Saturday, May 26, 2012

Life in a Zoo The Real Thing: Kurye and Deer in the Front Yard

Our Front Yard

Can you see the three deer in the front yard?  Faline is on the left, Daisy has her backside to us, and Lily is facing us near the big white dog.

Deer can jump an eight-foot fence.  Our entire three-acre yard had a tall wooden fence to confine the deer.  We had four and five-foot fences in The Compound. The deer jumped these shorter fences at will to go wherever they wanted to go.

Notice, there is no grass in the yard. Part of the problem is that in 1987 our home burned to the ground and we never put in a lawn. But whatever plants we tried to plant, the deer quickly ate. 

I talked with our County Extension Agent about the kinds of things I could use for landscaping. I asked him for a list of plants the deer would not eat.  He said the list was very short.  Come to find out, the only thing they would not eat is Spanish Bayonet, a plant with long sharp spines!

The large white dog is Kurye (pronounced curry). He is the father if Ira, the Akbash Dog featured in The Thwarting of Mr. Dingsnapple.

Kurye was one of our Akbash Dogs.  This ancient breed of dog comes from Turkey.  I drove to Virginia to purchase him and then went on to Prince Edward’s Island in Canada to buy his mate, Canni (pronounced Johnny). At the time we got these dogs, they were extremely rare. There were fewer than 1,200 in the Western Hemisphere.

These dogs were extremely valuable to us.  They are livestock guarding dogs. Their purpose is to protect the livestock and keep predators away.  The beauty of these dogs is that they have great patience and will not hurt their animal charges.

But, they are murder on predators who try to come into the compound.  Before we got our Akbash dogs, we would lose one or two chickens a week throughout the winter.  Once the dogs came, that immediately stopped.

They were also very good at protecting our critters against local hunting dogs.  Hunters would turn their dogs loose several miles from our zoo. They would follow the scent of wild deer as they came through the woods and eventually came towards our place.  Dogs being what they are, as soon as they got scent of our eight pet deer they would change course and attack.

I’ll never forget the day when three hunting dogs showed up.  That was before we had our wooden fences, and we depended on wire fences to contain our critters.  I was in the compound with a young volunteer, Shane Franks when we heard the commotion.  Kurye and Canni bounded through the compound, leaped over the goat fence, and attacked the three dogs, who were trying to dig their way into the pen.

Everything happened so fast.  The dogs kept running back and forth, baying and trying to find a way into the compound.  Every time they split up and went in different directions, there was either Kurye or Canni; hackles raised and fangs bared, snarling and attacking.

In the mean time, all of our critters were in a panic. The eight deer bolted and tried to run away. We had one young buck that tried to leap over a six-foot gate, but missed and broke several teeth on the boards. 

He was wild-eyed. Blood spattered everywhere as I tried to restrain and calm him.  I knew I had to get him away from the gate before he killed himself on it. 

In the mean time, Shane managed to get out of the compound and chase down the dogs. Two of them finally ran away, but Shane had captured one.  We put the dog in the kennel. I checked his collar for an identification tag, and called the owner. Then I called the vet and the sheriff.

The owner of the dog came to our zoo. I showed him the hurt deer and explained it would cost $40 for the vet to come out.  He got belligerent with me and said it wasn’t his problem. I assured him it was his problem and he wasn’t getting his dog back until he paid for damages.

I wondered what I would do if he decided to shove past me to the kennel to get his dog. I suspect he was contemplating doing that very thing. 

Fortunately, the Deputy arrived just in time.  I showed him the injured deer and explained what happened.  I also pointed out that 500 acres of non-hunting forests surrounded our zoo.

The Deputy told the dog owner that he would be better off to pay me rather than risk going to court.  He pointed out that a similar thing had happened with the Auburn University Research Herd. The owner of the dogs who had gotten in and injured their deer ended up paying several thousand dollars in damages.

The man rummaged in his pockets and came up with the cash. After that incident, I guess the word was out.  From that point on, we never had a problem with hunting dogs coming through any more. 

What is a good livestock guarding dog worth?  Far more than the price of a puppy.

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