Rescue dog Savannah became the first dog to circumnavigate the globe — on foot — in May 2022, after walking 25,000 miles with her human, Tom Turcich.
After eight years of saving and planning, in April 2015, Tom Turcich left his New Jersey home and embarked on what he thought would be a solo, around-the-world walk. He ended up traveling 28,000 miles over seven years, but he didn’t do it alone. A few months into his journey, he adopted Savannah, a medium-sized chow mix, from a Texas shelter. Though Tom was careful in his selection of Savannah, bringing a dog — especially a new dog — on such a long and arduous trip was still a gamble. As it turned out, Savannah had all of the trappings of a world traveler. Upon completing their adventure in May 2022, Savannah had walked about 25,000 miles and become the first dog to walk around the entire world. Tom became the 10th human to achieve this incredible feat. We caught up with Tom and Savannah while they were enjoying their morning coffee and mountain views in Alaska to talk about their astounding journey.
Wilderdog: What inspired you to do this trip?
Tom: It was my friend Ann Marie who passed at 16; I was 17. It was very formative for me. I’d never been close to someone who had died and Ann Marie was just… she was just a better person than me, which I think is why it really hit home. It was kind of this realization, like, “If Ann Marie can just go in a moment, then clearly, so can I.” So, I thought about what I valued and what I wanted out of life: I wanted to travel, I wanted adventure, I wanted to understand the world. With those conditions, I stumbled upon Steven Newman and Karl Bushby, these two guys who had walked around the world. That idea lodged itself in my head, and then it was eight years of saving and planning and paying off loans until I could leave.
So, you adopted Savannah a few months into your walk, in Texas? How did you decide that that was the moment you needed a dog in your life?
I had always imagined doing the walk on my own, but walking and camping alone every day in these strange places, I had the thought in the back of my head that, man, it would be really nice to sleep and not have this part of my brain going off throughout the night. Austin was my first real break in the U.S. after about four months, so on the first day, I went to this adoption center. I wasn’t really expecting to adopt a dog, but I spent like two hours there, hoping to find a connection. I knew that this was a long walk and I couldn’t get a dog that was too old, and it might be hard to work out some behaviors [on the road]. I was about to leave, but figured I’d take one more lap, and they brought out Savannah and her sister. They were both puppies and right away, pretty much, I was like, “Yeah, this will do.” I called my mom and asked, “Is it insane to adopt a puppy?” She was like, “It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s probably a better idea in the long run.” So, I adopted Savannah, and as I was filling out her paperwork, her sister was adopted, as well. They were there for like a total of 10 minutes, so I got really lucky.
How did you know that she was the one?
She [and her sister] were both good-looking, but they were both mangy — Savannah especially. But she looked strong and meaty, and they said she was an Australian Shepherd, so I was like, “Well, that’s perfect — a high-energy, medium-sized dog.” That turned out not to be true — she doesn’t have any Australian Shepherd in her, but she turned out [to be] the perfect travel size. Definitely, the puppy factor was huge — I knew that she would know no other life than walking. And also, after I finished the trip, this journalist did a great piece on Savannah, and I found out she was at a kill shelter before Austin Pets Alive. So, you know, a lot of gratitude for them existing and saving her.
Yeah, that’s amazing. Did you have much experience with training puppies before Savannah?
[Laughs] No, no. And I was incredibly frustrated at first. For the first three weeks in Austin, Savannah had to be inside because she was getting her vaccines. Once we got on the road, she was absolutely terrified of cars, she hated the leash… She really was not that bad, but at the time, I was just like, “Oh my god, this is impossible.” She also was not food motivated at all. I could get her to do something for like three pieces of salami, and then after that, she was like, “I don’t care about this.” [Laughs] She was kind of difficult to train in that way. But I’d seen my dad train our dog, Scout, and he was a very well-behaved dog, so I kind of did whatever my dad did, which worked on Savannah. You know, the main thing was that we were just spending every single minute together; she was always right by my side. So, over time, it became very natural. On the road, we were just perfectly synced up. Now that we’re back, she definitely has some behavioral quirks from living a very different life, but she’s well adapted to the road, for sure. [Laughs]
What does she do now that she’s home that may be unusual for dogs who don’t walk around the world?
She’s definitely a little territorial, which I always encouraged on the road; when we were out in the tent, if she heard something, I’d unzip the tent and she would dart outside, and she would bark or chase off whatever it was. And so, if she’s off-leash and we’re at the apartment building or a house, she just bolts outside, ready to charge at whatever’s out there. [Laughs] I had to start keeping her on a leash for just literally exiting the apartment and then she’s good to go.
Training is obviously a process, but was she physically up for your adventure right from the beginning, or did it take a little bit to build up her endurance and strength?
That happened surprisingly quickly. Initially, she was still very small and she would sit in the back basket of my cart and I would kind of goad her to walk as much as she could. We stayed with a friend in Corpus Christie, and I remember after that, we were walking this farmland and that was the first time where she walked probably a mile, and then the next day, it was like two miles, and then from there, she started really enjoying the walking. By the time we were in Mexico, she was doing a full 24 miles a day and she wouldn’t go in the basket if I wanted her in there.
