A number of accidental emergencies force both domestic and wild animals to fast at times. How frequently such accidents occur in nature, we are not in a position to say, but they are probably more frequent than we may suppose.
In his Curiosities of Instinct, Karl Vogt tells of the case of a spaniel which visitors had accidentally locked up in the attic of an old castle-ruin. The dog had been able to secure a few drops of water by gnawing the edge of a cleft in a slate covered roof. A few heavy rain-showers had supplied him with water, but he had had no food of any kind--no grain, leather, rats or mice--during the whole summer and part of the autumn. A picnic on the castle mountain during the first week in October resulted in his rescue by a wandering party of sight-seers. The ribs of the little prisoner; who had been locked up since the middle of June, could be counted as easily as in a skeleton, but he was still able to drag himself across the floor and lick the hands of his deliverers.
The following account of "Bum" appeared in Time for April 27, 1931: "When Joseph Carroll, engineer of a Brooklyn laundry, heard the Negro night watchman tell of a "ghost" he had heard one night last week, he walked into the engine room and straight to a boarded-up hole in the floor, relic of an unsuccessful well-digging. Stopping his ears, holding a knife in his teeth, he touched the knife to a pipe which went downward. Presently he could hear a distant moaning. "He knew what was in the hole. Early in January he had found and adopted a mongrel puppy. But after a few days the puppy, which he called 'Bum' disappeared. The same day, the hole over the excavation had been boarded up securely. The engine's noise must have drowned the dog's cries ever since.
"Hastily Engineer Carroll ripped up the board, descended, brought Bum, a skeletal dog, unable to stand alone, to the surface.
"No local veterinary would believe that a dog could have fasted for 14 weeks. Some thought Bum must have lived by rat-catching; some cried: 'Impossible'!"
Local veterinarians were as ignorant of fasting as was a medical man who once roundly scored a woman who had undertaken to fast, under my direction, after he and several of his big priced colleagues (specialists and medical professors) had declared they did not know and could not find out what her trouble was and could do nothing for her. He declared that if she went six days without food her heart would collapse and she would die.
She had two fasts, one of twelve days, the other of thirteen, and recovered her health. The doctor came crawling back some three months later and apologized for his ungentlemanly and unprofessional conduct. "I have been reading up on these cases and I find that in Germany they are using fasting in them with excellent success," he said.
An Associated Press dispatch from Warsaw, Ind., dated Dec. 31, 1931, tells of a sow surviving four and a half months without food. Buried under an avalanche of straw on the Oscar Rebman farm, east of Warsaw, on July 15, while threshing was in progress, she remained buried until Dec. 30, when workmen who were pulling out straw heard a grunt and were surprised to see the sow walk out minus about half of her former weight. This was a period of 168 days without food and water.
The "Great Blizzard of '49" was so terrible that many men, women and children and much livestock in the West froze to death. Many sheep froze around the haystacks. Unusually heavy snows fell and in some places remained for long periods. The snow was deep and animals were buried. Several reports of animals being buried deep in the snow for long periods were published. These are of special interest to us here, for the reason that these buried animals were deprived of food and of all possibility of obtaining food by the snow that covered them.
An Associated Press dispatch from Rapid City, S. D. tells of a pig found fifty-four days after the blizzard in that state. The dispatch says that before the blizzard of Jan. 2, 1949 struck, Jess Sparks, a farmer who lived northwest of Rapid City had twenty-one pigs. After the storm was over he could find but twenty of his pigs. He gave up, as lost, the missing pig. Forty-four days after the snow storm had buried the pig, Mr. Sparks heard a grunt. Digging through several feet of snow he soon released the pig, which walked out under its own power and, although very thin, did not resume eating at once.
A similar incident was reported by Jack Stotts of Cody, Wyo., who dug out a straw-stack that had been buried twenty feet deep for sixty-three days and found two Hereford heifers a little wobbly but otherwise in good condition. John Lemke, a farmer, in Dupress, S. D., dug out a sow that had been buried for three months. At the time of her burial she weighed three hundred pounds. She was skinny when rescued, but able to walk three quarters of a mile to a feed trough.
On the Wm. Brandt farm near Fort Morgan, Colo., a sheep was found alive on Feb. 12, 1949, after having been entombed in a snowdrift for forty days, having been hemmed against a high board fence by the big blizzard that struck in early January. A companion sheep was dead. The two sheep had eaten away a small portion of a wooden fence. Other than this, they had no food while buried in the snow.
These are examples of burial of domestic animals. Wild animals must also frequently be buried by the snow and must remain for shorter or longer periods in their prisons. How many examples of burials similar to the foregoing burials of domestic animals that blizzard would have afforded, had they been recorded, we can only surmise. As the snow of the blizzard blanketed many thousands of square miles of territory, wild life could not have escaped it. Small animals especially were buried. They were forced to live without eating during their burial. The ability of an animal to fast for long periods under such conditions, means the difference between surviving and perishing.
Rabbits are well-known to be frequently buried in the snow. If we could know just how often such things occur in nature and how many hundreds of thousands of animals are thus forced to go without food for considerable periods each year, we would probably find that the ability to fast is a very important means of survival.