Friday, May 20, 2011

Saturday Market Story, May 21, 2011

A Farm Story for May 21, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm

We had quite a dog fight Monday. Katy was home from college for the week and went out back to groom Regina, her Anatolian Shepherd. Regina is our oldest of the livestock guardian dogs and was born here. Katy claimed her as a pup, naming her after a favorite dance teacher. Katy and Regina have spent hours and hours together and they are very close.

Regina stays in the back of the farm. She is not a wanderer, preferring to stay in her own pasture even if the gate is open as we work. It has been ages since she has been as far as the backyard, let alone in the house. But she thoroughly enjoys our many visits throughout the day. She likes to lay at the top of her pasture and I speak to her every time I go to gather eggs. On a very hot day we may not see her all day as she naps down in the woods by the creek but at the end of the day she enthusiastically comes up for her dinner and a good snuggle.

A year and a half ago when we added two new Anatolian pups, Gwen and Allez, we let Allez join Regina. Gwen is in the adjoining pasture. Allez started out as a little fuzz ball but has grown into a substantial gal. She and Regina are both stocky and strong. They race up and down the hills in the back, Regina panting a little because of her old age. They usually get along well except if they accidentally crowd each other going through the back door of the old barn. In the winter or in bad weather I feed them inside the barn. They can quickly turn into a snarling ball of flying fur and slobber if they both try to enter the barn at the same time and one feels the other has pushed her. I have found it is safest for all of us if I can shove one back out the door and give them a cooling off period. They calm down quickly and all is well in a matter of moments. I let them back in and they eat. Regina wants to go right out after eating but Allez prefers to snoop around the old barn on the chance a hen has left an egg behind.

Years ago we had to separate Regina from her sweet mother, Lila. As Regina matured into an adolescent dog and began her own guardian duties the mother-daughter relationship changed and both just became fiercely protective dogs. I do remember some nasty fights, often involving plenty of wound cleansing and a few stitches afterwards.

Allez and her more petite sister, Gwen, also started to fight between their pastures when they turned about a year old. They only have a small common gate area along between the pastures that they share but they snarl at each other and often manage to get in a quick nip, often producing just a little bloody scratch.

There is much we love about our big dogs. We’ve also done tons of reading on the breed and their behaviors when working. As much as everyone hates the fighting, it seems it is pretty much to be expected. The dogs need to be territorial to protect their livestock. Female dogs, especially those that are related to one another, are some of the most volatile. Our two neutered males can get along with all of the girls and they also get along fine with each other. Sadie, our pup who is almost a year old, can also visit in the pastures. The dog in charge will growl, Sadie will submissively roll to her back and after a quick sniff both dogs will be jaunting around the pasture. I don’t know how much longer that will last as Sadie matures and the other dogs begin to perceive her as a threat.

So, enough background. All I know is that I was coming out of the stable when I heard growling and Katy using a very firm voice to call the dogs’ names. In an instant there was a full-blown fight. I ran to help Katy whose first priority was to step back. Once I joined her we each grabbed a dog by the tail and tried to pull them apart. The dogs are a good hundred pounds each and all muscle. Al, my sweet husband, was working on the other side of the stable and soon joined us. By the time he got there, I was sitting on the ground holding Regina by the tail as Katy was just managing to tug Allez off of her. Al grabbed Allez and pulled her farther away. The dogs both settled down but we did not let go. Allez had a bloody lip, blood that we later realized was actually Regina’s. Regina had a cut under her eye.

Since Regina looked to have gotten the worst of the fight, we led her through the old barn and into the barnyard so that we could examine her with no more threats from Allez. We initially thought we could just pack a little Neosporin into her cut until we pulled it apart to rinse it. It was longer and deeper that we thought so decided it could stand a few surgical staples.

Regina cheerfully followed us all the way to the house. She trotted through the downstairs door, was easily coaxed up the stairs and into the bathroom. Once Katy got her into the bathroom, Regina decided this was maybe not as much of an adventure as she thought. She began to balk at being confined. We carefully muzzled her so that no one got bitten holding her down for her stitches. Al and I decided to hold Regina while Katy worked on her. She carefully cleaned her wound and then tugged the edges together. She managed to get three staples in and left a small opening for the healing wound to drain. A good shot of penicillin finished off her care. Regina flinched some but did not put up much of a fight. Once she was released from the bathroom, she settled herself contentedly in the dining room and stayed there for the night.

The next morning she explored the front yard, happily returning to the house to be let back in. She spent part of the next day in the house with repeated trips to the front door to be let out. By the end of the day we returned her to the barnyard but have decided to leave her out of her regular pasture.

We’ve moved Ravi, one of the males, into the pasture with Allez. He loves to play in the creek so is quite happy there. Regina has spent the rest of the week getting comfortable with the lambs in the barnyard. She is also enjoying spending time with Baloo, the big Pyrennes Kangal cross. We may eventually put Regina back into the pasture with Allez but we’ll have to give it some more thought. Right now Regina is very content, wagging her tail as she explores her new territory. And her wound is healing cleanly. She had been cooperative as she gets a penicillin shot every other day.

We love our dogs and they do an excellent job. It is just fortunate that they don’t often have these kinds of moments.

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