…to live.

Feral dog packs are a thing.

When dogs are neglected, abandoned or ignored by humans, they collect in packs and revert to their primal natures. No longer a human’s best friend, their lives are about food, dominance and sex.

The mother of these puppies was an unusual animal, an alpha female who wanted nothing to do with people. She meant them no harm, but she wasn’t interested in anything they might offer. As she came into heat, males from around the region showed up for the festivities.

However, she knew how her world worked.

When birth was imminent, she dug her den as a deterrent to males trying to kill her pups and bring her back into estrus. These tunnels, some four feet deep, were barely wider than her, so she couldn’t be outflanked in a fight for her pups.

The big day arrived.

Afterward, pups cleaned and nursed, she slipped silently back into her world and dashed off to find food. Her puppies grew. They made tiny mewling and growling noises.

Gradually, the local males became aware that…something…was happening in her den.

The sounds and smell of puppies was undeniable. Their mother no longer dared leave the den. Still nursing, the puppies pulled hard on her physical reserves. Resources dwindling, she’d soon be forced to choose between herself and the little ones.

Nursing as she could, her life was reduced to skirmishes and dog fights in front of the den.

That’s when the rescuer got a phone call from neighbors who’d heard the canine ruckus. Arriving at the den, she understood quickly that if the pups were to live, they needed to be removed from their circumstances.

Crawling on all fours, the rescuer blindly explored, shoulder deep, the entrance with her hands. Puppy sounds continued beyond the end of her questing fingertips. Hand-excavating a wider entrance, she knew, for the sake of the pups, speed was paramount.

Near day’s end, she located three pups and quickly carried them to her car. Hurrying home, she deposited them in her puppy nursery. That night, after feeding her family a late dinner, she made phone calls for help.

The remaining pups would be deeper in the den. Accessing their hiding places required more underground exploration. This would leave the rescuer in an exposed position and unable to defend herself from an overly excited pack. She slept with prayers for the mother dog and the remaining pups.

Next day, the rescuer’s renewed sounds of excavation attracted the pack. One armload after another…rear end and legs sticking out of the ground and helper guarding her back…she pulled dirt from the den.

Finally, huddled in a dirt nook, she located two more scared pups. A quick grab and she passed them to her helper. He carried them to the car and placed them in the dog crate.

Laying still and listening, she heard one puppy whimpering, deep in the den. Worn out, dirty and tired, the rescuer felt as deeply as possible in each opening underground.

Nothing…still, she heard tiny, frightened whines.

Frustrated, she asked her helper to get a cell phone. Crawling back in the den, she used the camera with flash to photograph each cranny she could reach.

The first four photos showed nothing but dirt. In the final one…THERE HE IS!!! Around a corner, a terrified puppy cowered and whimpered in the dark.

The rescuer jammed her face into the den wall, pushed hard and grabbed the squealing youngster. Then, like a dog backing out of an empty badger hole, she squirmed her way back to the surface. A quick check for injuries, showed this last pup was missing half of it’s left rear foot.

As they drove away, the make-shift dog den was quiet for the first time in weeks.

Each pup appeared healthy and without injuries. The damaged paw on the last pup, looked like a birth defect.

As the pups grew, the rescuer socialized each youngster, getting them used to people and, hopefully, their new owner. All, but one, adored human attention. The last pup with the deformed paw had a personality much like his mother, aloof and uninterested.

He wasn’t interested in people and the rescuer knew he might have trouble finding him a home.

The puppies were growing and long-since graduated to eating kibble. When they were ready for their big step into the world, the rescuer posted their pictures on social media, letting folks know they were available.

A half hour later, the phone rang…her step-dad:

“Do you see that pup in the picture on the end, the one not looking at the camera? Well, his name is Half-Step and I want him.”

The rescuer wasn’t sure what to say, her step-father hadn’t owned a dog in nearly twenty years.

“You’re sure?” she asked, listing the socialization issues he was having.

“I know this in my heart, that’s my boy and I want him,” he assured her.

She made that happen.

On New Year’s day, after a five hundred mile trip across the state…Half-Step, still uninterested in people…she deposited the pup in her step-dad’s arms.

And the pup came alive…

His head came up and he looked at his surroundings with interested eyes, especially at her step-father. The young dog couldn’t get enough of him. He settled into his arms and let out a contented sigh. It’d been a long and scary journey, but Half-Step had come home.

Author’s note:

Weeks later, Half-Step is settling into his new home just fine. He takes long walks anywhere the rescuer’s step-father wants to go. He’s young, strong and active.

Months later, Half Step is far more than a lap full of cute puppy. He weighs 90 pounds. These days, it’s tough to separate dog from owner: “He loves kids, small dogs and has the best temperament we could ask for…he’s my best friend.”

No one was ever able to get close to Half-step’s mother. She’s still running with a pack of feral dogs. She was trapped once and figured out how to escape. Since that time, she trusts no human and resists any attempts to lure, trap and spay her. If this pattern of behavior continues, she’ll produce litters until she’s no longer able to defend them.

Please send a kind and gentle prayer for her and the puppies she produces….they’ll need it.

Sleep well, we’ll talk again……

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