Showsight Presents the Great Pyrenees

NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE by JANET INGRAM

M any years ago, long before a kennel was built or the many acres were fenced, I had two Great Pyrenees; Maggie (two years old) and Molly (seven months old). Very late one evening I had them out in the yard on leashes for their last walk before bed- time. A car drove by with three men in it. They started throwing out beer cans and then the window was low- ered and one of them yelled “Hey lady, what kind a dogs are those?” I ignored them and started walking back towards the house. They then backed up and pulled into my driveway. As the back door started to open, I said, “You are on private property…do not get out of the car.” He continued out and sud- denly I felt one of the leashes go slack. I looked down and found that Maggie had backed completely out of her choke collar. Before I could react, she was run- ning toward the car. Just as he reached the back of the car, Maggie jumped up, putting her paws on his shoulders, pushed him backwards onto the trunk and held him there. I walked over, slipped the collar back around her neck and pulled her off. Needless to say, he was back in the car and off in a flash. Her behavior that night is typical of what these dogs can and will do to pro- tect. I thought she was magnificent. She never put her mouth on him and she was willing to leave him when I asked her to. Maggie lived to be 12 years old and that was the first and last time she ever got out of a collar. Although had

there ever been another need, I have no doubt she could and would have. That was my personal experience but over the years I have heard numerous other heroic stories of other Pyrs. The Pyr that moved between a toddler and a rattlesnake and took the bite. The Pyr that moved his sheep to safety before the barn burned to the ground. The Pyr that alerted his owners to a house fire. There are many, many stories of these dogs, doing what they were bred to do, that we never hear about. All the work- ing Pyrs that keep their livestock safe every day. The therapy dogs that spend hours in nursing homes and hospitals connecting with and comforting the patients; working with patients who are relearning motor skills. The reader dogs that are a highlight at many librar- ies. The assistance or service dogs that make their owners’ lives easier. And last but not least, the Pyrs that bring joy and companionship to their owners every day. I was in the Pyrenees Mountains of France last year and was fortunate to come upon two young Pyrs moving a large flock of sheep down the moun- tain. It was a sight to behold! The only level terrain was the roadway and the dogs and sheep were moving down the middle of the road in spite of the automobiles, cyclists, and the horses and cows that also roam the mountain- side there. And they were doing it all on their own, all alone with no shep- herd around. Of course, I got out of the car to take pictures. They were not

alarmed by my presence or aggressive in any way. They continued to calmly move along, dropping back occasion- ally to move a stray sheep back into the group. They never approached me nor would they take food from one of the cyclist who offered it as he was trying to move through. They were intent on doing their job. Seeing these dogs in their native country, doing the job they have been bred to do for centuries, brought tears to my eyes. It is a moment in time that I will never forget and one I hope to see again on future trips to the mountains. Great Pyrenees take their name from the mountain range in southwestern Europe, where they have long been used as guardians of the flocks. The breed likely evolved from a group of principally white mountain flock guard dogs that originated ten or eleven thou- sand years ago in Asia Minor. It is very plausible that these large white dogs arrived in the Pyrenees Mountains with their shepherds about 3000 BC. There they encountered the indigenous peo- ple of the area, one of which were the Basques, descendants of Cro-Magnon Man. In the isolation of the Pyrenees Mountains over these millenniums, the breed developed the characteris- tics that make it unique to the group of flock guardian dogs in general and the primarily white members of the group. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the state of the breed had deteriorated because there were very few natural predators left in the mountains and the

382 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , S EPTEMBER 2018

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