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Note:
This is a story related by famous historian, Dee Brown.

The story took place at a time when many people had no idea what a livestock guardian dog was; most sheepdogs were actually herders.

The Turkish Ambassador overhears at a formal White House dinner, Americans are doing research to find the best sheepdog breed; he answers this has already been determined, "The best sheep dog is our Turkish sheep dog".   After you read how the dogs are described you will know that he was obviously referring to the coban kopegi, the shepherd's dog, which we currently know as the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.


Dog Days -by Dee Brown 
(first published in Choban Chatter Vol 4, No 1&2 with permission from The Washington Post, Aug 1993)

JUST BEFORE WORLD WAR II, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT CONDUCTED A TOP-SECRET EXPERIMENT IN A BELTSVILLE LABORATORY TO FIND THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHEEP DOG. NOW AT LAST, THIS SHAGGY TALE CAN BE TOLD.

At one time or another, it seems, most famous Americans have had a brush with Washington. Some stayed. Some moved on. For Dee Brown, author of 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' and numerous other books, 15 years in the city was enough.

Just out of Arkansas State Teachers College, Brown came to the capital in 1931. Washington was knee-deep in the Great Depression. He worked as an elevator operator, a custodian and a gas station attendant. He also oversaw curbside service at one of the city's first Hot Shoppes. Eventually he began to take night courses at George Washington University's library school and landed a Position as a librarian for the Food and Drug Administration, which at the time was a division of the Department of agriculture.

In this excerpt from his memoirs, “When the Century Was Young.- A Writer's Notebook,” he recalls one of his most remarkable Washington experiences.

THOSE WERE EXHILARATING TIMES in Washington during the early 1930s. President Roosevelt surrounded himself with several brilliant men and women of good intentions, as well as a few eccentrics who made life interesting. During this same period, the voters out in the states were electing congressmen several notches above the old-line politicians who had let the country slide into economic stagnation and despair.

Most of these lively newcomers to the federal government made themselves available in frequent meetings large and small, so that everyone ir, Washington had a sense of participation in the various New Deal programs that we seriously believed were keeping the nation from collapsing.

One enterprise that especially appealed to me was the Federal Writers' Project. If I had not been fortunate enough to receive promotions and transfers into better jobs within the Department of Agriculture library system, I would have made an earnest effort to join the Writers' Project, which eventually created a considerable body of badly needed American source materials, including those wonderful Work Projects Administration guide-books to the states. After more than half a century, these books are so esteemed that most of them are kept continuously in print.

Several friends worked in the Writers' Project, so that I was often invited to their Sunday gatherings and occasional weekend jaunts and hikes into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Best remembered are Ben Botkin, the folklorist; Jack Conroy, the proletarian author and editor; Jerry Mangione, who eventually wrote the project's history; John Cheever, before he became famous; and Vardis Fisher, who occasionally came in from Idaho.

I admired these people, and it was largely through knowing them that I began submitting manuscripts to the numerous 'little magazines' that were springing up to set the world to rights. A short story I wrote that was based upon experiences at a drive-in barbeque was published in one of them and noticed by a literary agent, Mavis Macintosh. An inquiry from her as to whether I might have a novel in progress inspired me to start one immediately.

I decided to try a satire on the burgeoning bureaucracy of New Deal Washington. Compared with our present governmental bureaucracy -- which is so pervasive that it would be impossible to satirize -- the New Deal's was a fairly lighthearted state of confusion rather than total bedlam. The phenomenon of bumbledom was new to almost everybody, and I thought it had its amusing aspects. And so in a novel I pummeled the government in a broad way. During the months that followed, my novel and World War 11 moved simultaneously into unforeseen climaxes.

JUST AS I WAS beginning to devise a plot and develop the characters, I received a promotion and was transferred to the Beltsville Research Center. My assignment was to build a library from scratch to serve several different research stations and laboratories spread across a wide expanse of Maryland countryside. This new responsibility, of course, slowed down my literary endeavors.

