Driving to work on a minus-20 degree January day, Jeremy Gunkel couldn't believe what he saw laying on the side of the road.
About 3 miles east of Kimball were four puppies huddled next to each other, shivering for their lives. Gunkel slammed on his brakes, turned around and attempted to track down the dogs.
"They're puppies, and they didn't do anything to deserve fighting for their lives in the middle of a freezing day," Gunkel said. "No dog ever deserves to be left out in the cold, and I was going to do whatever it takes to try and help them make it."
Two of the puppies ran into the arms of Gunkel when he approached them in the field. The last two of the group led Gunkel on a five-minute chase during the coldest day of the year on Jan. 30. But Gunkel secured and brought in all four puppies, using every bit of cloth available in his truck to warm them up.
"They were starved, and they had cockleburs on their fur as well," Gunkel said. "I'm guessing someone dropped them outside the night before, but it's miraculous they're alive."
As a dog owner himself, Gunkel didn't immediately assume they were abandoned, prompting him to wait and see if the puppies wandered off from a nearby home. A half-hour later, he came to the conclusion that these four puppies were left to die, and to fend off some of winter's worst life-threatening and subzero temperatures.
Instead of taking the puppies to an animal shelter, Gunkel's wife, Christie, used Facebook to help each of the dogs find an owner.
"I called the Mitchell Police Department to ask if it was possible for us to give them away, and because they were found outside of the city limits, the decision to do what we want with them was up to us,'" she said. "We thought it was best to post the puppies on Facebook, because it would allow for us to know they're going to a good home."
Online, the Gunkels' quickly learned there were plenty of kind-hearted rescue dog lovers to go around. In the first day, Christie received more than 300 direct messages from people interested in providing the puppies a new home.
Staying true to using a fair method of deciding which family gets to claim the dogs, Christie said she went in order of the responses she received online.
"I know every family each of the dogs went to, and I know they're good-hearted people that will take great care of them," she said of the four families that welcomed the rescue dogs into their homes.
While three of the proud rescue dog owners live within a 15-mile radius of Mitchell - two of which are in Mitchell and one in Ethan - the last puppy is making himself at home on a cattle ranch in northern Wyoming.
A love for rescue dogs led former Mitchell resident Kendall Livingston to the Gunkels' doorstep after traveling roughly 350 miles with her husband Travis from their Sundance, Wyoming home. The timing was fortuitous for the Livingstons.
"We were on our way to Sioux Falls to the Fleetwood Mac concert when I saw this adorable puppy on Facebook, and it was meant to be," Livingston said while holding her new family member.
Cathy Blindauer and her daughters, along with Reed Renken and his parents Tammy and Josh, two of the families that took on the title of rescue dog owners, gathered Sunday at the Gunkel house to let their puppies play with each other one last time, while waiting for Livingston to arrive and welcome the last of four puppies into her home.
"We were just starting to look for a dog after ours that we had for 15 years passed away, and this was a great fit to get him," Reed's father Josh said. "It just feels great to know you're welcoming a rescue a dog, and it adds more meaning."
The energy was high in the Gunkel living room, as all three dogs were playing with the Gunkels' Boston Terrier and chocolate Labrador before saying goodbye to each other.
When Livingston held her newest family member for the first time, her smile radiated through the whole room, as laughs and hugs were shared before the last rescued puppy made its way home to Wyoming.
"He will blend right in, because our two dogs back home are also black and white," Livingston said. "They are also rescue dogs, so he will be met with a warm welcome when he gets home."
Before Livingston walked out the door and said her final goodbyes, Christie Gunkel wrapped her arms around the last of four puppies her husband found abandoned in field.
"It was emotional saying goodbye to all of them, and my kids even asked if we could see them once a week," Christie said. "Our family got really close to these four puppies, and we will miss them."