EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. - The family whose golden retriever disappeared in the Tahoe National Forest 20 months ago says it has proof the dog recovered in a Sierra campground over the weekend is theirs.
"It's just an unbelievable story and we're still in shock," said Erin Braun, who said she never doubted the dog they brought home on Father's Day was Murphy, who disappeared on a camping trip at Hell Hole Reservoir in October 2012.
But Braun's husband, Nathan, was less certain because of subtle physical differences. He was hoping a DNA test would confirm the identity.
After the family determined a DNA test was not possible because of an insufficient sample, they were reminded by a veterinarian in Truckee of a distinctive scar Murphy carried on her right elbow as the result of a deep gash that was sutured about three years ago.
Erin trimmed the fur on the dog's elbow and saw the L-shaped scar. "It's very, very faint, but you can see it," she said.
Erin said she was certain from the beginning the dog that wandered into a campground on French Meadows Lake, about 11 miles from Hell Hole, was Murphy.
She said the dog showed an immediate familiarity with the Brauns after shying away from other people at the campground.
The Brauns had brought Murphy's blanket and Nathan's ball cap to the campground the previous weekend after hearing that a golden retriever had been seen wandering around.
Camp host Jason Smith placed the items on the ground at his campsite and was stunned by what happened next.
"The very first night I laid it out I heard some movement," Smith said. "There was Murphy sleeping on the blanket. And right there I knew, that's Murphy. That's their dog. It was curled up with its head on the hat."
By the end of the week, a friend drove to a spot with cell service to notify the family.
Although Murphy is very thin, Erin said she's eating well and gaining strength.
"It's a miracle," she said.