Our StoryAs I write this, we live in the Piedmont region of North Carolina with 6 Pyrs, 1 Labrador and 1 very demanding Whippet. The Whippet belongs to my daughter who is studying vocal performance in New York. A diva for a diva, there is some sort of symmetry there. Since we seem to be expanding at an alarming rate, we are currently in the process of designing a new home and kennels in Chatham County near a community called Silk Hope. Silk Hope sounds like a great place for Great Pyrenees.
When I made the decision to create a website, I asked my friend and mentor, Joe Gentzel of Aneto Great Pyrenees, for advice on how I should proceed. Joe immediately replied, "Dale, make it your own." He went on to explain that by letting people know my experiences with these extraordinary dogs and my goals for my breeding program, I would be creating an opportunity to enter into dialogue with people who might share some common ground. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book "Living Bhudda, Living Christ" once wrote that when you enter into a dialogue you must be willing to change. I believe that like the rest of creation we must constantly change or we cease to be. Learning is one of the most vivid proofs that we continue to exist and each of us continues on his own journey. With each lesson our understanding deepens and our own accountability increases. I have only been associated with Pyrs for about 10 years I have learned a lot and found that there is much more to learn. I would like to share some of the caveats that I have found along the way.
I should begin by saying that I first became involved with the Great Pyrenees because of a Rottweiler named Samantha. She was a devoted and loyal companion. When she died at the age of eleven from osteosarcoma, I mourned the loss of my friend and after a time began the process of trying to fill the void that her death had left. I made a list of her qualities, which were many as well as those things that I did not like. I admired her kindness and humor, her calm temperament and unerring judgment in questionable situations. At the time we had just bought our first home in Charlotte, NC in a neighborhood that was being revitalized. Not all streets were completely safe. Houses on either side were broken into. David had a new and demanding job at what was then NCNB and would later become Bank of America. He spent long hours away from home. Samantha had the ability to quietly make her presence known to strangers that sometimes found their way to our door. I came to rely on her judgment. Only once did I feel, rather than hear, a low rumble from her chest. That man never came back. Perhaps he felt it too. On the other side, I could only list one negative and that was people’s reactions to her. Samantha was well-trained, well-behaved and sound in temperament and yet many people were frightened by her appearance. I believe that Rottweilers have gotten a bad reputation not by their own doing but rather through the disservice of some people associated with that breed. I came to the conclusion that I admired dogs included in the American Kennel Club’s Working Group with guardian abilities, but I would look for a dog that was more ‘user-friendly’ in appearance.
Caveat: Be careful what you wish for you may get it.
If a Great Pyrenees becomes a part of your life you will never go anywhere in the company of this dog unnoticed. People probably won’t remember what you look like, but they will remember that beautiful white dog. Great Pyrenees just seem to draw people to them. That solitary walk that you wanted to take down by the lake is a thing of the past. A good stormy day or first light is probably still yours to enjoy with your new companion. On the bright side, your Great Pyrenees can become your portal to the world. Dr. Suess wrote, "Oh the places you will go and the people you will meet…" He must have had a Pyr as his writing partner. I continue to be amazed at the number of truly fine people these dogs have brought into my life considering the fact that I have been known to refer to humans as "two-leggeds." Being in the company of a Pyr has made me realize that I have things in common with most people even if it is nothing more than admiration for one of God’s magnificent creatures. It is a good place to start most friendships.
By 1997, David and I had moved from Charlotte to Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina. David continued to work in Charlotte and traveled extensively for the Bank. He came home on the weekends. I got my first Pyr from Maureen and Dave Simon of Whitehope Great Pyrenees in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was a wonderful puppy who quickly became the light of my days. I named him Agape, which is a Greek word meaning absolute love. I think dogs can be great teachers of this kind of love without limits and Agape was that and so much more. Maureen became a mentor as well, making books and articles available to me. She arranged introductions to people that were knowledgeable in the breed. I continue to learn from them and value their contributions to the breed.
