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Big dogs' life work is to be mellow

Lois Denny-Schwarz of Sams Valley holds Samantha, Suzy and Sabrina, 1-month-old puppies of a new breed she's developed called Alsatian shepalutes — a mix of German shepherd, Alaskan malamute and English mastiff. / Roy Musitelli — — — — Sams Valley woman's aim is an ideal pet

Lois Denny-Schwarz clutches to her bosom three puppies representing 20 years of breeding: Samantha, Suzy and Sabrina, fuzzy, wrinkle-browed 1-month-olds.

Some dogs will hunt. Others will guard things, catch bad guys, sniff out drugs. Not these. Sam, Suzy and Sabrina are bred to be ' destined to be ' pets.

Very large pets.

The 5-pound pups are Alsatian shepalutes, the newest members of a breed Denny-Schwarz has been developing since the mid-1980s. The dogs are bred to be large (more than 100 pounds) companion dogs with user-friendly dispositions and no bad habits (barking, jumping, digging).

Why bring a new breed into a world in which countless dogs are abandoned and euthanized each year?

— How many dog owners use their dogs for what they were bred for? Denny-Schwarz asks rhetorically.

She says dogs that were bred over centuries as hunting or working dogs have traits that were useful in bygone times but are undesirable in a world in which most dogs end up as suburban pets. That's why she's sought to breed affectionate, quiet pets with a wolfish look. The heritage is German shepherd dog, Alaskan malamute and English mastiff.

With their unique, yellow-eyed stare they appear to look right through you, Denny-Schwarz says.

When she lets 1-year-old Zorro and three other dogs out of the large kennel they share with several others behind her rural home near Sams Valley, they romp around like big kids. As he leaps an irrigation ditch, Zorro lands his 100-pound bulk with a graceful thud.

They're not very good jumpers, Denny-Schwarz says. And not very good watchdogs.

The adults stand 2 inches above a malamute and are about 6 inches longer. The two-layer coat is soft in the undercoat and thick across the shoulders, with guard hairs 4 or 5 inches long. The ears are round, small and set low on the head.

Denny-Schwarz has been breeding dogs for 40 years. She doesn't plan on seeking recognition of the breed from the American Kennel Club.

The kennel doesn't look like anybody's idea of a puppy mill. Denny-Schwarz says she breeds each female once. She gives the dogs their shots and provides veterinary care. She says she's sold or given away 15 puppies in two years.

But Donna Patnesky, a shelter technician at the Jackson County Animal Shelter, says she and other dog advocates have concerns about back-yard breeding of large dogs, if only because of their size.

From what I see, people don't want big dogs, she says. We get a lot because they're too big. Yards are smaller. People get buyer's remorse.

For small dogs, people break down our doors.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter euthanizes fewer than 10 adoptable dogs a year, she says.

One shepalute buyer is Dave Mason of Florence. The Masons have five large dogs as pets, including a shepherd and a black lab.

He's terrific, Mason says of Sampson, his shepalute of two years. He fits right in with the others. He's fun, he's gentle, and he gets along with the cats. We're very happy with him.

Another is Tom Hurley of Madras, who named his shepalute Rogue-Li.

They're good dogs, he says. She's pretty mellow.

Denny-Schwarz, 51, grew up near Oxnard, Calif., and moved to the Rogue Valley about five years ago. She was a 4-H kid who raised puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and bred and raised mice, rats and guinea pigs. When she took over care of the family's pigeons, rabbits, ducks and chickens, she would walk the ducks and chickens on cat leashes. She built a maze to conduct behavioral tests on family pets.

Before starting her own dog grooming, boarding and training shop in Oxnard, she served in the U.S. Air Force, ran a gas station, worked as a security guard and drove long-haul trucks. She taught dog grooming and obedience classes.

She's had no use for the American Kennel Club for years, once challenging it by trying to show a registered cocker spaniel that wasn't clipped (judges refused to let her show the dog).

Denny-Schwarz has written and published a book about the breed, Alsatian Shepalute's: A New Breed for a New Millennium. Visit , or e-mail shepalutes@aol.com.

Exotic breeds have appeared frequently in recent years. The labradoodle, for example, is sold as a hypoallergenic pet for people with allergies.

Lois Denny-Schwarz of Sams Valley holds Samantha, Suzy and Sabrina, 1-month-old puppies of a new breed she?s developed called Alsatian shepalutes ? a mix of German shepherd, Alaskan malamute and English mastiff. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune images