How Did This Rescued St. Bernard Survive 17 Days in the Freezing Cold?

Old Lady, a 10-year-old St. Bernard, was being taken to her new foster home in Zimmerman, Minnesota, when she got scared and ran off.

For over two weeks, no one knew where she was – until she was finally spotted in nearby woods with her lead tangled up in some trees. How did she manage to survive 17 days in below-freezing temperatures? 

Ruff Start Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue based in Minnesota, had recently taken Old Lady from a puppy mill in Wisconsin, so chances are that she had spent her entire life until then locked away, with minimal contact with people. 

“She has been living in a barn, puppy mill-type situation with over 500 dogs all her life,” explained Azure Davis, the founder and executive director of Ruff Start Rescue. “You can imagine the socialization she’s had. It’s limited to none.”

On January 4, Ruff Start Rescue workers drove Old Lady to her new foster home. But as they gently coaxed her out of the car, she abruptly took off.

“It was snowing really hard and the crunching noise from the snow really freaked her out,” Davis told Mother Nature News. “She was pulling and she’s very strong and the driveway was all ice. She pulled the foster down and ran.”

Poor Old Lady must have been terrified.

The rescue team did all they could to find the dog, writing on Facebook, “We have had search parties, signs, phone calls, and so many people out looking for this poor girl.”

After the first week, a couple of sightings had been reported, but that was it. Meanwhile, the temperatures were dropping into the teens.

As someone who has been snow camping a few times, I know that with the right equipment it’s possible to stay warm in those temperatures. But Old Lady didn’t have the tent, the zero-degree sleeping bag or the down jacket that I had.

She didn’t even have her normal thick, heavy coat, since she had recently been shaved – making her even more vulnerable to the cold and snow.

Against all these odds, Old Lady was found alive on January 21, the 17th day after she had disappeared. A man walking with his grandson noticed that she was unable to move because her leash was tangled up in some trees.

He immediately called the Sherburne County Sheriff’s office, who in turn contacted Ruff Start Rescue. Members of both organizations, along with another group — The Retrievers — were able to free Old Lady, give her some canned dog food and bring her into the comfort of a warm car.

“It was an intense rescue mission and we had to approach the situation very cautiously because she was scared and wanted to flee,” Davis wrote on Facebook.

But how had the St.Bernard survived those 17 days? “Her drive, her fight-or-flight response kicked in and she was able to stay alive through those frigid temps,” Davis explained.

Perhaps she scavenged, ate from the feeding stations and maybe devoured a whole lot of snow. Or we could just say it’s a miracle.

Back at the rescue, animal care workers weighed Old Lady and discovered that she was only 88 pounds, compared to the 120 or 130 pounds she should weigh when healthy.

But within two days, Old Lady started on another journey when she set off to her new home through the rescue’s “foster to adopt” program.

Here’s a photo of the dog with Carolyn Kne, her new owner. “This is the first kiss she has given,” the rescue wrote on Facebook. “It was love at first sight for both of them.”

Photo Credit: Ruff Start Rescue/Facebook


kathy bonard
kathy bonard5 months ago

So glad it was a happy ending.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson5 months ago

Thank you.

Paula A
Past Member 5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

heather g
heather g5 months ago

That's a horrible event. Why shave her in winter? They sounded irresponsible and unprepared. Her new owner looks like the proper, loving fit.

Chris Shaw
Chris Shaw5 months ago

Well they should have been prepared in case of something happening.the dog runs out and into the woods cause the poor thing was scared. .so IAM sure it's safe to say when they loaded the don in car before taking g her to New place. Sure she was scared. So when they got to where they was going dog is still scared so of course she took off. IT'S THERE FAULT THE DOG WASN'T HANDLE RIGHT AND SPENT 17 day's in freezing cold.thank God she was found. Transport people need better training

Carole R
Carole R5 months ago


Beryl Ludwig
Beryl L5 months ago

Good story. But I don't understand why people shave long hair dogs. I know a neighbor dog that was shaved. It would be like shaving a German Shepherd can you imagine?

Peggy B
Peggy B5 months ago


Glennis W
Glennis Whitney5 months ago

So wonderful Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis Whitney5 months ago

Awesome Thank you for caring and sharing