The four years that I worked in the Beltsville library were the most interesting of the various periods I spent in federal agencies' Scientists in the biology, chemical and medicinal fields were on the verge of discoveries that would bring immense changes not only to American agriculture but in many other areas of American life. A sense of exciting discovery was evident among many of the people I worked with, and this acted as a spur for us to furnish them with the best informational service that we could.

Because they expected to be kept up to date in their various endeavors, we circulated a large number of current scientific journals and newly published books. To keep these publications moving about the research center, we first tried a motorcycle. In order to keep in touch with the scientists that I was serving, I frequently joined our motorcycle driver in his reckless deliveries to the scattered laboratory buildings. Hunkered down in the sidecar with heaps of books and journals piled around and on me, I more than once thought as we sped along, What a hell of a way to run a library. But I met several fascinating researchers, some of whom were making their marks in the world of scientific agriculture.

There were also frequent visitors from everywhere around the world, as well as magazine writers and photographers in search of stories. The most famous columnist who came occasionally was Eleanor Roosevelt, looking for interesting things at Beltsville to put into her syndicated column, "My Day.” Mrs.Roosevelt did not always get the correct spin on the research that was revealed to her, and the Beltsville administrators, who were always eager for good publicity that might bring additional appropriations from Congress, were sometimes uneasy about her comments.

For a year or so, one research project was kept off limits to Mrs. Roosevelt and to almost everyone else. I would probably have known very little about the Sheep Dog Project had I not taken a sidecar journey over there one day and won the confidence of Dr. Morton, the chief, and his animal psychologist, Dr. Katz.

A few weeks later, I learned about the Turkish sheep dogs that came very near creating an international incident in the critical days just before our entry into World War II.

MY FIRST awareness of these Turkish dogs came one morning when Dr. Morton swept suddenly into my office in the Beltsville library. Morton's specialty had been sheep breeding, but he had been drafted into the Dog Project by the secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace. Secretary Wallace was an extraordinary man, as were most of the New Dealers. He had a large role in the development of hybrid corn, a triumph of genetics, and after he became Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture he kept up his interest in the transmission of genetic traits.

Wallace liked dogs. believed them to be unusually intelligent animals, and decided to establish a project at Beltsville in which their intelligence traits could be studied through many succeeding generations. He knew that Congress would never appropriate money for so pure a scientific project as this; therefore he disguised it as research to determine what breed of dog was the most efficient sheep dog. In those days man-made fibers were in their infancy, and almost every state in the Union had numerous sheep raisers who were hard at work producing honest wool. They were all interested in good sheep dogs. Wallace named this research program the Sheep Dog Project, and as further camouflage he placed the chief sheep husbandman, Dr. Morton, in charge of it.

The morning that Morton entered the Beltsville library, his face was flushed, he was short of breath, and obviously in desperate need of some specific Piece of information. When People appear in a library in such condition, librarians usually wince inwardly. Overeager seekers of information tend to follow one about, peering over one's shoulder as the search goes on. Librarians have precious few trade secrets, and some of them may inadvertently be revealed to a client who is desperate and in a hurry.

“I'm looking for a parasitic worm,” Morton explained, “Cestode, probably, I must identify it right away.” The problem seemed simple until he added: “Not known in this country. Probably Middle Eastern, Turkey.” He was still breathing hard. “Very dangerous, they say. When transmitted to humans.”

By one of those strokes of luck that keep reference librarians from losing their jobs, I found what Morton was looking for in a thick old volume that had been published early in the century. He peered at a drawing of a cobra-shaped worm and read the legend beneath it. “I was afraid of that,” he said, shaking his head. “The Turks won't like it if we have to destroy one of their dogs.”

I knew about the Scottish border collies and the Hungarian pulis over at the Dog Project, but Turkish dogs were something new. “Whose dogs? Turks, you said?" I asked, but Morton was already in motion, his fingers thrust into the book to hold the proper page, as he disappeared through the entranceway.

It was a fine sunny day, and as soon as the noon break came, I collected my sack lunch and bottle of milk from the biological chemist's refrigerator down the hall and set out for the Dog Project on the adjacent rise, In those days Beltsville was rolling meadows and trees, and if we didn't play an inning of softball during the lunch hour we usually walked somewhere to see what was happening in other areas of the search center.

