Snowy day becomes a dogged night
A week ago this morning Anna Diehl told her husband Rick Martin that it may be time to put their old dog to sleep.
"I told Rick I didn't think Bandit would make it," she recalls.
The Butte Falls-area couple had been giving the Australian shepherd insulin shots for his diabetes. But, at more than 14 years old, he was teetering on his last legs.
It was a glum day at their house. The power had been out for three days, knocked out by the winter storm. A foot of snow blanketed the ground and snow was falling again.
Thinking of a brighter day, Anna suggested they adopt a pup from a local animal shelter after Bandit died. The couple also have a black German shepherd named Baron.
Not long afterward, two elk hunters knocked on their door.
"They said they had discovered a hollow log with eight puppies huddling in it," she says. "They said the mother dog was starving. It was snowing hard."
The hunters wanted to know if Rick and Anna would help the pooches. Rick left their home off Obenchain Road to hike with the hunters to the hollow log on nearby Geppart Butte. He later returned to get his wife and their four-wheel-drive rig. They also took food to the log located at about 3,000 feet elevation.
"There were these little pups — just the friendliest little things," Anna says, estimating they were about 5 weeks old. "But the log was only big enough for three."
Rick and Anna placed cedar and fir boughs over the log to expand the shelter. They put food out for the mom who kept her distance.
"We didn't want to interfere that much but we needed to do something or they would become coyote or cougar bait," Anna says.
The friendly pups represent a rich variety of the canine gene pool. Two look like yellow Labradors, two resemble black Labradors, three look like German shepherds and one is black with a mask like a Rottweiler, she says.
"We monitored them until dark, hoping to coax mom in," she says. "Rick tracked her for a ways and got about 60 yards from her. But she wouldn't come in."
With darkness falling along with the snow the couple decided to take the pups home to protect them.
"We knew the mom would be grieving but another 11 inches of snow fell that night," Anna says. "Those puppies would not have survived."
The night of the dogs was not over yet. As they drove back in the dark through the swirling snow a black dog came loping toward them.
"I jumped out of the Jeep and she came right to me and just fell into my arms," Anna says. "She was totally emaciated, just a rib cage."
The ninth dog to be put in the rig that night appears to have "bird-dog qualities," she says. It has a collar but no tags.
"My guess is someone was out hunting with their family and lost her weeks ago," she says.
In any case, the couple's canine population grew from two dogs that morning to 11 by the time they returned home that night.
"Rick said we have 12 if you count the one in the woods," Anna says, noting they are still feeding the puppies' mother who they are still trying to tame.
The elk hunters, who did not leave their names, are the ones who saved the puppies, Anna says.
"It's thanks to the hunters we learned about them," she says. "Had these guys not been caring and compassionate, the puppies would have died out there."
The puppies are now frolicking in a kennel at their new home.
"They are growing and getting spoiled," Anna observes. "We're going to keep one of the pups and we have takers for one other."
But six puppies still need a permanent home. The couple hopes to reunite the adult spaniel with her owners. The dog is from three to five years old, Anna estimates.
If you can provide a good home to one of the pups, call Rick and Anna at 865-3768.
Meanwhile, Anna took Bandit in Thursday to have the old dog put to sleep. He could no longer walk.
"Bandit had been such a good friend," she says. "He had been my buddy for 141/2 years."
She knows there is no replacing Bandit. But she also knows one of the squirming little pups playing in the kennel back home will help fill the hole left in their hearts.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at email@example.com
Monday, Jan. 14 update: The Martins have found adoptive homes for all of the puppies found in the woods.