Shelter From the Cold

It was October of 2020, and it was an average day here in west Texas. The sun was shining, the temperature was 80 F (27 C), and the breeze was pleasant. But that was soon to change. A mass of Arctic air was barrelling down from the north, bringing freezing rain and snow. The weather forecast predicted three days where the high temperature would barely claw its way above zero F (-18 C).

The dogs and I were out in front of the shack, watching the front move in. It looked like a sharply cut mass of black clouds reaching back beyond the low horizon. I knew that the edge of the clouds was where the frigid air was punching all the moisture out of the sky. We had an hour, maybe less, and then the deluge.

It was at this point we all noticed a dog on the other side of the chain link, eating some rotten road kill.

She was really skinny, and really friendly. Claws were long, untrimmed for a time, and she was obviously starving. My dogs and she sniffed noses through the fence, tails started wagging, and I let her in the yard for a romp and a feed. I looked up the breed while the dog food was being wolfed down by all involved, an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.

She was wearing a collar, as you can see, so after the meal I clipped on a leash and took her around to the landlord’s. Did he know where her owner lived? Right over there? I’ll just bring her home, then.

I led her through the gate, and then felt fear like cold poison flow through my heart. Lying in the dirt, unprotected from the unforgiving sky, were 8 tiny puppies. They were so new to the world that their eyes and ears were still closed, totally exposed, completely helpless.

I knocked on the door of the old broken-down travel trailer, and the owner stepped out to talk to me. I pointed to the newborns, the skinny mother, the oncoming cold. I said he needed to start feeding the momma, and get the puppies inside, or they would all die in pain.

He said that he did not want puppies, so he had been deliberately withholding food from his dog in the hope she would miscarry. When that didn’t happen, he kept starving her so her milk would dry up and the puppies would starve in turn. But now that winter hell was almost here, he didn’t have to worry any more.

If you have been reading this blog for any time, then you know what happened next. In less than a minute I was the owner of all eight puppies and their mother. And, before anyone asks, I want you to know that I was charming as hell and asked him nicely. Nicely!

Okay, so now what? I live in a tiny shack, too small for myself and the two dogs I already had. Added to this was the fact that I had to work 14 hours every day or I wouldn’t be able to make rent and we would all be out in the cold. If I moved Blue the Momma Dog and her puppies inside, the instinct to protect her puppies would result in bloody fights as soon as I left to punch the clock.

What to do?

I’ve never had any money, always been a minimum wage kind of guy, but I also wanted to have some adventure in my life. Instead of skydiving and deep sea scuba expeditions I would take a blanket and a .22 handgun in the deep North American woods, trying to see how long I could stay out there by hunting game and digging roots. Most importantly to Blue the Momma Dog and her puppies, I also would make the long drive to Glacier National Park in the dead of winter to test my resilience by building snow caves and surviving the cold.