“POVERTY FLATS”

“POVERTY FLATS”

Cupcake & Snowball

The animal, in the dimming light of a new moon, gingerly stepped his way through an ill kept barbed wire fence. It was the only barrier found between his native country and Northwest Montana. The Canadian Eskimo dog unknowingly wandered into the small community known locally as Poverty Flats.

Not long after daybreak, a Rancher driving near the Flats discovered the stray lying in the middle of the road. He helped what seemed to be a sweet malnourished large dog into the cab of his truck and drove it home. His daughters Elizabeth and Cathy, ages seven and nine were then introduced to their new pet. The sisters named him Cupcake. The girls had another pet, a white fluffy cat, they called Snowball. Most of the day their ball of fluff, sat in a window or lay curled up on the couch; only making her presence known at dinner time. Cats come that way… they don’t require a lot of attention. They are loveable mostly to me because they used to be kittens.

The community focus at Poverty Flats was animal rescue. Most of the families living there participated. You’d find various size corrals providing homes for assortments of abandoned pets. Anything and everything people can no longer care for they just dropped off. There were yaks, llamas, cows, horses, pigs, goats, and many varieties of chickens and geese; with a lingering flavor of “Ole MacDonald’s Farm” in the air.

Animals from Canada; dogs, cats and other wildlife, as it relates to border fences, all enjoy dual citizenship. In areas not far from the official border crossing the barbed wire is well past its age of effectiveness. They come and go as they please no passports are required.

Even in Canada the mixed-breed is rare. The Rancher and his daughters had no idea Cupcake was a Canadian Eskimo dog, a tribal sled dog, that originally were bred with wolves. Like many sled dogs, they have a strong prey drive and are not suitable as pets if you have small animals.

During his brief stay in Poverty Flats, Cupcake all too soon developed an appetite for the resident exotic animals. He wanted to eat them all. After school one day in late spring, Elizabeth and Cathy, climbing down their school bus steps, spotted Cupcake lying in their front yard owning a look of guilt. His head, pinched between his front paws, was quietly staring at several clumps of white fur in the yard. In a fit of panic, the girls ran into the house screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Cupcake just ate Snowball!”

Bolting through the house the family spilled out into the front yard alarmed at what might have just happened to their beloved Snowball. Friends and neighbors got word and gathered to investigate. Kids were crying, moms and dads were crying… even Cupcake managed to look somewhat sorrowful. At the same time, licking at his front paws, he occasionally swiped at shreds of white fur sticking to his lips while keeping watch over the remaining clumps of fur.

After paying Snowball considerable respect, attached with elements of grief, the families began to excuse themselves. While in the process of leaving a neighbor boy was noticed pointing toward Elizabeth and Cathy’s upstairs bedroom window asking, “Whose cat is that up there?” He was pointing towards a cat sitting in the window. It was both white and fluffy and was staring at the crowd gathered below. Snowball was sitting in the window seemingly enjoying the scene taking place below over his demise.

It wasn’t long after the incident with Snowball that Cupcake’s relationship with the Poverty Flats community took a turn. The source of the balls of white fur was never completely determined, and small animals regularly began disappearing.

As reports of missing animals mounted suspicions arose that Cupcake may be more wolf than dog and he was soon found out. Under threat of being picked up by the local animal control officer neighbors decided to remove him from the Flats. Enlisting help from Wolfdog sanctuaries and networks, the locals found a place for Cupcake near Missoula. Owners and handlers of mixed breed wolf-dogs require special knowledge of their habits and needs.

The Rancher, after placing him in his kennel for travel, wiped a tear form his eye, blinked and turned away. The Canadian Eskimo dog Cupcake was transported to his new home near the Blackfoot river east of Missoula. Higher-content animals, more wolf than dog it turns out, are more prone to show intense “primitive” behaviors, such as their high prey appetites and escape artist talents. A little more than a week later, looking a bit grubby from his journey, the mixed breed somehow escaped Missoula and returned to where the pickings were better, his former hunting ground at Poverty Flats.

