Cupcake & Snowball

One winter morning, shortly before sunrise a Canadian Eskimo dog gingerly tip-toed his way through an ill-kept barbed wire fence. It was the only barrier he found between British Columbia and Northwest Montana. The animal wandered into a small community known as Poverty Flats.

Not long after his border crossing the stray was found by a Rancher while driving along the road to the airport. He brought the dog home and presented it to his daughters, Elizabeth and Cathy, ages seven and nine. They, the sisters, named their new dog Cupcake. The girls had another pet, a white fluffy cat, they called Snowball. Their furry ball of fluff, most of the day, 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 lovable (to me) only 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 drop off at the Flats. There were yaks, llamas, cows, horses, pigs, goats, and many varieties of chickens and geese; with a 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 can 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 at 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 the steps from their school bus, 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. An immediate panic engulfed the girls, they ran into the house screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Cupcake just ate Snowball!”

Rushing through the house, the family alarmed at what might have just happened to their beloved Snowball, bolted into the front yard. Friends and neighbors got word and gathered to investigate. Kids were crying, moms and dads were crying… even Cupcake looked somewhat sorrowful at the remaining clumps of fur; all the while licking at his front paws with an occasional swipe at the white fur sticking to his lips.

After paying Snowball considerable respect, attached with elements of grief, the families began to excuse themselves. While 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 taking in the scene over his demise.

It wasn’t long after the incident with Snowball that Cupcake’s relationship with the Poverty Flats community changed. The source of the balls of white fur was never completely determined, and small animals 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, an accommodation was found near Missoula. Owners and handlers of mixed breed wolf-dogs need special knowledge of their habits and needs.

The Canadian Eskimo dog Cupcake, after many tears shed, was transported to his new home near the Blackfoot river east of Missoula. A little more than a week after his extraction, the mixed breed pulled a Houdini maneuver, and returned to his former hunting ground at Poverty Flats; he looked a bit grubby from his journey. It turns out higher-content animals, more wolf than dog are more prone to show intense “primitive” behaviors, such as their high prey appetites and escape artist talents.

This wouldn’t do. 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. They hoped; if he escaped again, he might find his way back home, perhaps northward back in the direction of Canada. They assumed incorrectly it would be impossible for him to make it back through Glacier and the Rockies.

It took him longer this time; all of two months.

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

A search for transportation ensued and a gentleman pilot was found at the small airport nearby the border crossing. A pilot named Bob Sweet volunteered both himself and his airplane; it 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. The pilot could easily watch him while flying the airplane from the backseat.

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, not thinking 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, peaking over the mountains to the east, began warming the morning air.

The PT-22, with pilot Bob and Cupcake aboard started up and taxied out to the south runway and quickly departed. After lift off the aircraft turned right and headed west for the Koocanusa Reservoir, a huge body of water formed from the Kootenai River. It ran south for sixty miles all the way to the Libby Dam 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 water; it is almost a mile across.

Cruising along out in the middle of the reservoir, they approached the bridge at about fifty feet above the water. It was a comfortable altitude to fly under the span which pilot Bob liked to do. As a matter of fact each time he flew down the res, he passed under the bridge. It was something he was used to doing. It was an acquired habit.

This morning, on the bridges top guardrail at about mid span, sat a Bald Eagle. Pilot Bob hadn’t yet spotted the bird but his passenger Cupcake had. The closer they got the more agitated the pooch 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 became obvious to pilot Bob something untidy was happening up in the front seat. Just as they were about to pass under the bridge the Eagle took to flight, making a 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, plummeted downward. The Eagle, splashing briefly onto the surface, pulled up fast with a fish gripped in its talons just as Cupcake plunged into the water not far behind. The Eagle, along with his fish, flew west and when Cupcake surfaced; he swam to shore and continued the chase.

Pilot Bob circled back and the last he saw of Cupcake he was still in pursuit of the Eagle who appeared headed for the border. The Canadian Eskimo dog never returned to Poverty Flats or Montana. He would care nothing about riding in airplanes ever again; 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.