With appropriations received from Congress, Secretary Wallace had already built two rows of kennels, with exercise yards adjoining. and the Scottish border collies and Hungarian pulis were well into their second and third generations. As I walked past I could see that all pens were occupied, and I wondered where space could be found for another breed of dogs, At one end of the kennels was a small office building. The first door bore it sign: JUNIOR DOG KENNELMAN AND UNDER DOG KENNELMAN, (These are actual job nomenclature titles and can be found in the Civil Service Commission's list of government options for the 1930s, but would be considered sexist today.)

The office of the junior dog kennelman and under dog kennelman was empty. The kennelmen were probably over in the sheep pasture testing some of the dogs. The next door was labeled DR. KATZ, He was in and was just opening up his lunch. On the wall behind him was a large handmade poster with dozens of names of dogs laid out in genealogical charts.

At that time Dr. Katz had not yet changed his name, but a few months later he did. The Dog Project had a daily round of visitors from all over the country, some of them being accornpanied by Secretary Wallace. Several times each day whoever might be conducting the visitors would gleefully say to them: “This is Dr. Katz, the dogs' psychologists”. After suffering the inevitable repeated joke about Katz and dogs until he could no longer endure their monotony, Katz had his name legally changed.

He was an energetic, enthusiastic, very jolly young man who knew every one of the dogs in his care as thoroughly as a mother knows the individualities of her children. He was especially fond of the Hungarian pulis, and could tell very amusing stories about their cleverness. “They are too intelligent, really,” he would say. “Like most sensitive personalities they have days of moodiness. At such times they tend to neglect their duties and permit the sheep to stray. Hungarian pulis just don't make good bureaucrats. They get bored watching dumb sheep sleep all day. I think they would like to do something creative if we would only let them. I'm working on it.”

I told him about Dr. Morton and the parasitic worm. “What's all this about Turkish dogs?” I asked.

“You haven't heard about the Turkish sheep dogs?” he asked. “No, I suppose not. We just learned about them yesterday. Secretary Wallace handled the details himself, and he's been too busy to keep us informed.”

Katz proceeded to fill in the background, referring occasionally to a heap of letters and cablegrams that had been sent out from Washington. As he did not seem to mind, I scanned a few of them while he talked. Some weeks before, Wallace had attended a formal White House dinner where he was seated next to the Turkish ambassador. During the dinner he happened to mention the Dog Project, explaining that one of its objectives was to determine what breed made the best sheep dog.

“But that has already been determined,' declared the Turk. “The best sheep dog is our Turkish sheep dog.”

Wallace confessed his ignorance. “I was not aware of the Turkish breed,” he said.

“Perhaps that is because we consider them to be so valuable that we do not export them from Turkey,” the ambassador replied. “However, in the interest of science which is international, perhaps I can arrange for a male and a female to be obtained for your project.”

“That would be splendid,” said Wallace politely, and then soon afterward forgot all about the conversation. During the next few weeks he was away from Washington much of the time, making speeches in the agricultural states in support of Roosevelt's embattled farm programs. He was not available, therefore, the day a mysterious cablegram was received in one of the offices of the State Department:

HOLDING TWO TURKISH SHEEP DOGS ISTANBUL REQUIRE CUSTODIAN BEFORE SHIPMENT CAN BE AUTHORIZED UNITED STATES

The message was signed by a Turkish port official, but the State Department people evidently believed it to be some kind of code. They bucked it around, hoping it would reach an official who might understand it, until at last somebody decided to telephone the Turkish Embassy for a clarification.

After some delay, the ambassador himself explained the situation. He had personally arranged for the gift of a male and a bitch to be sent from Turkey to the Department of Agriculture's Sheep Dog Project. Animals as rare and valuable as Turkish sheep dogs, he insisted, would require a full-time attendant for so long a sea voyage. Perhaps an American naval vessel might be cruising somewhere in the vicinity of Istanbul?

No, he was informed politely, none of the U.S. Navy's ships was available at the time, and even if one had been, the State Department could scarcely order an admiral to take a pair of dogs under his command.

