Buddy was the ultimate Akbash,
raised with bummer lambs and always their devoted friend
and patron saint.
I’M COUNTING THE DAYS — 21 — until Sara comes from San Diego to collect Jake, her Akbash puppy who we’ve been fostering since January.
Someone — you know who you are — decided not to adopt Francis Sweet’s puppies. Francis saw John at the men’s prayer breakfast and offered us one "for free."
John said yes, because Sara, whose house burned to the ground in a wildfire in 2007; who lived in other people’s houses and in a small trailer for 6 years until the new house was finished; Sara, whose husband died suddenly, six months after they moved into the new house; who adopted Moose, an adult Akbash, to keep her company and then, he died of cancer — Sara is ready another dog. Another Akbash.
Francis’s little boy was perfect, except for the timing. Sara had trips planned to Scotland (her home country), Mexico (to see the mariposa butterflies), and to Burma (I know, it’s Myanmar, but that’s a change I refuse to accept). She couldn’t take delivery of Jake until the middle of June.
“No problem,” said John.
The Akbash is a livestock protector dog that bonds with the sheep and keeps them safe from coyotes and mountain lions and crows. When we had sheep (and I miss them!), we had two Akbashes in succession. Buddy died of bone cancer when he was four; Moose, a slacker, we sold to Sara.
Moose never liked sheep. They’d wander off, and he’d glance up from the porch and yawn. He never barked. He just said, “Later,” “Whatever,” and “Ain’t gonna happen.” There are coyotes in the barren hills of Escondido, but Sara doesn’t have sheep. In his new, royal role, Moose had been able to walk to the side of the wrap-around, poured concrete deck, raise his nose slightly, and woof before wandering back into the house to listen to Swedish jazz. Before he died of lymphoma, Moose was featured above the fold in a four-color photograph in the “Mansions” section of the Wall Street Journal. All of this is true.
The Akbash breed is native to Turkey, but it is thought to originate from a single line coming out of central Asia in the time of the Mongols. Europe boasts many breeds that are likely family members: Anatolian shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Cuvac, Ovtcharka. The breed, minus the occasional slacker, is vigilant, intelligent and calm.
Threats to the flock are handled by an Akbash with speed, grace, and overwhelming power. A ditz from the City showed up a few years ago with a Rottweiler. It immediately killed six chickens and then headed toward the pastures, a lamb in its crosshairs. Buddy, a full field away, raced like a greyhound, soundless and swift, and reached the Rott before it reached the lamb. No snarling, no growling, no unseemly violence: Buddy flattened the intruder with one paw.
The breed is immense. It’s the Dodge Power Wagon of dogs. Jake is five-and-a-half months old and he weighs 70 pounds. He’s very happy when I come home from work. He runs into the driveway at the speed of light and knocks me over.
And if that isn’t a constant barrel of fun, he’s cutting teeth. His chew-toy of choice is our entire sprinkler system, a teething ring of black tubing. He’s also been ingenious in creating his own living space. In the front yard, in what I used to call the garden, he’s made a homeless encampment.
|Jake at six weeks. This is the point where we didn't think we|
could ever bear to let him go. We began thinking of how we
would break the news to Sara. Note: There are still living
plants in the garden.
If there were a canine version of “Design Star,” Jake would be its host.
“What’s he eating?” John asked.
I looked out the window.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t think of anything edible that’s navy blue.”
The telephone rang. I found it and walked to the precise spot on the property where we have reception.
“Wendy, Sara. I don’t want to alarm you, but you know I was able to recover from the broken hip to go to Burma, but now, I’m supposed to be in Scotland, and I’m not, because while I was at rehab for the hip, I slipped — and to break my fall and protect that precious hip, I put out my arm and landed on it. On a scale of one to ten, I have a ‘ten’ wrist fracture, and —”
“Can you drive? Do you want me to fly down in June and drive you up here to get Jake? Do you want me to drive you back to San Diego and I’ll fly home?”
“I think I’ll be able to drive by the middle of June, and if not —"
“If not, we’re here for you, Sara. We’ll move heaven and earth to make sure you don’t have to spend another minute without this precious, sweet, little love. Jakey, your mommy is on the phone. Oh, Sara, I wish you could see his face — wait, I’ve got my cell, I’ll take a photo — smile for mommy, Jakey …”
I left for work, and stumbled on the edge of the front porch. Half a board had been eaten since last night.
Twenty-one more days.