Okay, so 24 miles per day. What did you guys eat every day to sustain your energy levels?
For me, it was just like shoveling calories in any way I could, and then for Savannah, whenever we stopped, I would just set out the food and water for her so she could eat however much she felt like eating. Even when we were walking, she only ate maybe a bowl and a half or two bowls of food a day. She didn’t eat a crazy amount.
That’s interesting. What else surprised you about her while you two were traveling?
I think what still surprises me is her paws and how, like, they are just stones. I think it must be from just growing up walking every day. There was only one time, in Honduras, when this really tiny, little piece of glass kind of lodged itself in one of her paw pads. But other than that, she has never had a problem, which is just kind of crazy because, I mean, we walked through very hot temperatures in some places. We would come across broken tempered glass, like from car windows, and for a long while, I would try to avoid it, and then I missed it a few times and I realized, “Oh, she can just walk right over this and it doesn’t affect her at all.” [Laughs]
What was the best part of having a dog with you while you were on your trip?
At the end of the day, I would sit down at some random campsite — sometimes amazing, sometimes terrible. At the amazing campsites, I’d sit down and I’d be able to take it in with Savannah. It was like, “Wow, this is awesome. We’re on this amazing adventure together.”
Was there a worst part?
In some countries, it made it really difficult to get a hotel. And my feelings for Savannah are beyond pride or anything like that; she’s this creature that I have so much respect for, but she’s also, in a way, like my daughter — I’m the one who has to take care of her. So, every once in a while, in countries that aren’t as dog-friendly, it would lead to me being on the defensive more than I would have liked to be. Because of course, I want to get along with everyone.
You said that you got her as a kind of guard dog — did she ever alert you to anything sketchy?
She alerted me to some boars in Europe, and then every once in a while, if someone was coming. Definitely, she would hear stuff before I would, and if she was barking, then I would really pay attention and try to figure out what was coming before I opened my tent or whatever; she did her job in that way. At night, I never actually had a run-in with anyone malicious. I had run-ins with shepherds, police, farmers, if I was on someone’s land, but I never had a bad encounter.
Can you think of any must-have items for longer-distance walks with dogs? (If not around the world.)
I think for me, the biggest thing was a jacket. Savannah, she’s got a very thick coat, so for a while, I would put a t-shirt on her and then soak her [as we traveled] through Central and South America. We started using jackets later on, but that was the biggest thing for her, just to get the sun off of her back. And we had a rain jacket — that makes it a lot easier in the tent, that rain jacket, man. Otherwise, the towel only goes so far. [Laughs]
Do any days during your journey stand out to you as especially amazing? (Or terrible?)
Well, an especially terrible day was, Savannah got sick in Chile. She got this tick infection in Peru, which is very common there in southern Peru — I had no idea. Then we were in the middle of the Atacama Desert and her nose started bleeding, and it was just like water — there was no thickness to it at all. I had to wave down a car to get to a village and then in the village, kind of convince one of two hotels to let us in. I was taking care of her all night, and then I had to convince a taxi to drive us five hours to a city. It turned out fine — as soon as we went into the vet, they knew exactly what it was, but it was very scary.
And a great day? I mean, most of the days were great days. But especially when she could be off-leash. In Wyoming, I remember her darting after the pronghorns, the American antelopes, which are the second-fastest land animals. [Laughs] She just booked it toward them and they were gone in a second. I could see her going, [but] all I had to do was whistle; I could see her, so she could go as far as she wanted. And in Kyrgyzstan, she was just never on-leash. We had a couple of horses, a horseman, and a guide. We were roaming these mountain pastures and there was nothing that could hurt Savannah, so she was just free to run around and explore.
Would you ever do something like this again?
Not to this extent, no. But I wasn’t able to do Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Australia because of COVID; the borders were closed. I would have really loved, in particular, to walk Mongolia. As to whether I could do that with Savannah, honestly, probably not because she doesn’t care about Mongolia and she’s pretty content; she’s like 8 years old now, so I’m not going to put her on a 20-hour flight to go do this. But definitely walking, adventuring are still things I want to do.
Do you have any little trips with Savannah planned?
We’re in Alaska [right now] and we do little hikes here. The snow is her favorite thing in the world, so she’s kind of in paradise with all of the snow around. Otherwise, nothing really planned besides some hikes here and there throughout Alaska.
What does Savannah like to do when she’s not traveling the world, aside from hiking and playing in the snow?
When we were in Seattle, we had some dog park friends and that was definitely the highlight of her day, going there in the morning to see her friends and play with them and run around. It’s interesting because she’s lived a very different life, you know; she’s not just a park dog. And also, the first couple of years of her life were kind of rough with other dogs — in Central and South America, we were getting attacked by dogs constantly. So, she has a little bit of wariness; she starts off any dog interaction very much on the defensive, but in her heart, she is just very friendly, so it’s nice when we go to the park and she just runs ahead to her dog friends. It’s great.To learn more about Tom and Savannah, visit tomturcich.com and check out @theworldwalk on Instagram. Note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.