Agape died at the age of two years and four months. He was diagnosed as having Osteosarcoma, which appears to be particularly virulent in young dogs.
Caveat: Be careful to whom you give your heart to, for they will take it with them when they go...
At the time of Agape’s death Maureen called me and told me that sometime down the road I would need another dog. A few months went by and Maureen called again, this time with news of a very special litter that they had planned and invited me up to pick out my puppy. I am sure that Dave and Maureen had already evaluated the litter and certainly knew which of the puppies was the best male. Instead of just handing me the puppy they allowed me the experience of selecting him. It was a difficult job for a newcomer; the whole litter was amazing in its quality and consistency. By the time I got home from Pennsylvania, I realized that while I had loved Agape and been so proud of him, the puppy the Simons had given me to replace him, was far superior in quality and beauty. I named my new puppy, Pneuma, another Greek word, meaning breath or spirit.
Caveat: Given time and space, even the most wounded heart can heal and grow beyond what you ever thought possible.
Pneuma is a very special dog. When Pneuma was 13 months old, I felt that he was worthy of earning his AKC Championship in conformation. He easily completed the requirements for his Championship. As a Class Dog, one who has not completed his championship, he also won a group placement in the working group. We let him go home and grow up some, showing him infrequently until he was 3 years old. To date has won 40 group placements, including 6 group ones and one Best In Show. I think I am proudest of his induction to the Great Pyrenees Club of America’s (GPCA) Hall of Fame as a show dog. He earned that honor in 2003 as a three year old.
Shortly after Pneuma completed his Championship, Joe Gentzel took me aside at a dog show and told me that Pneuma was a “once in a lifetime dog.” There were people who had dedicated their lives to breeding Great Pyrenees who had never produced a dog of his quality. He hoped I would appreciate having such a dog in my home. This turned out to be an easy lesson to learn.
Caveat: It is a privilege to live in the company of a Great Pyrenees.
In my mind, the sport of purebred dogs continues to flourish based largely on the concept of mentoring. If you become interested in a particular breed, you will find a breeder and purchase a puppy. The breeder should be able to answer you questions and be there for advice and encouragement. You may become involved in the breed club and meet more people in the breed. Come to these new relationships with an open mind and a willingness to become a student of your chosen breed.
Marjorie Butcher of Cote de Neige gave Edith and Seaver Smith of Quibbletown their start in Great Pyrenees in the 1950s. Marjorie Butcher was only actively involved in breeding Great Pyrenees for about 10 years. She acquired her breeding stock from Mary Crane of Basquaerie and made use of Mrs. Crane’s stud dog, Ibos du Val d’Aure. Her gift to the breed was her amazing talent for breeder selection. She was particularly known for the beauty and quality of her bitches. She passed on her wisdom and opinions to Edith and Seaver and they used it and incorporated it into their own breeding program, adding their own talents and experiences. Edith and Seaver were instrumental in stabilizing the breed characteristics. Through their breeding program, they consistently produced sound dogs with good bone and type. After Edith’s death, Seaver became a mentor to many. Joe Gentzel in particular was an eager student. Joe has now been breeding Great Pyrenees at Aneto for close to 30 years now. He also sits on the board of the GPCA and heads the committee on historical preservation. He is the author of the book – “The Great Pyrenees, From France with Love”. He has written numerous articles on the history of the breed in America that have been published in the GPCA Bulletin.
Joe is now my mentor. If any one comes up with an illustrated dictionary, I am sure that beside the entry for the word ‘patience’, there will be a picture of Joe answering just one more of my questions. I’ve sat with him a dog shows and listened to his comments. Read his articles and asked for further explanation and taken up entirely too much of his time with phone calls. He is always available and willing to help.