The problem was one for the Turkish government and the Department of Agriculture's Sheep Dog Project to resolve between them. At this juncture the State Department washed its hands of the affair by sending the cablegram over to Secretary Wallace's office for action. Wallace was not there, of course, and as none of his assistants knew anything at all about the dogs, the message was put in a suspense file to await his return. About a week later another cablegram arrived in Washington from Istanbul:

TURKISH SHEEP DOGS DEPARTED THIS DATE IN CUSTODY TWO SAILORS ABOARD SS OCHRIDA. BOTH IN GOOD HEALTH.

When Wallace read this one during a short stopover in Washington between speeches, he apparently made no comment to anyone in his office, nor did he find time to notify the Sheep Dog Project about the forthcoming arrivals. He may have called the Turkish ambassador to thank him and perhaps comment on the health of the dogs and/or sailors, but there was no record of it. During succeeding weeks, cables arrived at Wallace's office from Italy, North Africa and Spain-wherever the steamship Ochrida happened to put into port-each one giving brief descriptions of the sheep dogs' dispositions, their appetites, weight and coat conditions. Then finally a telegram came from New York, announcing their arrival on American soil, their passage through customs, and the approximate time they would reach the Beltsville Research Center. A few hours later the Dog Project heard for the first time of the Turkish sheep dogs. Dr. Morton immediately notified the official station veterinarian, and the two men met the express train that brought the Turkish dogs into the quiet Maryland railroad stop.

Tests on the male showed that he was in perfect health, as the cables had claimed, but the bitch was afflicted with that rare and dangerous cestode which Morton later identified in the library. This was as much as Dr. Katz could tell me, and he was not surprised by my informing him that Dr. Morton had left the library in a distraught condition, clutching the book on parasites in his hand.

Next day I happened to meet Morton in the parking lot. "How is the Turkish bitch doing?” I asked.

“Not good, not good,” he replied.

“Can't the veterinarian rid her of that parasite?”

He shook his head. "Not positively without risking her life. But we're calling in a research man from a private laboratory--he's supposed to have something new. You know, we simply must admit that bitch to our Sheep Dog Project or we're going to cause international trouble. The Turkish ambassador is pressing us for news photographs and a big publicity release about the universality of science and the part Turkey has played in advancing knowledge by presenting us with these dogs. The Turks have gone to a lot of trouble and expense to get the dogs to us, and if we destroy the bitch they'll think we're not decent people." He sighed and shook his head again sadly. "With that war heating up again in Europe,' he added, 'everybody knows we're bound to get involved, and we'll need all the friends we can find around the world. We can't afford to anger the Turks.”

"What does Secretary Wallace think about the problem?”

“He doesn't know about it. He's out in the Nebraska farm country mending political fences. I talked with his wife last night, and she says I'd better not let the veterinarian destroy that dog before Henry comes back to Washington.”

I could see that Morton was becoming distraught again. He looked as if he hadn't slept for two days.

“Perhaps you can keep the bitch in quarantine indefinitely,” I suggested. 'That would be complicated,” he replied solemnly. "She's pregnant.”

Fortunately, the Dog Project's last hope, the research scientist from out of town, saved the situation. He had a new and secret chemical formula for completely eliminating internal parasites, and after a three-way telephone conversation with Secretary Wallace on the line from Nebraska, it was decided to risk the formula on the Turkish bitch. After a few days, results were pronounced satisfactory, and the veterinarian admitted both animals to the Sheep Dog Project. It was a gala occasion, with newspaper photographers and the Turkish ambassador present for the formalities.

ONE MORNING not long afterward I went over to the kennels to have my first look at the Turkish sheep dogs. I had to wait several minutes in a line of curious people outside the exercise yard. The Turks were housed in the largest of the kennels. A length of heavyweight wire fencing had been hastily fastened over the original thin wire. But even this added safeguard did not forestall a sudden jab of awe that seemed to affect each spectator when he or she first saw the dogs. They were gigantic, about the size of young colts. Their coats were dull gray and they had large bushy tails; their heads were wolflike and their feet were great heavy pads as large as dinner plates.

