FORESTHILL, Calif. (KXTV) - In what would be an amazing story of survival, an El Dorado Hills family hopes a golden retriever found wandering through a campground in the Tahoe National Forest is the dog they lost while camping more than a year and a half ago.
Murphy, a 5-year-old female, was separated from Nathan Braun during a camping trip at Hell Hole Reservoir in October 2012. The family posted ads and flyers and never gave up hope that Murphy would one day be found.
Then a couple of weeks ago, the family was notified that a stray golden retriever had been spotted at a campground on French Meadows Reservoir -- about 11 miles from where Murphy disappeared.
The family drove up on June 7 with Murphy's blanket and a ball cap belonging to Nathan.
Camp host Jason Smith said he 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, Smith was able to get a leash on the dog and a friend drove to a spot with cell service to notify the family.
The Brauns returned to French Meadows Sunday to pick up the dog.
"It was very touching," Smith said. "The whole family was crying. I was doing my best to not cry."
Smith speculated the dog could have survived by eating road kill and campground scraps.
On Tuesday, Nathan Braun told News10 the family noticed some subtle physical differences between Murphy and the dog they brought home, creating a shred of doubt about the dog's identity.
He said the dog's behavior has convinced his wife that Murphy has finally come home, and while he's "99 percent certain" the dog is Murphy, he's waiting for a DNA test to confirm it.
If nothing else, a stray golden retriever has found a loving home in El Dorado Hills.