This has been a busy winter as I was blessed to be artist in residence for seven weeks in a Spartanburg school district. I taught weaving to 3rd through 5th graders while telling lots of farm stories. As it turned out, one of the farm stories evolved as I was in a school in January.
I got home from school at three each afternoon and immediately changed clothes and walked the farm. This is the time that I would feed the dogs and gather eggs. One Monday afternoon as I walked outside I noticed that Baloo, one of our livestock guardian dogs, seemed to be wandering down in the woods. Baloo is a delightful fellow that we acquired a few years ago. He was a six month old puppy who was people shy. He had been raised in a pasture full of goats with his mother, many siblings and a few other dogs. In order for his owner to sell him to us, Baloo had to be lured in with food and snatched. He was so shy that when we were bringing him home from North Carolina he laid as low as he could in his kennel and did not even wimper. He is three quarters Great Pyrenees and a quarter Kangal. Ironically, his father is the son of a very expensive line of dogs that we’d looked at a few years ago but chose not to invest a few thousand dollars in. We did not know that when we went to look at the pups but were fascinated when the owner explained the story of his stray genetics. We were just pleased with a healthy working dog and liked the fact that the Kangal influence meant that we would not have to deal with the matted hair that so many Pyrenees develop.
Baloo quickly warmed up to us and has turned out to be a great dog with one fault. He has no respect for fence lines. He avoids electric fences but has learned to climb gates. One of the first things we did with him was to have him neutered so he is a mellow boy who gets along with all of the other dogs. He visits them in their individual pastures most every day, racing around and playing for a while and then returning to his favorite place to nap in the barnyard. I have watched him climb a gate to help one of the Anatolian Shepherds with their duties. One of his favorite jobs is to bark at the hawks that like to make slow looping passes to check out our free range chickens roaming throughout the farm. But Baloo rarely goes all the way back to the woods. That is why I was a little surprised to see a big fuzzy white dog walking the edge of the tree line as I did my usual walk around after school that afternoon. Baloo is an obedient fellow so I called his name a few times and began to count sheep in a side pasture. In a moment Baloo was by my side. I was surprised as I hadn’t heard the clang and thump noise that accompanies a trip over a gate. I glanced to the woods thinking I must have misjudged how far away he was when I called for him. The big fuzzy white dog was still at the edge of the woods. The Anatolian Shepherds have smooth white coats and a different gait so I knew it wasn’t one of them. I realized immediately that I’d better start locking up my own dogs so that I didn’t have a fight with a stray dog that seemed not to be threatening any of the livestock.
Each of our dogs is very territorial which is a good instinct when it comes to guarding livestock in a pasture. It can be a challenge when it is necessary to move the dogs around. Even the best of friends fight when they are not in their own pastures. I carefully shifted dogs around to pastures or into barns where they would not see the stranger. I called my sweet husband at work to tell him that I had a stray dog in the woods and was going down to try to catch him and then grabbed a lead rope out of the stable. I started back to the woods. The big stray noticed me and loped up the hill. I was cautious as I didn’t have a clue about the dog’s temperament. As the dog reached me he dropped to the ground. I slowly reached out with the rope thinking that perhaps I could gently trap him. He raised his head and waited for me to put the rope around his neck and then politely stood and walked to my side, ready for me to lead him somewhere.
He was thrilled as we walked through a pasture full of goats. He seemed so happy to be with livestock. I was a little apprehensive that he would walk through the back door of the old barn with me as he was not familiar with the building but he was quite the gentleman on the lead, carefully following me in with little coaxing. I took him into the stable and examined him. His hair was matted and he had some sort of wound on the side of his head. I knew better than to poke around at a wound on a strange dog. I prepared a bowl of food for him and put him alone in a stall with it and a bucket of fresh water. He was a bit underweight for his size but otherwise looked healthy. He tore into the food but wanted to rejoin me as soon as he was done. He was an enormous cuddly fellow, wrapping his front leg around my leg and leaning into my side. He whined when I left him to go back to the house. Over the next ten days I visited him in the stable often, frequently moving all of our dogs around so that I could take him for a walk among the goats. I asked him each day where he belonged but he never had an answer for me. I spent a fair bit of time gently picking blackberry brambles out of his pretty white coat. He even sat patiently for me to brush him. One time when I tried to clean the wound on the side of his head he reached around and gently grabbed my arm in his enormous mouth. He was tenderly telling me that he didn’t want me to do that. And he loved when I let Baloo into the stable for a time of wrestling and play.
The dog had no collar so we took him to our vet only to discover that he was not microchipped. My sweet and patient husband went to every farm within a few miles to ask if they were missing a dog. We called all the local vets and humane shelters. We placed an ad and a gentleman answered it. His dog had been gone for a few weeks. He lived about forty miles from us but it would not be unheard of for the dog to have been rescued or given a ride to end up at our place. The fellow came out and was disappointed that the dog was not his. I kept my students updated on each day’s developments with the dog. They loved speculating on his story as they did their daily weaving projects.
We eventually discovered that there is a Great Pyrenees rescue group in town and contacted them. We were asked if he had a double dew claw indicating that he was a purebred Pyr. He had the double dew claw. He was a fabulous dog. We knew from the outset that we did not need to add another dog to the six livestock guardians we already have. We were also adamant that we would find his owner or a very good home for him. The gentleman from the Pyr rescue was in constant contact trying to help us find his owner. When we finally convinced him that we could not keep the dog much longer he came out to the farm to meet the dog. He was taken with the well-mannered and gentle giant who had found us. After a few more days of checking and paperwork we surrendered the dog to the rescue. The fellow who runs the rescue decided to foster the dog himself and temporarily named him Ivan. The next day the gentleman brought his assistant with him to meet the dog. She agreed that he was amazing and the dog took to her immediately, letting her walk him around the front yard on a leash. They left all happily squeezed together in the front seat of a small pickup truck. He sent us several follow up reports on Ivan as he continued to look for Ivan’s home. We also continued to watch lost and found lists but never came up with anything. We were invited to visit Ivan in his new home and are confident that he has found a great place. We will just always wonder what kind of journey he had been on and how it was that he ended up in our tightly-fenced back pasture.
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