Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life in a Zoo the Fictional Version: Ira the Akbash Dog

How would you feel if a giant dog whose shoulders came up to the height of your dining room table came charging at you out of the dark?  If you were on a sheep ranch or a farm, you might encounter such an animal, and it would be well worth your time to get out of his way.

Canni nursing a young fawn

There is a chance that you have encountered an Akbash dog. Akbash is a Turkish word meaning “white faced dog”. It is the name of an ancient rare breed of dog from Turkey. hey have been used for thousands of years as a guardian for sheep and goats.

This is a LGD, Livestock Guarding Dog. They do not herd the sheep, moving them from place to place.

They live with the sheep, following the flock wherever it goes. The main thing they do is guard the sheep from predators.  They become, in essence, a big mean sheep!

Akbash dogs are highly prized because they will not hurt their charges.  Many guard dogs will actually attack and kill livestock, but not these dogs.  That makes them ideal for their work.

We bought our first Akbash dogs after someone cut the fence in our compound and stole our first miniature donkey.  My male was an eight-month-old pup I found in Virginia. At the same time, I continued with some friends to Prince Edward’s Island in Canada and purchased a grown female. At that time there were fewer than 1,200 Akbash dogs in the western hemisphere.

These two dogs were perfect for life in my zoo.  The male, Kurye, needed no training. He knew exactly what to do. Kurye is a Turkish word that means “sacred guardian”. He had thick short hair, a broad skull, and powerful shoulders. On his hind legs he would almost reach the top of  our six-foot gate with his forepaws.

Canni, the female had a bit longer hair, rather like a golden retriever. She was more slender and streamlined like a greyhound.  Canni is a Turkish word meaning “beloved”.

Both of these dogs immediately took to all of our critters. They slept with them, ate with them, and protected them. They loved and nurtured any type of baby animal on in the zoo. They would lick and clean them and follow them everywhere.

Here is Canni suckling an orphan fawn. Although we bottle-fed him daily, he still wanted to suckle. She had just weaned her own puppies, but still had a bit of milk. She nursed, cleaned and cared for this fawn until he was completely grown.  Although we weqn puppies around five to six weeks, fawns nurse for some six months.

Before we got them, we had a problem with predators. At night weasels, foxes, bobcats and other varmints would come into our compound and steal a chicken.  No matter what we did, every few days we would find a clump of feathers or parts of an eaten bird.

Once the Akbash came, that stopped. We would hear them barking in the night as they kept the varmints from entering our compound. 

As we acquired more and more animals, we added more pens.  Joe had built a large pen just outside our main compound.  Kurye could get to every animal pen except that one because it had an eight-foot fence across the front. The new part was only five feet tall.

One night he was barking and having a fit, clawing at the back compound gate to get out.  I ran out and opened the gate. He ran across our back yard, jumped over the four-foot fence and charged down the edge of the field until he got to the back of the new turkey pen. He jumped that five-foot fence and ran to the base of a tree where a turkey hen was nesting.

Snarling, he attacked. I was shocked, thinking he had attacked the turkey. He shook his victim, dropped it, and shook it again. He dropped it a second time, and then trotted over to me with a wag. He had just killed a large possum!  From then on, we made sure to let him out when he wanted to get out.

Ira is the name of the Akbash dog in The Thwarting of Mr. Dingsnapple. One of Kurye’s sons was named Ira.  The dog in the story is abased on Kurye’s personality, but I decided that Ira would be an easier name for my readers to use.

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