Noble, large, and formidable: That’s how shepherds and cattle ranchers view the Great Pyrenees, those gentle, fuzzy giants whose guard dog expertise is known and revered throughout the world. The breed hooked me and my husband from the get-go: They were so soulful and intuitive, occupying space in our hearts and stealing our souls.
Considered a giant breed by the American Kennel Club, the Great Pyrenees is one of the oldest breeds, dating back to 300 A.D. In the 17th century, King Louis XIV proclaimed them the dog of France. They are named for the Great Pyrenees Mountains that border Spain and France. The hardy dogs boast dual coats of a down-type undercoat covered by a second coat of guard hair that insulates them well from the elements. The Basque shepherds used them as livestock guardians. They are gentle with small or injured animals and small children, but they can be very formidable opponents if challenged or perceive a threat to their charges.
In WW II, they carried contraband over the mountains to allied forces. Today, they are predator control animals. They have been known to take on bears and wolves — and win. In the Rocky Mountains of Montana where some have patrolled to protect sheep and cattle from attack by wolves they greatly minimized livestock losses.
While guarding livestock, the Great Pyrenees usually ambles along or rests as the herd grazes. If a predator comes, they bark, circle, and attack. This is one canine breed that takes its charges very seriously.
They are an imposing sight: Males can weigh 150 pounds or more and stand 27 to 30 inches at the shoulder. Females can weigh 85 pounds up to 125 pounds and stand 22 to 28 inches at the shoulder. They are predominately white, though up to a third of their body can be a color, such as wolf-gray, tan, reddish brown, or badger.
Because they are guardians, they often don’t tolerate other dogs. Some may perceive others as intruders, and they are hard-wired to keep intruders away. Some are compatible with other dogs, but it’s not recommended to have two of the same sex residing in the same place at the same time.
These dogs know through perception what needs to happen in many situations. They are wonderful family companions and probably the best babysitter you’ll ever have. They are loving, but they are also very big, shed a lot, bark a lot, and they are diggers.
Having secure fences is must, as these are not off-leash dogs; because they are often patrol perimeters, they will travel until they hit a perimeter and have been known to go up to 25 miles in a day. Around here, we say that a Great Pyrenees off-leash is a Dis’A’Pyr. They do tend to be nocturnal, because that’s usually when predators are present; however, they can easily adapt to a companion or house routine and still guard the goats and chickens in the yard. It’s as if they have built-in radar into their heads.
While they enjoy space for running and guarding, they just want to be with you most of the time if they aren’t guarding livestock. People ask me whether they need a big yard, and the answer is no. However, having a big couch is a must.
For the past 28 years (in September) I will have been doing rescue work for abused, abandoned, unwanted, sick, and broken Great Pyrenees and Great Pyrenees mixes. Our kennel that was once filled with show dogs are now populated with dogs that are homeless and need help.
I assess each dog, administer medications, and physical care. I work with them to give them the training and confidence they didn’t come with. I promise every one that passes through these doors a better life — and it’s a promise I intend to keep.
I promise these dogs that they will be loved and cared for and will be able to finally rest in the arms of someone who loves them. I comfort the frightened, help the weary rest comfortably, feed the hungry, heal the injured, and hold tenderly the ones that pass on.
Every day is a labor of love. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I love it so much.
Each morning, the dogs enjoy fresh cooked chicken with their kibble. I enrich their lives with things that they have never enjoyed before coming here. Volunteers walk them every day, and they spend lazy afternoons either coming and going through the kennel dog doors at will, settling in on a nice above ground cot outside where they can enjoy the goings on around the yard or resting inside the centrally heated and air conditioned kennel.
I’m not sure how long I will be able to continue to do this work, but I will for as long as I can. Because, while I understand that I may have helped over 2,500-plus dogs, each one has taught me something about myself. One can learn a lot from the animals by just watching and listening.
So I’m not sure who rescued whom, but I can tell you that the Lord and I have had a discussion about my retirement. He is on notice that when my time is done here not to expect me to take care of any more dogs … no feeding, walking, or grooming. I do expect there will be quite a welcoming committee at the “bridge” when I get there.
I may not have changed the world, but I hope that I’ve made it a little better than the way I found it.
Pam Tobin is the president and rescue chair of the Sierra Pacific Great Pyrenees Club Inc. in Granite Bay, and you can learn more at SPGPC.com. A devoted dog person from childhood, she has bred, owned, and shown many types of dogs and even produced champions in varied disciplines. These days, she and her husband champion the Great Pyrenees.
Main article photo by: Photo by kacyjones84-istock