This is Ray with “Angelo”, one of the two Maremma dogs we own(ed), and it’s time to tell some of this dog’s story.
On a warm and sunny Mother’s Day weekend in Fairbanks Alaska, 2014, Ray and I followed up on an ad we discovered in the Fairbanks Craigslist, to acquire the brother and sister Maremma puppies.
Our last dog, “Hank” had passed on earlier that winter of 2013/14, a much beloved Husky/Rottweiler mix of 16 years old. As we had decided to start a small dairy goat business on our farm, and had done much reading about this particular breed, finding these Maremmas seemed particularly providential! So Ray and I (Peggy) jumped into our jeep to drive to a landing to meet the breeders, who lived on a nearly remote farm in Ferry, a couple hours drive south on the Parks hiway.
The couple brought the pair to us from the 4-wheeler ATV, they had to ride on from their farm, and I have never been so immediately taken with puppies! They were roly-poly shaped, with extremely soft creamy white fur, I thought right away how they were such a pick-me-up, since Hank’s passing. I decided the female would be named TiraMiSu (Italian for ‘pick me up’-also the name of a tasty Italian desert) and the male we would name Angelo.
So the dogs were added to the 50 chickens, 7 ducks, 2 geese and 2 goats we already had, and as we knew they needed to be familiarized with the other livestock, we made their home in the fenced barn yard housing everybody else; this suiting them all very well!
The two of them grew very fast, and we saw that they had close regular vet care. It was at the clinic that Angelo at 4 months old, showed some pronounced aggressive biting behavior, while being gently treated. by the veterinarian, who then issued some stern warning about this problem. Seeing the behavior myself sent up a red flag in my mind, and I hoped that consistent training would circumvent any future biting, though I knew it was a very thin hope.
We loved and enjoyed brother and sister very much, and though I knew training a livestock guardian was different from a pet dog, I took it for granted that enough similarities would be present to bridge the gap in my education, but that belief was seriously flawed! Please give heed!
Known in Italy as Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, usually referred to as just Maremmano, it is the main job of these dogs to stay with flocks that are kept in wide open forested ranges, where there are many predators and few people. While shepherds put out some food for the dogs, like many dogs they are also avid and natural foragers, so they also kill off all kinds of wildlife that comes in the vicinity of their ‘packs’.
At our place here in the Goldstream Valley of Fairbanks, we live on the game trails which are frequented by fox, lynx, wolf and grizzly bears, along with eagles and hawks hunting our farm fowl. While we truly have no desire to see our dogs engage ANY wildlife, it certainly decreases the odds of that happening, when you own dogs that can and will continue to bark at all interlopers. Believe me; the painful pitch and decibels these dogs can produce, should make anybody vacate the premises, long before any attacks will occur !
Something that I later paid more attention to in my readings about our dogs; is that most breeders of Maremmas will only sell young adults, as it is their dam who gives some very critical schooling to the puppies, including ‘bite this, but DON’T bite that!’ Just reading about this, is no substitute for seeing for yourself! I can not understate the importance of being VERY familiar with this type of dog before you ever take one home! Please heed the warning in my own error of judgement. There are many pictures and videos showing this warm, soft beautiful dog laying amongst baby chicks, goat kids playing atop a dog laying in the sun, and other very idyllic scenes! You must learn first hand what makes this possible, and a consistent behavior!
By this winter, Angelo had grown to about 120 pounds. Tira was lighter, 1bout 105-110, and Ray thought it might be owing to Angelo eating all his food and Tira’s as well. Three days before Christmas, Ray went out to their pen to feed; first putting down Tira’s bowl close to her, then stood as a casual guard and put down Angelo’s food. We believe this might of triggered a sort of challenge of dominance, and Angelo growled and quickly bit Ray’s boot. Ray barked a “no”, and brushed him back, at which point Angelo growled even louder and literally stood up to Ray. Suddenly and unexpectedly Tira charged between the two of them and there ensued a savage fight, the kind of which is seen in movies of wild animals! We quickly stepped outside the gate, dumbfounded and scared and just watched. while they fought for at least five minutes; and only stopped when Angelo drew blood from a bite of Tira’s cheek. Afterwards both walking over to us, they came and sat down quietly by the gate.
For us, it was a frightening and profound experience, and I knew we were going to have some serious thought and prayer to consider this incident. By the next morning, Ray & I shared the feeling that the right and necessary thing to do was to have this beautiful dog, put down. With much difficulty we got Angelo into a kennel and onto the truck, and drove him to the borough animal shelter. Once checking him in, we unloaded in the back door where three young female handlers were stationed to receive him. It was a small quartered room and one technician tensely handed me a muzzle and a leash to put on my dog. After fitting them onto Angelo, I handed the end of the leash back to her while stepping away. She then gave a tug on the dog and though he stood up he planted himself close to me.
This was a heart breaking time for us all, but even so to my mind, in a picture, came the verse in the Bible when Jesus told people the Heavenly Father knows and cares for every single living creature, even little old sparrows! Surely God cares about this dog I thought, and quickly I believed I needed to address Angelo. I knelt down so as to speak to him eye to eye; he sitting back down to give me all his attention, this is exactly what I said:
“Angelo, let me tell you what is going to happen. These girls are going to take you to a room, where they will give you something, so you can take a nap. You are not here because you are unloved. No! Jesus loves you! Ray and I love you! You are here only because a consequence of sin, but NOT condemnation of sin! The lamb of God, shed his blood for ALL your sin and mine, so I have one last thing I will tell you to do!
When, you wake up from your nap, you will hear Jesus calling your name, and it’s okay for you to answer back, “”I am here!””, but then you must absolutely run to Him; run fast without any hesitation! Do as I say! Then remember, I and the family will be up to meet you later!”
After saying this, I saw his eyes and face relax. I stood up and again, the girl pulled lightly at his leash and he followed like a big happy dog!
It took a while to gain some perspective, but this incident turned it to my best Christmas ever. Also, because we are now celebrating Lent and the upcoming day of Resurrection (Easter), I think that it is very appropriate and even joyful story to tell now. I am very thankful to know that I will see my friend Angelo in heaven just as I pictured him with our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ! (And maybe some girls from the shelter!)
The Lord bless your reading of this article!