Karana’s leg wound is very serious, so she stays in her house to recover for five days. It is only when she runs out of water that she forces herself to leave again. Sensing that she is hurt, the wild dogs stalk her, but flee when she threatens them with her bow and arrow.
Walking is difficult for Karana. After finding water, she is too tired to make the trip back to her house. She takes refuge in a cave, which is is so safe and secure that she decides to make it into a second home. She also notices carvings which her ancestors made in the cave, and deep basins that could store water. While staying there, she carves shelves to store food, and makes herself a bed.
After several days of preparing a home in the cave, Karana returns to the location of the sea lion battle, and finds the corpse of the bigger bull there. Though the birds have eaten the animal's meat off its bones, Karana is able to harvest its teeth, which she makes into spearheads. Now she is ready to hunt the wild dogs.
At the cave where the wild dogs live, Karana builds a fire to smoke the animals out. There are far more dogs than she has arrows, so she saves them for the leader. Because the leader dog is gray and has yellow eyes - a different breed than most of the others - she assumes he came from the Aleut ship.
Eventually, the dogs run out of the cave, and Karana hits the leader in his chest with her first arrow. She uses her remaining four arrows to kill three more dogs. But by the time she is ready to finish off the gray dog, he is gone.
Karana follows the trail of his blood, and eventually finds him on the ground, nearly dead. For some reason, she cannot bring herself to kill him, so she brings him back her house and treats his wound. As the days pass, she feeds him fresh water and fish. Although she still considers him her enemy, she gradually grows attached to him.
One day, she finds him gone, and realizes that she actually considers him a friend. She is happy to discover that he is only sleeping, not gone, and she names him Rontu, which means Fox Eyes.
Summer and spring pass again, and Karana begins to worry that the Aleuts will return. Planning in case that happens, she modifies one of the tribe's old canoes to make it easier for someone her size to escape with. The project takes a long time, but Rontu stays with her as she works. She often talks to him, and recognizes how lonely she had become before adopting him.
When she finishes the canoe, she and Rontu take it for a test journey around the island. It is on this journey that Karana notices a sea cave near the headland. She rows in with the canoe to discover that it is connected to a series of passages that lead to her house near the spring. She is very happy about this discovery, since she can hide her canoe near home and use the passage as an emergency shortcut if the Aleuts come.
In the cave, Rontu notices a ‘devilfish’ — that is, a squid. Karana is eager to catch the devilfish because its meat is delicious, but it emits a defensive cloud of ink and escapes her spear. She decides to spend the winter building a special spear designed to hunt devilfish.
Karana completes the devilfish spear, which has a string that allows her to throw it over long distances. On the first day of spring, she sets out to capture one. Rontu is not with her, since he has been gone several days. She worries he has returned to the wild dogs.
On her first devilfish hunt, Karana catches two sea bass but no squid. As she returns, she hears barking and follows the sounds, only to find Rontu fighting with the two dogs who now lead the wild pack.
Though Karana could easily interfere with her bow and arrows, she chooses to let Rontu stand up for himself. It initially seems he will lose the battle, but he is only playing defense, and ultimately kills one of them. From then onwards, Rontu stays with Karana, and the other dogs leave them alone.
Karana captures two baby songbirds, and cuts their wings so she will have more friends. She also creates some nicer clothes for herself, including a yucca skirt, flower wreaths, and hairpins. When she feels like it, she and Rontu walk along the beach in their finery. She enjoys this very much.
As the years go by, Karana continues to mature. Although she has fully accepted her situation, she still holds out hope that a rescue ship will come. O’Dell shows us signs of her lingering hope through her time spent looking for the ships each summer.
And yet Karana has come to enjoy her moments of happiness on the island. Ironically, the clearest sign of her self-reliance is her acceptance of her loneliness. Even though she does not articulate it before adopting Rontu, she expresses her loneliness by taking care of him even though he is ostensibly her enemy.
Further, it is interesting that she chooses Rontu to adopt. Considering he is her chosen worst enemy, one might think he would be her last choice for friend. But perhaps what she sees in Rontu is a similar self-reliance to her own. Especially when he is wounded and alone, separated from his pack, he might remind her of herself, a powerful creature who is nevertheless left alone, with nobody to prove it to.
Karana’s approach to adopting pets shows how she has matured. With Rontu, she passively allows him to start living with her. Later, she actively seeks out the songbirds, and takes steps to keep them from flying away. This shows that she is taking an ever-increasing amount of responsibility for her own fate. Another example of this is her decision to modify a canoe in case the Aleuts return. This shows that she is not only planning for the long-term future, but also is starting to anticipate situations that could put her in danger.
Karana’s relationship with animals has also evolved over the years. When she was first abandoned, she avoided the wild dogs because she knew she was not strong enough to take them on. Now she exercises complete control over them. In addition to adopting Rontu as a pet, she also makes a conscious decision not to intervene in his fight with the other dogs. She recognizes that her weapons give her complete power over all the animals on the island, and when she leaves them alone, she does it by choice rather than necessity.
Some readers might be confused about why Karana creates special clothes, since she lives alone. She might be doing this because she wants to maintain ties to civilization. Dressing up and celebrating special occasions is a very important part of living in a community, and it is likely that Karana misses these things. Dressing up also adds some much-needed variety to her daily routine.
However, is it also an expression of her femininity. Early on, she noticed how Ulape would dress to flatter herself, and paint her face to flaunt her single status. Naturally, Karana has no men to impress, but she is growing older, and feeling the natural urges to be admired for her beauty. Even if O'Dell does not explicitly state that this change is happening, it is no coincidence that Karana begins to consider her human needs at around the same time that she begins developing relationships with animals to whom she can talk aloud.
Karana also uses other methods to maintain her ties to the tribe and keep herself sane. She always has a goal in mind — whether it is getting a sea lion tooth, killing the wild dogs, or catching the devilfish. These goals give her something to look forward to, and a way to spend extra time. Early in the novel, Karana notes that catching food does not take very long because she is good at fishing and has only has to feed herself. This leaves her with lots of spare time, which she uses for projects to make her life more comfortable. What O'Dell is suggesting is that humans remain humans - wanting to keep themselves interested and interesting - even when removed from civilization.