Never underestimate the instincts of a mother – or a cowboy.
Add in the persistence of the cowboy's daughter and you have the ingredients of a heart-warming saga that saved the lives of a border collie and her seven pups, all stranded – or most likely abandoned – in the boonies east of Taft.
The story begins with champion cowboy Dusty Watkins and his wife, Sherrie, driving the "back roads" from their ranch south of Old River to Taft, where Watkins grew up.
"My husband suddenly stopped the truck, and there was a dog in the road," Sherrie recalls. "She appeared to be starving to death. Her body looked emaciated and, worse than that, she was a momma dog."
Unable to approach the frightened black pooch, they left and returned later after conducting business in Taft.
But before heading back, Dusty pulled some cable wire off a rental house they own. And, they bought four cheeseburgers.
The couple located the frail dog again, and after she was stuffed with beef and cheese, Dusty lassoed her – an easy feat for a guy who's one of the top team ropers around.
When they took her home daughter Nikki Jo immediately fell for the scared pooch.
"It broke her heart to see this dog like this, and she decided she would keep her as a lifelong companion," Sherrie said.
But the next morning the dog was gone.
Nikki Jo and boyfriend Heath Freeborn, who lives in Taft, set out looking for and soon spotted the dog – apparently in search of her puppies.
They took her to the area where she was initially found but were driven away by bees.
"There were all these boxes of bees at an almond orchard," Nikki Jo recalled. "They were pretty agitated and stung us and the dog so we got out of there."
Returning to the Watkins' horse ranch, Nikki Jo couldn't get those lost pups out of her mind.
"I just couldn't stop thinking about those poor starving puppies out there somewhere," she said. "It had been two days."
She and Heath decided to take another stab at it, but Dusty suggested a different approach.
He said he had "a gut feeling" about where the puppies might be based on the actions of the mother dog when he was trying to get that makeshift lasso around it.
"I thought, let's give it one more chance and go with dad's instincts," Nikki Jo said, "so we went to the site where my dad said to go."
It was about 7:30 p.m. when Nikki Jo and Heath parked and got out with flashlights.
She spotted a cardboard box that led her to believe the dogs had been dumped there.
Page 2 of 2 - "We hadn't walked 50 feet when we heard a faint whimper near an Oleander bush," Nikki Jo said. "We were just 10 feet from where the puppies were."
It was obvious, she said, that the mother dog had stashed the pups there.
"She had dug a heart-shaped hole under the Oleander and had pulled bushes over it to hide them."
Heath reached in and began pulling out puppies – six in all.
They got back into his truck and, with Nikki Jo cradling the pups in her jacket, started to leave.
"Heath said he thought he heard another whimper so he got out and discovered that one of the puppies had wandered away from the others," Nikki Jo said.
Secure in the belief they had all of them, they headed back to the ranch.
The next morning they took mom and the puppies to a vet for a checkup.
They're about four weeks old and pronounced in good health.
Now, the Watkins family is trying to find homes for the pups.
They didn't give them names except for the last – and seventh – one they found that night.
Lucky 7, of course.