And I had some scared campers out here, thinking it was something other than a dog."
The Brauns left Smith a blanket that had belonged to Murphy and one of Nathan's old hats.
He promised to lie it out at night near his trailer.
What happened next is in dispute.
Smith said the dog began sleeping on the blanket and he eventually caught it.
Janice Watkins said she and her family had been camping at French Meadows that weekend and they caught the dog.
In either case, the Brauns received a phone call last weekend telling them to come pick up Murphy.
Nathan Braun said when he first set his eyes again on the dog, he was not immediately certain it was his.
It had changed so much both in appearance and temperament.
Nevertheless, the family took the dog home.
They tried to have its DNA analyzed, but did not have a pure enough sample of fur.
Then, Erin Braun remembered Murphy had been injured on her right front leg and required stitches.
They shaved the spot and, sure enough, the scar was there.
"It's just a miracle," Erin Braun said. "And it restores all the faith that you have in hope and survival."
Six days after returning home, Murphy was rolling around on the family room floor with the kids on Friday.
Her owners said she has begun eating better and is regaining weight.
They knew she had hunted chipmunks before and was healthy when she ran away.
But exactly how she survived is a mystery and, for all her talents, Murphy is not about to tell.
Courtesy: NBC News Channel