This wouldn’t do of course. For the permanent well-being of the many residents in the corrals, it was decided to take him east of Glacier Park; in the region west of Cut Bank. A family on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation decided to try rehabilitating him. The group hoped; if he escaped again, he might find his way back home, perhaps northward back in the direction of Canada. The residents of the Flats were assured it would be impossible for Cupcake to make it back through Glacier and the Rockies.

They were all wrong. It took him longer this time… two months longer.

It is mid-summer and now what? Good question, big problem. It was obvious he was a determined and cunning creature; this time it would take an extraordinary effort on his being extradited to a rehab facility. It was suggested taking him west but only further this time. In Washington State, known to have an abundance of mixed-breed habitats got the nod; getting him there would involve a huge burden on someone.

A search for “the-someone” and transportation followed and a gentleman pilot was found at the small airport nearby. Bob Sweet, the pilot, volunteered both himself and his airplane. His aircraft only had two seats, one in front and one in back. It was an old Ryan PT-22, a vintage WW-II era, open cockpit former pilot trainer, it was perfect. Fitted with a pair of goggles and special seat harnesses, Cupcake would ride in the front cockpit, much like a student pilot. Bob, while flying the airplane from the backseat, could easily keep an eye on his passenger up front.

Oxygen masks hadn’t yet been fashioned for the likes of pointy noses. It was planned the flight would stay low, following the rivers and streams through the mountains to the west, so the animal could breathe in his normal fashion. The neighbors thought Cupcake wouldn’t mind flying, no consideration was given about anxieties he might experience.

Early on the morning of Cupcakes planned departure; he was taken to the airport in his makeshift harness and goggles and strapped into the front cockpit seat. The flying weather was perfect as the sun, now peaking over the mountains to the east, made mellow the morning air.

The PT-22, with pilot Bob and Cupcake aboard started up and taxied out to the south runway, the before takeoff checklists completed and they quickly departed. After lift off the aircraft banked slightly to the right and headed west for the Koocanusa Reservoir, a huge body of water formed from the Kootenai River. It ran south all the way to the Libby Dam, about sixty miles, where it again becomes a river. The reservoir was both long and wide. About ten miles south is a bridge that spans the water from east to west. At its midpoint it sits about two hundred feet above the surface and nearly a mile across.

Cruising along between the shorelines, they approached the bridge at about fifty feet above the water. It was a comfortable altitude for flying under the span which pilot Bob liked to do. As a matter of fact, each time he flew down the res, he made it a point to pass under the bridge. It was an acquired habit.

This morning was a little different, perched on the bridges top guardrail at about mid span, sat a Bald Eagle. Keen to keeping an eye on his distance to the water below pilot Bob hadn’t yet spotted the bird, but his passenger Cupcake had. The closer they got the more agitated the passenger in front became. Cupcake had never scored an Eagle; various varieties of chickens and geese but never an Eagle. He hadn’t been this close to one ever. It soon became obvious to pilot Bob something untidy happened up in the front seat. Just as they were about to pass under the bridge the Eagle took to flight, plummeting in a near vertical dive for the water’s surface. And, likewise, so did Cupcake. The dog had wiggled and twisted himself free of the harness and took to the air in pursuit of the bird. It was a short free fall to the water as pilot Bob watched in disbelief. Cupcake, his teeth gnashing at the air, nose-dived after his prey. After a brief splash onto the surface, the big bird pulled up fast with a fish gripped in its talons, just as Cupcake plunged into the water not far behind. The Eagle, accompanied with dinner, flew west. Cupcake, after surfacing, swam ashore to continue his chase.

Pilot Bob circled back and the last he saw, Cupcake was still in quest of the Eagle who appeared headed for the border. The Canadian Eskimo dog never returned to Poverty Flats or Montana. He cared nothing about riding in airplanes; it was unnatural.

Cupcake, having wandered into Montana by accident, found an array of scents and flavors there he had never experienced. It was a wonderland. It was a cafeteria. It was a buffet. It was a place where animals mixed and mingled without want or need. It was Neverland.

The Canadian Eskimo dog formerly known as Cupcake eventually found his way to Ashton, Idaho. It is the home of the first American Dog Derby which was held in1917 and still an annual event. He was reunited there with the life he knew in the world of sled dogs. It wasn’t Neverland, but it was a place he was happy to be and a place happy to have him.