After several days, the commotion over the arrival of the Turkish sheep dogs gradually died down , but it was revived when the bitch gave birth to 12 puppies. It was not so much the number of the litter but rather the size of offspring that aroused comment. I found Dr. Katz staring moodily at the puppies in their sunny yard, an area that had been more than adequate for the collies and pulis but was far too small for these 12 young giants, padding about on feet already as large as saucers.

“They’re bigger than most full-grown dogs,” I said.

“And no discipline,” Katz commented. “Absolutely no discipline.” The young Turks, were squirming about like monstrous worms, mouths open until they touched a neighboring ear or flesh, whereupon the jaws would clamp shut savagely. “This litter is very late establishing a chain of dominance -- pecking order, you know. Until a chain is established, their anarchistic tendencies will keep the veterinarian busy patching up wounds."

The dogs paused momentarily as if they had overheard, staring at us in an unusually hostile manner. Katz shouted a jolly profanity at them, but there was a troubled look in his eyes.

“What did you do with the young pulis you had in here?” I asked.

“That's another problem,” Katz said. “We had to move them over to the sheep barn. These Turks are crowding us out.”

One might have thought that Katz and Morton, like proper government bureaucrats, would have been happy to have their project grow so rapidly. Instead, each time I saw them, they had bitter complaints to make about the Turks. The overcrowding was making all the dogs and the men who worked with them very nervous and irritable.

Some weeks after the birth of the Turkish pups, Katz showed up in the library in search of all the data we could find on nutrient requirements for dogs. For an hour or more he scribbled into a notebook; then he came into my inner office to light up his pipe. 'We're in real trouble," he said. “The Turks' food consumption is rising exponentially. The 12 pups are eating more than all the other dogs combined. By the end of this month we'll be completely out of rations."

“Can't Secretary Wallace set up an emergency fund for you?” I asked.

“No. There's a temporary freeze on because of the military crisis. Dr. Morton persuaded the director of the center to shift some sheep funds to carry us another month, and then he sent a memo to the secretary's office suggesting that the Turks be sold as government surplus in order to save the rest of the Dog Project. But the administrative people are afraid that would offend the Turkish government.” He shook his head gloomily.

'What're you going to do now?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I'd hoped we might be able to borrow foodstuffs from other Beltsville projects, but it won't work out. All we can do is fend off starvation. Dr. Morton scrounged some scraps from the Meats Division. but that just whetted the Turks' appetites." He knocked out his pipe and squinted through my office door at the book stacks. 'I envy you librarians. You don't have to feed your damned books, and they stay put when you want them to." He got up and walked away, his shoulders hunched forward, hands clasped behind his back.

NOT LONG AFTERWARD I chanced to meet one of the kennelmen, who told me that an epidemic of dysentery had broken out in the border collie kennels. “Poor nutrition and too much crowding,” he explained glumly. “Dr. Katz is working 18 hours a day trying to keep his record of experiments from being washed out. The dysentery wouldn't have been so bad if it had hit the Turk pups. They seem to thrive on dysentery germs.”

The Turks not only survived but grew larger day by day, demanding more and more food. In the midst of this crisis, we suddenly entered World War II. Secretary Wallace was immediately drawn into the emergency food programs vital to the war effort, and neither he nor anyone else in Washington had time to consider the plight of the Sheep Dog Project. A brief note from the secretary's office informed Dr. Morton that operation of the Sheep Dog Project would thenceforth be the joint responsibility of the Beltsville Research Center's director and himself.

Morton waited no time in arranging a meeting with the director. Out of stark necessity they quickly decided to declare the Turkish sheep dogs government surplus and hold a discreet public sale. Surely in the wake of Pearl Harbor, they hoped, neither the press nor the Turkish Embassy would take notice of their action.

