When Ruth and I first began sheep farming, we learned that most of our neighbors had had sheep killed by roaming packs of domestic dogs. Domestic dogs and sheep just don’t mix. When sheep see dogs, they and panic and run. The dogs then get swept up in the spirit of the chase…and transform into wild beasts that tear and maim the sheep. We had no idea how to prevent this…until we learned of the Maremmano Abruzzeze—a breed of sheep guardian dog native to Italy…that has been guarding flocks of sheep since before the time of Christ.
We soon purchased two Maremmas…a brother and sister…Buckley and Fanny. When we first introduced the Maremmas to the flock, we were concerned that our sheep would panic---like that did every other time that they had seen a dog. But both of the Maremmas immediately bowed down in postures of complete submission…and each of the sheep then calmly walked up to the dogs…and touched their nose to the dog’s body. From that moment on, the Maremmas were with the sheep 24 hours a day…and we never lost a sheep to a roaming dog or any other predator…
Guardian of the Flock
Broken covenants rekindle ancestral fires
in the hungry bellies of rogue dogs who roam
in packs and drag down delicate young deer
unable to clear farm fences. And sometimes on
those savage sojourns, the dogs discover fields
where flocks forgotten graze – though oh so seldom
do they raise their heads in search of danger.
And how suddenly that danger descends upon them,
breeding blind panic where mothers abandon or even
trample their own young; where massive rutting rams
are flung against farm fences and hang in the wire; where
dogs become demons quickened with infernal desire:
their darkened hearts drive mouths to dismember
and maim, their teeth to tear through rear tendons and
bare hindquarters to the bone.
Who – of those that have themselves bled beside such
tattered corpses – could conceive that in the land of prophets
two thousand years past, a shepherd’s mongrel bitch
would give birth to a litter of pups…and among them: One.
One who would neither harm nor herd – but guard.
Guard: as if a sacred pledge were born fully formed and
sealed within each one of his cells. He: Guardian of the Flock.
Welcomed as though his coming were foretold. His rolling thunder
warning shepherds from their deepest slumbers. His great
heart willing to battle wolf, bear and even his own brother…
yet bow before the gentle grace of those he guards.
A covenant never questioned: to be carried by his semen unbroken
across flocks and earth, water and years. To this small field,
to this beloved flock: calmly huddled as it faces a pack of fiends
whose attack has faltered and broken before the wild battle cry
of the white Maremmano Abruzzeze: brother and sister standing
each foursquare before their flock, tails raised as banners of their breed.
On this ground, forefathers long silent stand and
declare themselves. Their demand: that destiny no longer
be denied. Even the Maremma now look for me to move.
And I know the death this day must not be my own.
The death this day must not be my own...though my first shot
wounds only...it does not strike home...and the wounded rogue
rushes the flock...but the Maremma – suddenly silent – sweep
toward it...turning it into the swamp...perhaps it is they who will
claim the kill...but wheeling as one...they return to their guard...
and it is I…It is I who must wade waist deep within that tangled
water…to find…not a demon now…not a demon now…just a wounded
dog…whimpering with pain…whose life I take with a thundering roar.
And when I walk once more upon that field…
when I walk once more upon that field, I am welcomed by the
Maremma…not as shepherd…not as shepherd…but now like them:
Blood born of one Heart beating