by Mary Whitcomb
Our Anatolian Shepherd Gus, (Kasirga's Cochise of Shaman) is a 2 year old fawn colored male with a black mask and tighty curled tail.
Gus joined our family as an 8 week old puppy. Our family operates a 240 acre, 200 cow dairy farm in Northern Vermont and when we chose Gus we were looking for a large, short-haired dog with an easy going disposition who could function well with all the other animals on our farm. At the time we also had a working Border Collie who was already established as top dog, a Jack Russell Terrier, mules, horses, chickens, rabbits and literally hundreds of Holstein cattle.
Although Gus is a pet and not technically a guardian, he does spend a great deal of time in and around the barns, especially the solar greenhouse where we raise approximately 135 calves every year. Every morning and afternoon Gus accompanies me for my chores and while I work he follows his own routine.
First a drink from the water tub. Next, a snack on whatever looks good-soybean meal, calf manure, or whatever looks interesting. And finally, friendship with the calves. Gus has been known to position himself so that 4 or 5 calves can reach and lick his fur all at once. He relaxes, head down and eyes closed, and lets the calves give him a good wash and grooming with their tongues. Neither he or the calves ever seem to tire of this affection. Gus also makes evening rounds with my husband and I to check all the cows before going to bed. Gus is a great "watcher" and wanders in and amongst the cows, slowly and carefully and very seldom barking. If and when he does bark it is a sure sign that someone or something is out of place.
Gus's socialization is ongoing. He has sat through Little League games, violin recitals, softball practices and parades. At home he needs to be introduced to visitors outside the house or he has a tendency to show his protectiveness by barking VERY loudly at them. Away from his own home he is much more tolerant and doesn't need a formal introduction.
Probably our most frustrating episode with Gus, which we did eventually win, was "The Battle of The Tree's". The summer that Gus was a 6 month old puppy we decided to plant a maple tree on the North side of our house. We had hopes that it would eventually grow up to provide shade and improve our meager landscaping. The kids and I dug up a maple sapling, about an inch in diameter and about 5 feet tall and planted and staked it. Just as we finished watering it Gus walked over and bit it off at ground level.
Luckily it had been a free tree so it was no big deal. I said NO Gus and whacked him with the now-dead tree and we went out and dug up another sapling for transplant. Gus ate that one before before we even got it in the ground. We took a a few days off to give Gus a chance to forget the taste of maple tree's and then planted 2 little tree's, figuring he could eat one and we'd still have a shade tree left. He gave us a week to think we'd won and then bit both off one morning before I could even holler NO at him.
My mother-in-law had been hearing about our tree problems and came up with the solution-putting a plastic tube around the trunk of tree No#5. The plastic would protect the tree and hold heat and moisture around its base. Gus loved the idea-a tree wrapped in a plastic chew toy. He ate not only the new tree but the tube. Apparently this type of plastic did not agree with him and he threw up most of it later that day in our cellar.
By now this tree thing was getting really old. To make matters worse I noticed that one of the little fruit tree's on my neighbors lawn (and her tree's were not free!) was completely missing. When I asked her what happened to it she said she hadn't actually SEEN Gus bite it off, and she was sure he wouldn't do anything like that, but it had mysteriously disappeared. Yeah, right. Then a little apple tree behind our house was chewed off and the remains brought up on the back porch.
In desperation we decided Gus needed to be tied up before the whole farm was defoliated. Mind you, no one had ever seen Gus eat a wild growing tree, only transplanted ones. We gave up temporarily on having a shady maple, and watched Gus very carefully around our and the neighbors yard. We provided him with numerous pieces of wood to chew, along with beef bones, Frisbee's, etc. In late September I dug one more maple, which by now were getting to be in short supply and planted it in the original spot I had chosen 4 months earlier. We staked it, watered it, fertilized it and watched Gus like a hawk to see what would happen...nothing.
He never gave it a glance.. He completely ignored it. Apparently he had either tired of the game or outgrown this phase of puppyhood, or just decided to quit the habit. We tell ourselves we won the "Battle of The Tree's" since he never bothered one again. I'm pretty sure he tells himself the same thing!
Gus now weighs 150 pounds and stands 35" at the shoulder. He can reach the biscuits that are on the back of the top of the refrigerator (BAD DOG GUS!) can lay on the entire kitchen floor when he stretches out, swallow a sandwich in one gulp before anyone realizes he's got it, and is generally a wonderful family companion who regularly tests us to see who's in charge.
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