August 15, 2010

The Hard Lives of Livestock-Protection Dogs

At Querencia, Cat Urbigkit, who with her husband has a sheep ranch in western Wyoming, describes the rescue of a lost livestock-protection dog, now named Evita, along with a juvenile osprey. (Their stories are updated here.)
This young dog had recently had pups, was battling a raging internal infection, and was very weak, her unkempt coat full of tags and discharge. I couldn’t get her image out of my mind as I drove home making calls trying to be sure none of my sheepmen friends were missing a dog. None were, and she had been picked up in a fairly remote mountainous region. It was obvious she hadn’t been cared for in a very long time.
It's wolf country, and livestock-protection dogs are one of her major concerns. Now the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board has agreed to fund her and her husband to travel through parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia—other areas that still have wolves and sheep—"to interview livestock producers who use livestock protection dogs in areas of dense wolf and bear populations to learn what they are doing there that might be of assistance to producers in similar situations here in Wyoming."

Lots of people considering the issue of wolves in the West have been happy to see big fluffy dogs on the job. Problem solved, right? And everyone loves doggies.

But as she candidly admits, "The livestock protection dogs (LPDs) we’ve been using have worked wonderfully against smaller and medium-sized predators, especially coyotes, but when it comes to larger carnivores, our dogs have been taking a beating – too many of our dogs have been killed while guarding their herds."

It happened again last week near Evanston, Wyoming: two Great Pyrenees livestock dogs took on a wolf, and the dogs lost.

I am not that connected to ranching—that is more in the Canadian side of my family. But I do like to wear wool and occasionally eat lamb. And I find this aspect of "dog culture" fascinating, perhaps because it speaks to why we live with them in the first place.

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