It is through Joe’s kindness that I acquired my foundation bitch, Colette in 2003. Nicole Sharpe of Pyrtection had used Joe’s stud dog ‘Ch. Aneto Ciel don Diego’ in her breeding program. Per their arrangement, Joe had some ‘pick’ puppies coming to him. Joe gave up two of these selections to me and I came home with two beautiful girls as well as a new friend in Nicole. Both girls won their AKC Championships and I selected Colette to produce the first litter of my own kennel ‘Talisman’ in 2005. From Marjorie, to Edith and Seaver, to Joe and now to me, links forged from the past to the present passing on the knowledge and wisdom of great people dedicated to a wonderful breed.
Caveat: If you choose to become involved with the Great Pyrenees, find a mentor, be a willing student and pass it on.
I like the sport of dog showing. I originally got into it simply because I thought Pneuma deserved his championship and along the way, I found that I liked showing. Dog shows can be fun, it helps to have a good sense of humor and no matter how it goes that day – whether the Judge’s decision is for your dog or someone else’s you are still in a ‘win-win’ situation because you get to go home with the dog you love.
Pneuma will be 7 on January 31, 2007. He probably doesn’t have too much longer to enjoy the show ring. A cool spot in front of the door or a quiet place under the trees in the yard will suit him. And this is one of the reasons I chose to begin a breeding program. I wanted to continue to have the pleasure of showing worthy dogs to their championships. In October 2006, Pneuma’s son ‘Theo’ at the age of 10 months earned his AKC Championship. Theo is out of the Pneuma/Colette breeding. His registered name is ‘Ch. Talisman Laissez Les Bontemps Roulez’ which is a Cajun expression meaning ‘let the good times roll’ and roll they have. There are many highs in life, your first love, your lasting love and the joy of children and for me, whelping your first litter and producing an AKC champion from that litter ranks right up there. At Talisman Great Pyrenees, I plan on breeding one or two litters a year of quality Great Pyrenees with the goal of producing some nice show dogs. It is a tall order, but we should all be able to dream.
Caveat: In The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the Little Prince said, “You are responsible for that which you tame”. In the story, the Little Prince falls in love with the Rose and having done so becomes accountable for her welfare. If you fall in love with this breed as I have done you too will be held responsible for its continued well-being.
In all honesty, the Great Pyrenees is not a dog for everyone. I would even go so far as saying it is not a dog for most people. They are large guardian dogs bred to think independently. That they choose to obey your wishes should be taken as a compliment not a given. Any potential owner needs to realize they must make a serious commitment to containment, grooming and positive training.
It is a serious commitment. Far too often it is a commitment that is taken on without careful thought. Pyrs are nocturnal guardians with a loud bark. They do not make good neighbors. We left the mountains and moved outside Greensboro to acquire more land buffer. I know how sweet they look, but remember that this is a guardian breed. As an owner of this breed, you must always remember this particular attribute. There are a frighteningly high number of these dogs in the care of breed rescue coordinators because they have not found that home in which they can be successful. Perhaps rather than buy a dog, you should consider adopting one of these companion dogs from Pyrenees Rescue.
I use the term “owner” with a certain amount of irony. In her book, The Care and Training of a Great Pyrenees, Edith Smith wrote,”You will never own a Great Pyrenees, they will own you.” That says it all. You may spend a considerable amount for your original purchase of your puppy and that will probably pale in the light of the amount you will spend on its care and maintenance.
When I first read Mrs. Smith’s words, I started thinking about a book that I had read many years ago. “Cross Creek “ by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In this book she writes about owning an orange grove in Florida in the 1930’s. At the end of the book she asks the question, who owns Cross Creek?
“But what of the land? It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.”
Caveat: You will never ‘own’ a Pyr, if you are one of the fortunate ones, in time you may become a good steward of this breed.
If you choose to become involved with these magnificent dogs, make the commitment to becoming a student of this breed. The Great Pyrenees will enrich your life and become the companion of your days. Your journey will be much the better in the company of this dog.
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