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Accidents happen, but dogs needn't be black sheep

Dog stories generally garner a lot of feedback. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's a happy story or a sad one, when the subject circles around canines, comments come rolling in.

A recent story about Chase, an Anatolian Shepherd, was no exception. The 3-year-old dog's job is to protect a prize herd of 25 African Boer goats living at the eight-acre farm owned by the Childers family in southeast Medford.

Dana Childers, a part-time veterinarian assistant and full-time mom and rancher, called us after she'd read a story about the damage done to a flock of sheep by marauding neighborhood dogs.

As a former vet assistant myself, I had some initial reservations about this story. I think it's great to give a dog a job. But they also need to be a valued member of the family. Not a four-legged, hairy commando saddled with the task of taking out cougars, coyotes or roaming bands of neighborhood dogs.

Happily, I felt better after witnessing firsthand how Childers and her family treat the 130-pound dog. Chase was brought to their farm to do a job. But he is well-socialized, properly cared for and obviously much beloved.

Still, while Childers wondered why more people didn't have their own Chase, my concerns remained. Under a different set of circumstances, this type of scenario easily could be a nightmare waiting to happen — not to mention a poor fate for man's best friend.

I'm still waiting to hear back in detail from the director of the West Coast chapter of the Anatolian rescue society. But she tells me they get many dogs turned in because they were not properly socialized. The site's pictures are heart-rending. I'm sure the stories are worse. Sadly.

Meanwhile, the calls and letters about Chase's story poured in. One man called to say his neighbors are breeding Anatolians. According to him, the dogs are dangerous slavering beasts who would love to take his head off. And vice versa.

It was bad enough when his neighbors had just a couple of these fiercely protective guard dogs. Now there are at least six monstrous offspring. The gargantuan pups had a nasty habit of savaging the owners' own goats until heavy tires were tied to the young dogs' necks to slow them down. Now they leave the goats alone — and content themselves with rushing the fence like Cujos run amok when our reader wanders down his driveway en route to retrieve his copy of the Mail Tribune.

"And they bark all night," he added.

Another letter complained that the dearth of Chases was due to the county actively trying to shut down farms using livestock guardian dogs.

Curious about the conflicting statements, I called Colleen Macuk, executive director of Jackson County Animal Care and Control.

Barking complaints are common, Macuk said.

"That's a big problem," she said.

People need to realize a large part of the dog's job is to bark when there is perceived danger to the flock.

"If people have these dogs in close proximity to neighbors, they are going to get barking complaints," Macuk said.

The agency also gets calls from concerned humaniacs like me who worry when they see a dog alone in a field, day and night. Night and day.

There's a dog in Central Point who has my sympathies. I was happy to see his owners finally put a dog house out on their tiny rocky hillside pasture for this magnificent fellow who watches over their few little goats.

Macuk said the dogs are bred to protect livestock. They do need consistent socialization and handling, and they also need regular vet care. But there is no law requiring they be treated as pampered lap dogs — or even sleep inside with the family. In fact, that could be confusing to the dog, she said.

"Most people who value stock and dogs take exceptional care of both," Macuk said. "But we do see more people who are breeding and selling these types of dogs, rather than participating in the actual use of the dogs."

The American Kennel Club's verbatim description of the Anatolian's temperament states the dog is: "Alert and intelligent, calm and observant. Instinctively protective, he is courageous and highly adaptable. He is very loyal and responsive. Highly territorial, he is a natural guard. Reserve around strangers and off its territory is acceptable. Responsiveness with animation is not characteristic of the breed. Overhandling would be discouraged."

They discourage overhandling? I hope no one believes that to mean these dogs can be tossed into a field and left to their own devices.

Anatolians (and Kuvasz, and Tibetan Mastiffs, and the host of other livestock dogs) were bred to work with a shepherd. This isn't the Looney Tunes cartoon where Sam the shaggy sheepdog clocks in and pounds the molasses out of Wile E. Coyote's equally inept wolf cousin, Ralph. Nary a human on scene — except for Mel Blanc's voice.

Macuk reports there have been local cases of livestock guard dogs seriously injured by packs of roaming dogs. Hmm. Dogs like the ones who attacked the sheep in Central Point, which lead to my writing about Chase?

Bottom line: No matter whether your dog's job is to lay belly-up on the couch or stand guard over your flocks, please be a responsible owner.

Reach Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.