April 15, 2005

Parallel Evolution? Stray Dog Has Survived for 16 Years in Toxic Superfund Site

Isn't this the kind of thing they used to make schlocky 1950's horror movies about? Ordinary earthly life forms, transformed into horrific monsters when exposed to nuclear radiation, mutating into a freakish embodiment of our atomic age fears?

The photo of this mutt is absolutely mesmerizing. This dog has, since 1988, roamed the environmentally hazardous 5000 acres of the Berkeley Pit federal Superfund site in Butte, Montana. Workers at the mine have fed and looked after the mutated-looking dog they affectionately named "The Auditor," due to his erratic appearances.

Kind-hearted folks at the empty copper mine site feed him every night at seven p.m., although sometimes he takes off and wanders for weeks at a time before returning to his home. He is shy of human contact and only once, when a patient caretaker got a chance to trim some of the vision-occluding dreadlocks on top of his head, has anyone had a chance to look into his eyes.

The environment he lives in is about the worst possible, for any living thing:

"Not a single blade of grass, nary a tree, shrub or weed can survive on the acidic crust that dominates this animal's yard. Reeking of sulfur and acidity, this is the kind of soil that eats men's boots, let alone the feet of any normal dog."

The water is toxic, too. In 1995 a flock of 342 migrating snow geese landed on the lake inside the compound, and promptly died.

It sounds like the locals have taken to thinking of their mascot as a symbol for toughness, in a parallel with the rugged town of Butte, which itself endured hard knocks but persevered through difficult times. Hopefully no one will go so far as to say "Aw, heck, maybe that glowing nuclear goo ain't so bad for us after all!"

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