In Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire," an inexperienced newcomer makes the terrible mistake of traveling in the wilderness alone in temperatures seventy-five degrees below zero. The man's native dog is hesitant to obey his master and immediately senses danger when they begin their journey. Earlier in the story, the man forces his dog to walk ahead, and the dog breaks through a thin layer of ice covering a shallow pool of water underneath the snow. The man immediately responds to his dog's emergency by removing his mitts and scaping the ice from the dog's paws. The man is not in any immediate danger and demonstrates compassion by assisting his dog. He is focused on helping his dog and briefly braves the elements to remove the ice.
Later in the story, the man breaks through the ice, getting his feet wet and putting himself in serious danger. Tragically, he makes another significant mistake by building his fire underneath a tree with heavy snow on its branches. Once the branch breaks, the snow smothers his fire, and the man begins to panic as his internal temperature begins to drop. Once his extremities become completely numb and he loses the ability to move his fingers, he entertains the idea of killing his dog. London writes,
He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until feeling returned to them. Then he could build another.
Faced with the possibility of freezing to death, the man loses all compassion for his dog and is willing to kill the animal to survive. However, the dog senses the fear in the man's voice and recognizes the danger of approaching him. The man's dramatic change of attitude toward his animal illustrates the lengths humans will go to survive. The desperate circumstances alter the man's perspective, and he resorts to his primitive instincts by attempting to kill his dog. Despite his efforts, the dog escapes his grasp and runs through the wilderness as the man freezes to death.