Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Auditor

This is old news but I just read about it yesterday (h/t to Smartdogs' Weblog) so I thought I'd pass it along because I just love this dog's story.

Berkeley Pit, now a Superfund site in Butte, Montana is a poisoned waterhole, a remnant of the world's largest open-pit copper mine situated in the midst of a landscape that carries no life. The Pit water is so toxic that in 1995, 342 migrating geese landed in it and died before they could take off again.

Into this toxic environment, in 1986, a puppy was left behind. No one knows why. Maybe it was abandoned; maybe it ran away preferring its own company, sensing a desirable solitude in the barren landscape.

In his younger days, pre-dreadlocks

That pup grew into a lone dog and managed to survive in that hostile environment for 17 years with the help of local miners who brought him food and even eventually built him a dog house.

They named him The Auditor because he would disappear, sometimes for weeks and then reappear, surprising the miners who had thought maybe this time he was gone for good.

By all accounts, The Auditor was a solitary dog. He didn't like to hang out much with people and it seems he only ever allowed a very few to get close enough to him to touch him.

One such person, nearer the end of his life in 2003, was Holly Peterson, a professor at the University of Montana who was interested in getting a sample of The Auditor's hair to test for levels of environmental toxins. With a miner accompanying her, she was brought to the dog house where she managed to coax The Auditor over with a milk bone and she clipped off a length of his dreads which she then sent to a lab for testing.

"The report indicated elevated levels of everything imaginable," Peterson said and she's gone on to use the collected data to develop a method of using pets as a way to evaluate health risks in the environment. You can read more about Peterson's work here.

By then, The Auditor was old and arthritis was visibly affecting him so the miners had started putting baby aspirin in his food. Still, he spent most of his time alone wandering through the waste dumps, leach pads and dirt mine roads around Berkeley Pit.

On November 19, 2003, The Auditor ate his last can of Alpo in his dog house and later that afternoon was found dead in his doggy bed.

The story of The Auditor is fascinating on many levels. His basic survival ability is a big mystery. How did he manage for so long to avoid ingesting anything that didn't immediately kill him, especially when it came to water? With such high levels of metals in his hair, he obviously absorbed his environment somehow, through mere breath or ingesting and yet he lived at least 17 years. What does that say about his physical fortitude? How long would he have lived if he hadn't been exposed to such toxins?

I'm of course, even more interested in his personality. Why was he such a loner? Was that trait innate or due to some traumatic event? He didn't shy away from all humans. Could it be that the right one just never came along to coax him into cohabitation? Was he lonely? How would he have responded to other dogs? What did he do with himself all day?

His solitude and strength have resonated with the miners of Butte. Statues have gone up in his memory; his past has become somewhat of a tourist attraction; his story is spreading around the world. There is something metaphysical about The Auditor which captures people's imagination. His self-isolation is tied in with the isolation intrinsic with such a barren landscape. His resilience is the same as that of the miners living within that place.

There is something more, though. In his daily wanderings, he must've felt it, like all of us alone in the universe, searching for something, not knowing what it is.

You can read more about The Auditor here,
here, here and here.

1 comment:

House of the Discarded said...

That's the coolest story, Fred. I hadn't heard about this dog until now.