‘Where is Sophie?’ Island couple’s dog goes overboard in a storm, swims to shore

October 28, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

Where is Sophie? That was the question Michelle Wolfe asked right before she had one of the worst moments of her life … when she realized her standard poodle, Sophie, was no longer on their boat.

Michelle and her husband, Rick, were about three miles offshore on the morning of Monday, Oct. 25 when the weather turned ugly, quickly. Once it started raining and the wind picked up, they couldn’t see a thing. Trying to find a white dog in white caps is nearly impossible as well.

“We spent I don’t know how long looking for her; we figured it could have only been a minute or a minute and a half since she fell off the boat, so for a bit we just sat and tried to see her in the water,” Michelle said. “We couldn’t see anything, though. We tried to figure the current and the wind, and it seemed like it would take her to shore. Then we started looking for her, and we were about to run out of gas. We knew she had a life jacket on, but … it was the worst hour-and-a-half of my life.”

Michelle said they had just caught a tripletail before the weather broke, but it was undersized and they had to throw it back.

“Sophie always gets really excited when we catch a fish,” she explained, “I think when we were looking at the weather radar right after that, thinking the weather looked bad and couldn’t decide which way to go back in, she probably jumped in the back of the boat to see if the fish was in the baitwell. I think the waves made her fall off the back of the boat. One minute we were looking at the weather, then started to rain and we said, ‘Where is Sophie?’”

After searching for as long as they could without running out of gas, they reluctantly made their way to Uncle Henry’s Marina to fuel up. Michelle and Rick have residences in Tampa and in Boca Grande, and here on the island their neighbor is Becky Paterson. Not knowing what agency or authority to call first on the island about Sophie’s disappearance, she called Becky to find out.

Right about the same time Deputy Angelo Lanni was standing on the beach at 5th Street with the people who had just watched a white poodle swim in from the Gulf wearing a life jacket. The dog apparently just walked up on the beach after her long swim, shook it off and looked at them as if to say, “Well, that was unpleasant.”

She had just swum to the beach that is just a few hundred feet from her house.

After receiving Michelle’s phone call, Becky called Deputy Lanni. He told her he was with the dog, and Becky took it from there.

In true Boca Grande style, everything worked out perfectly.

Michelle was amazed that she went from trying to find her dog in the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico to coming home to find her dog safe and sound. One thing she does know is that she’s buying a tracker to attach to Sophie’s life vest in case it ever happens again, and she will write the dog’s name and phone number on the vest with a permanent marker.

“The fact that she just ended up on

the beach … I figured the current and the wind would take her that way, but I didn’t know it would be that fast,” Michelle said. “She is chipped, but it takes time to find a place that can read the chip. I’ll be ordering a tracker for her, one that goes up to three miles, I believe.

“I appreciate this community so much. What Angelo and Becky did, and the Boca Beacon … the people here are wonderful.”