True North Blog

Did He Really Need to Eat his Dog?

The first words of a man recently rescued and recovering in a Canadian hospital after surviving almost three months along the Nottaway River, about 800 km from Montreal, are reported by the Daily Mail to be, “I want a new dog.”

What happend to the old one?

He ate it.

When I read the initial accounts of this incident in the news last week, it sounded like an amazing story of survival.  Especially since, after spending so long stranded in a region where many others before him never even returned, his discovery and rescue was so dramatic.  Adding to it were the reports that he was forced to eat his “beloved” dog to stay alive.  I continued to follow this story because such incidents can be good learning tools by letting us learn from others’ successes and failures.

But when I read the various timelines (like another Daily Mail article) which all commonly reported that he killed the dog on Day Three of his survival experience, something just didn’t sit right in my stomach.  After all, in no account was he reported to have actually been attacked or physically harmed by the bear.  In fact, the dog drove the bear away.  So, the real significance and lesson of this incident, I believe, wasn’t really what is being reported in the media.

The general theme being presented is that “survival experts” are lauding the man’s actions because he used “reason” to stay alive.  They say that what he did was “natural instinct” that was “provoked by extreme hunger.”

Extreme hunger?  Really?  But he killed the dog on Day Three, not Month Three.

A very fundamental concept that survival instructors use to convey to students how to balance emergency priorities is the “Rule of 3s.”  That is, one can go three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food.”  These are generalities, not absolutes, of course.  Sometimes one can go much longer, or last much less, without them.

But in the case of food, most of us can typically survive much longer than three weeks without food.  People are fairly often rescued after not having eaten for significant periods and are still functioning and otherwise in general good health.  For example, one woman about two years ago was rescued in Nevada after three months without food — The hospital kept her for a few days mainly for minor dehydration and observation.  Don’t misunderstand me, I know that after a few days without food we all began to feel weak and slow.  But my main point is that we can still largely function and keep ourselves from panicking.

Which leads me to what is probably the real lesson in this current story.  The man likely killed his dog, not really for food, but because he panicked.

Again, don’t misunderstand me, I am not passing judgement.  This man probably survived better than I, or many of us, could have done.  Plus, I especially disapprove of “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  But we can’t learn from mistakes if we don’t properly assess the real issues.

So what is the real issue?  Priority number one in an emergency situation … Keep calm & don’t panic.  Some survival instructors refer to this as “PMA,” or Positive Mental Attitude.  This is when one truly uses reason to make good decisions.

If you don’t have PMA in an emergency, then you might get yourself killed, or do something that you might live to regret.

Like killing your beloved dog.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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