The Day the Dog Did Not Die

I grew up on a homestead located thirty-two miles north of Talkeetna, Alaska. In the early 1970s, we had a winter that was particularly hard on the wild animals in our area. There’s a trickledown effect when the winter is harsh and food is scarce, and lynx are as affected by this as any other species.

Mary Lovel and the lynx that tried to eat the dog - early 1970s
My mother, Mary Lovel, with the lynx

One morning we noticed that my brother’s dog, Copper, was acting really odd. At that time, we kept our dogs tied up on logging chains attached to thick leather collars. This kept them from getting into porcupines in the summer; in the winter, it kept them from running off to join wolf packs or getting hit by trains. This particular day, Copper was at the end of his chain, feet planted wide apart, acting like he wanted to play. Nose to nose. With a wild lynx.

This would have been just fine, if the object of Copper’s affections had been anything other than a wild lynx. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s website (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=lynx.main), a typical adult lynx will weigh in at anywhere from 18 to 30 or 40 pounds, or about the size of a dog. This is what a healthy, well-fed specimen looks like:

HEALTHY ALASKAN LYNX
Photo courtesy ADF&G

Our lynx was fluffy, to be sure, but it had one thing on its mind, and playing was definitely not it. The rabbit population in the Sherman area had crashed and there were very few small animals around that winter for the lynx to hunt, and this one was starving. My mother took out my brother’s 4.10 rifle and loaded it. While the dog kept the lynx busy, my mother sighted the rifle in and shot the lynx. Fortunately for the dog, her aim was good…and the lynx did not survive.

When we skinned the lynx, the spaces between its ribs were so sunken that you could insert at least two fingers. It likely wouldn’t have lasted the winter anyway…and Copper was more important than the lynx. At any rate…this is my favorite photo of my mom. She looks tough and self-sufficient, which she was and is…and the lynx was beautiful…and you can see how much snow we had that winter.

The story behind this photograph isn’t necessarily a feel-good thing…but then, the real world is a really tough one for animals, and the truth is that the kinder, gentler world desired for animals by so many animal lovers? That world just doesn’t exist. The real world is rough. Animals starve to death, are killed by other animals, and people tend to prefer to keep their dogs alive as opposed to sparing the life of a lynx.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, with the prompt “Share a photo and the story behind it.” Thanks to the ever-amazing Kristi Rieger Campbell of Finding Ninee, and Kenya Johnson of  Sporadically Yours.

13 thoughts on “The Day the Dog Did Not Die

  1. Though it’s hard, it’s important for women to be able to defend themselves and their families – dogs included. It isn’t pretty and it’s very serious – but it’s important and I’m glad you shared that memory. I like the fact that I was trained how to use a gun, just in case I need to be strong like your mom to make those decisions if needed.

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  2. Thank you, Sarah. I learned to use a gun properly when I was very young. My dad always said that we were never to point a gun at another human being unless we were prepared to kill them; but he also knew that there might be occasions in which use of a gun was necessary.

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  3. Go mom! She did look tough and self-sufficient. I’m an animal lover but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to protect the family. I didn’t think your post was sad, it was interesting to read into a lifestyle I know nothing about – including that much snow.

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    1. Thanks! I don’t know if you can tell, Kenya, but my mom’s head is even with the ROOF. That winter we averaged around 18 FEET. I remember one winter we had over 23 feet of snow. My dad and brother had to lift the snowblower onto the roof because the snow was so deep that we couldn’t shovel it.

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    1. Thank you! It’s an interesting life…and a very hard one…particularly physically. I can’t do it full-time anymore. For one thing, I don’t know how to FIX anything, and out in the Bush, you either know how to fix stuff or you do everything by hand. Ever tried to chop down a tree with an axe? Saw logs with a handsaw? Not easy.

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  4. I think this is a cool story! I recently listened to The Great Alone (good book, by the way) and she did a great job of describing winter in Alaska. I’d have shot the lynx too to save Cooper! Your mom looks totally tough. One of these days, I’m visiting Alaska. I want to go in the winter to see the Northern Lights but my husband wants to go in the summer… we’ll see.

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    1. I’m glad you liked the story…I don’t always tell it, because too many people have the Disney perspective on wild animals.

      As far as The Great Alone…I tried to read it…but honestly….it made me cringe. Maybe it’s because I actually live here….have survived the long winters…but I didn’t like it. I wonder if she’s ever even been here? Hm…. My advice about visiting is June for Robert – coz WOWZER…and between Fur Rendezvous and the Iditarod for you – February/March. And I volunteer to be your guide…

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  5. Wow! I think it is great that you shared these photos of your mom and the lynx. She did what she needed to do. I love how much we can learn about life in various places from reading blog hop posts.

    I’ve only been to Alaska in the summer, and it was gorgeous then.

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  6. Oh my. Yeah, I would have done the same to save a dog. Sad but true. And I’m sad it was so starving! You know, I think, how obsessed I am with moose. I hate to think of them starving out there, and of the other animals eating moose because nothing else is around!

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  7. Tamara,
    Unless the moose were so starving and weak that it couldn’t defend against a lynx, there’s precious little chance that a lynx (even a strong, well-fed one) could bring down a moose. Lynx prey are typically animals much smaller than themselves – rabbits, squirrels, anything small. When there’s a heavy amount of snow, as there was that winter, small prey die off easily because they can’t get to a food source. So when a lynx goes looking, their prey are all dead or hiding. In the winter, the animals that prey on moose are typically wolves. Bears are generally denned up and sleeping for most of the winter. Even a fully grown wolf requires their pack to bring down an adult moose. You have to remember the food chain: lynx rank well below wolves.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many winters when moose have little recourse but to spend most of their time on the railroad tracks, because the snow has been so deep that they can’t break trail. They’re usually starving by that point, and cows are heavily pregnant with the next spring’s calves. The moose refuse to leave the tracks when trains come along…and they die by the hundreds when a winter is that bad. For some reason, the winter the lynx came, there weren’t that many moose killed on the tracks, so there was no salvage food for any other animals – lynx, wolves, foxes, coyotes…and when there’s no salvage food or food to hunt…nature is merciless.

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