Letter Re: Some Overlooked Risks

I appreciate what Havoc had to say.  As I read survival fiction I often find myself thinking that the authors are being optimistic about the situations they write about.  I couch that with my own understanding that if the authors were to write the stories as I fear they will play out then no one would want to read those stories.  Reality can be ugly.

I think Havoc does well to mention the four horsemen, and it is worth noting that the rider of the pale horse (Revelation 6:7-8) is given authority to kill a fourth of mankind with sword, famine, pestilence and the beasts of the earth. In survival fiction there’s plenty of emphasis on the sword and famine, but not much on pestilence and the beasts of the earth.

Pestilence already has a history of shaping our world.  From the plagues in Europe to the smallpox outbreaks among native American Indians we already have strong, documented examples of what pestilence can do to a given population.  It certainly should have a place in our concerns for the future.

The beasts of the earth have plenty of potential for concern too.  What Havoc suggests about dogs is valid.  I have firsthand experience dealing with domestic dogs turned pack hunters.  City folks think it gives Fido a better chance if they drop him off in the backcountry rather than at animal control, but they aren’t considering the impact their choice has on those who live in the backcountry.

Fido has to eat, and he has a stomach which will remind him of this just as well as yours or mine.  Fido also has a fine set of teeth, keen ears and an exceptional nose.  With his appetite to urge him on, Fido is going to put these tools to work, and kibble doesn’t grow in the wild.  Nor will the folks who dropped Fido off return every couple of weeks to drop off a bag of kibble. No.  Fido is going to revert back to his ancestral heritage as a hunter.  He will get by on some of what comes his way, and eventually he will meet up with more of his kind and they will form a pack.  A pack has a bigger appetite and requires bigger game.  Before you know it the pack is taking down livestock.  Been there. Done that.  I’ve shot Fido and his friends.

That was in a properly functioning, civilized world.  Add a cataclysmic failure to the picture and things aren’t going work out so nicely.

The numbers from the Humane Society say that 46% of U.S. households own at least one dog and there are 78.2 million dogs owned.  There are 3,500 animal shelters taking in 6 to 8 million dogs and cats each year (no separate numbers for just dogs).  Consider what happens if the rider of the pale horse takes out a quarter of the population. What are you going to do about 20 million homeless Fidos?

You thought you were going to subsist by going out into the woods and hunting Bambi and Thumper?  Good luck.  Fido’s on the same quest.  Every deer and rabbit you get is one less for him.  And every one he gets is one less for you.  No longer will he be your best friend.  And I don’t think it will be long before he is hunting you.  How’s your aim at about 24″ off the ground and a fast approaching target?  How about several of them at once? Working on hogs in Texas might be good practice.

Of course it won’t just be Fido.  If man starts to put more pressure on the game in the woods then every other carnivore is going to notice the impact.  And every last one of them has a better nose, better ears and sharper teeth than your or me. They have faster reflexes, superior protection from the elements and are generally better at moving through the woods quietly.  The refugee who decides he would rather sleep in the woods than run the risk of entering a small town is not evading risk.  The only advantage to the beasts of the field is that they are not likely to abuse or torture you before they kill you.

I expect this will be an issue even for those with the perfect retreat situation. Those who are set up for long term self sufficiency will still be impacted by the animals which have found their fare reduced.  Livestock will be difficult to protect, and if predators acquire a taste for people, look out.  We currently enjoy a world in which the animals fear us.  Take that fear away and we are at a substantial disadvantage. – Harry T.

JWR Replies: Your points are well-taken. All the more reason to get lots of firearms training and to learn how to set snares!

In the long term, there might also be a risk posed by wolves and perhaps even wolf-dog hybrids, as packs of wild wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains gradually spread out to the south, east, and farther west. In the event that the feral dog population jumps, some degree of uncontrolled interbreeding will become inevitable. It is also notable that intentional wolf hybrids are already fairly common, with at least 300,000 estimated kept as pets, and climbing. (For that matter, how about Tigers? There are 4,000 privately-owned tigers in Texas, alone. How many of those might someday be set loose?)