A few mimeographed announcements of the sale were run off and mailed out to a select list of sheepmen in nearby Maryland and Virginia. All of us who knew about this waited hopefully the morning of the advertised sale and were quite relieved when the first sheepmen began arriving on the main parking lot. Morton and Katz escorted them in small groups to the kennels. Out of curiosity I joined one of the groups -- five men from western Maryland -- and went along to see how the bidding was going. When we reached the 'Turks' kennel, the sheepmen stared with dismay at the monsters behind the heavy wire. It was obvious from their comments that the last thing they were willing to do was to allow one of those Turkish dogs within 10 miles of their herds. No one offered to bid, and from Dr. Katz I learned that none of the other sheepmen had made an offer.

Late that afternoon I was in the director's office. I had received my draft notice from Selective Service, and he wanted my recommendations for a possible replacement for me from among the librarians in the Department of Agriculture. While we were going over the names, Dr. Morton barged in, angry and dejected. 'Not a single bid on the Turks,' he said. 'Nobody wants them.'

The director was equally disappointed.

“Why don't you make up a press release?” I suggested.

“You know we can't do that!” Morton shouted. “The Turkish government would surely see it and take offense.” He glared at me. “You're getting out of it the easy way by going into the Army. Here we are stuck with 14 dogs eating up our last rations, and you're running off to the Army.”

I couldn't see the logic of this, but I said soothingly: “Well, anyway, you've kept Turkey neutral in the war. I won't have to fight Turkish soldiers.”

The next week I went into the Army, and it was some months later before I returned to Washington on a brief furlough. Occasionally, through the rigors of basic training, I'd given thought to the dilemma of the Turkish sheep dogs, and one of the first telephone calls I made after I returned home was to the Dog Project.

An unfamiliar voice answered. “K-9 Corps. Sergeant Breen here.”

I asked to speak with either Katz or Morton.

“They 'are no longer here,” the sergeant said. “Sir, this is a military dog operation now. K-9 Corps.”

The sergeant did volunteer the information that one of the kennelmen had been held over from the civilian project. I asked to speak with him.

When I heard the familiar voice of the underdog kennelman, I identified myself and asked how everything was going.

“Nothing like the old days,” he answered. “Strictly GI now. All German police dogs. We're training them for combat and guard duties."

“I've been wondering,” I said, “whatever happened to the Turkish sheep dogs.”

“Oh, them. Not long after you left, we received an unexpected bid from a man who lives in the Virgin Islands. He showed up one day and carried off all 14 of the Turks in a big truck.”

“What did he want with them?” I asked."All 14?'

There was a momentary pause. “Hell, I guess nobody thought to ask him, we were so damned glad to be rid of them.”

After I hung up the phone, I sat down and thought about 14 full-sized Turkish sheep dogs roaming over the verdant beauty of the Virgin Islands. And even now, all these years afterward, when I hear of or read about the Virgin Islands, I don't visualize green hills or clean sandy beaches lapped by rolling waves under azure skies. Instead I think of 14 mammoth Turkish sheep dogs and all their hungry offspring overpopulating that tropical paradise.

RUNNING PARALLEL with my continual surveillance of the Sheep Dog Project were my writing efforts-particularly the satirical novel about Washington. By working late at night I managed to bring it to completion, and to my surprise the literary agent, Mavis McIntosh, placed the manuscript rather quickly with a small publisher in Philadelphia-Macrae-Smith. My editor-to-be was Edward Shenton, who was also an artist and had done illustrations for some of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's books about Florida. Shenton evidently liked my novel. He suggested only a few changes, and had it copyedited for the printer late in November 1941.

On December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor, I received a telephone call from Shenton, a hurried and brief statement that he was coming down to Washington the next day on government business and would like to meet me in the bar of the old Willard Hotel. At the agreed hour I met him, and after a few preliminary remarks about the shock of war that had come with such suddenness upon us, he told me that his company could not publish my book. In wartime, he explained, especially when the nation appeared to be so unprepared and disorganized, any criticism of the government, no matter how mild, would be considered unpatriotic.

“You must have some plan for a second novel.” he added. “Perhaps something patriotic.”

I had nothing in particular in mind, but I told him that I did. Stung by the loss of my ill-starred contemporary novel, I resolved to retreat into the 19th century, where I have remained ever since.

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The Washington Post footer:
This article is excerpted from
When the Century Was Young: A Writer's Notebook, to be published in September by August House, Little Rock, Ark


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