A cold, evening walk in rural Manitoba became a rescue mission for an RCMP officer and his canine partner.
Const. Taylor Burns and his service dog Hix were getting some after-work exercise Monday night, walking a dark, dirt road alongside a snowy field in the Woodlands area, when Hix caught a scent and darted off.
"We typically come across deer and other little critters out there," said Burns, who takes Hix for a two-kilometre walk every night. "He'll run but he's very obedient and will come as soon as I call."
Before Burns needed to command Hix to return, the dog stopped and stood staring at something just off the road.
"It looked like a ball of ice that had fallen off a truck," Burns said. "I told him to leave it but he kept standing over it."
So Burns went over and directed the beam of his headlamp to the ice ball, and saw the glint from a pair of eyes. Then he heard a faint but telltale meow.
Burns bent over to pick up the near-frozen kitten when he noticed another. All he could carry was one, so he leashed Hix and went back home, wrapped up the cold orange-and-white tabby, then went back for the other one.
Burns wrapped that one up in his arms as well, then kept looking around. He ended up finding two more, but it was too late for them.
Then he saw a blanket and a bowl of cat food.
Burns assumes someone abandoned the cats there. But if they hoped the animals would be found by someone, the location was a bad choice, he said.
"There's nothing around there. The closest thing is a cemetery," he said, adding "it was really blowing hard and snowing" that night.
According to Environment Canada, the temperature was around -10 C but a 40 km/h wind made it feel more like -19.
Burns called a vet office and though it was closed, there was a recording for how to deal with a pet suffering from exposure.
"I listened to it a few times," he said, then wrapped the kittens in blankets, put them in a box and set it near a heater vent in his home's laundry room.
He took the box into the office the next day to see if anyone might be able to care for them. After spending some time being cuddled, the kittens were taken home by a colleague.
She has since posted on Facebook that the cats — a male and female — were checked by a vet and "are going to be perfectly fine."
Now she's hoping they find a permanent home.
"It breaks my heart but we are not able to keep them. I would like to give them to a good home and ideally keep them together," she posted.
For his part, Hix was given kudos and a few extra treats from Burns.
He has also been heaped with praise on social media — earning the hashtag #HeroDog — by people responding to a posting the RCMP made about the rescue.
"It's not in his usual job function," Burns joked, noting Hix's specialty is in narcotics detection, not narcatics.
The pair have worked together for nearly a year in the traffic unit and Hix has found a fair share of drugs hidden in vehicles, Burns said.
"He's a very curious dog."