Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Introducing Maia, the Roman Goddess of Spring

I am new to livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), so even little things surprise me. I met Becca yesterday to pick up Maia, a maremma with something of a sad recent past. The surprise to me was that when I walked Maia out into the pasture on a leash, the sheep immediately walked up to us. They didn't come within touching distance, but it was quite clear that they were curious about Maia, and not quite afraid of her. If she turned toward them, they'd move back, but if she looked the other way, they'd inch closer to give her the once over. If I had done the exact same thing with one of my border collies, those sheep would have headed for the back 40!

These photos were taken last night, which is why they are rather dark.

So here's Maia's story. As a youngster she was dropped off at a farm with her sister. They had apparently been unhandled as youngsters and then literally dropped out of cages into the new owner's field where they worked with the Great Pyrenees guard dogs already there. Later, the farmer sold his place and also all the livestock. The problem was that he couldn't catch Maia or her sister. So he told the folks on the neighboring farms that the new owners of his place had livestock and the two maremma would stay there. The thing is that the new owners didn't move in for three months, not to mention they had no livestock. Of course, the former owner was long gone by then. Maia and her sister eventually left the home pasture and began patrolling the perimeters of the neighboring farms, most of which had horses. Several people fed them, but no one handled them, and the dogs were pretty much on their own for six months. The neighboring farms didn't really mind the dogs being there--they had run off the coyotes and a pack of domestic dogs in an area of about a square mile. But at some point the husband of one of the people feeding the dogs called animal control. Animal control tried to get the land owners who were feeding the dogs to give them permission to set traps for them. These kindhearted souls feared what would happen to the dogs once they were captured, so they contacted someone they knew who did rescue work, and a notice about the dogs was posted on a border collie forum I'm a member of.

My friend Becca, who's also on that forum, contacted the folks who were feeding the dogs and made arrangements to go catch them. The capture was a success, and Becca took both dogs back to her place. The more stand-offish of the two is the one she decided to keep and work with. She named her Minerva, and Min is now working along with Becca's two other LGDs.

Maia had been called Gypsy, but when Becca told me she'd named the sister after a Roman goddess (maremmas are an Italian breed), I decided to give Gypsy a goddess name too, and Maia just appealed to me. Maia is the goddess of spring and of rebirth, and I saw this chance to have new homes as treasured working dogs a sort of rebirth for them as well, so I think the name fits. She's on the small side, just 75 pounds, likely the result of poor nutrition and multiple pregnancies in her earlier life. Given how she spent the past six months, she's in remarkably good shape.

Becca kept Maia for a couple of weeks, had her vetted (and spayed) and made sure she was okay with cats and with lambs. I brought her home yesterday. Jimmy is not real thrilled because he doesn't like the fact that the neighboring alpaca farm's two pyrenees bark all night long, but I'm hoping Maia will confine her barking to real threats. She has met Twist and Lark while they worked sheep, and JellyBean came by her tie out and while she acknowledged his presence, she basically ignored him, which is a good thing (I don't mind if she wants to chase stray cats out of the pasture, but she needs to know JellyBean is part of the farm and not to be bothered).

For now, she'll stay on a tie out. She has an appointment with my vet next Monday to have her spay sutures removed and just a general check. After that, I'll try her off the tie out and just with a long line (so I can catch her--although she's friendly enough, unlike her sister, that I don't think catching her will be an issue). The sheep have been spending some time hanging around with her, so I'm hoping the bonding is already in process.

This picture was taken around noon today, when Maia hasn't been here quite 24 hours. The sheep still move away if she moves toward them, but if she's just lying quietly, they'll come lie near her. Wish Maia luck that she makes a place for herself here at Willow's Rest.


~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

That is so cool! I want one!
Seriously, if I am ever to get a LGD (I always think of Large Guard Dog rofl) it will be maremma. They are so beautiful and I have heard nothing but good about them. Good luck Maia!

Julie said...

I've wanted an LGD for some time now, but always put it off because I didn't want the extra work involved. I think fate pretty much brought Maia to me, and I'm looking forward to learning about "large guard dogs" from her!