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Coyotes pose a real threat to livestock on Whidbey Island. There are three types of animals that people turn to for livestock protection: donkeys, llamas, and dogs. Our neighbor has two donkeys for protection animals, but lost 11 or more sheep to coyotes last year. You can hear those donkeys braying at least half a mile away. She has acres and acres of pasture, and the way I see it, there’s just too much territory for two donkeys to guard.

We know three people who use llamas as guard animals. Both donkeys and llamas have a natural hatred for canids, and will kick them into orbit if given a chance. Our farm is too small for llamas or donkeys, so we decided to get a dog–one that could both guard our livestock and fill the dog-shaped hole that my son has had in his heart for a number of years. We decided on a Maremma Sheepdog.

Maremmas originated in Italy, where they’ve been bred for centuries to protect sheep, goats, and other livestock. They’ve also been used as estate guardians. Our dog, Emma, was born on Windance Farm in Goveurneur, New York. If you follow the Windance Farm link, you’ll see Emma’s father, Crisco, on the front page. Crisco came directly from Italy.

Emma spent the first five months of her life among livestock, learning from adult working dogs. It just about killed us to miss her cute puppy stage, because there is nothing cuter than a Maremma puppy. But I felt that the training her breeder, Jackie Church, could provide, as well as the influence of adult working dogs, was in Emma’s and our best interest.

Finally, on July 11, the day arrived for Emma to come home. Jackie’s husband Tom drove two hours from their farm to the Syracuse airport to drop Emma off that morning. Emma flew to Detroit, had a longer than expected layover, and then flew on to Seattle. It was nip and tuck, because the temperature in those three cities had to be lower than 85 degrees to ship her, and it was in the eighties in Syracuse and Detroit. But we managed, and in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon, we made our way to Northwest Airlines Cargo in SeaTac.

Adrian moaned about the traffic, and I told him, “Trust me. As soon as you meet Emma, you’ll think that it was all worthwhile.”

When we arrived, Emma was lying down in her crate and looked a bit shell shocked. We got her out and gave her some water with Rescue Remedy in it (she’d received Rescue Remedy just before departure, as well).

We didn’t realize she wasn’t leash trained, which would’ve explained the fact that we couldn’t take her to a parking strip to relieve herself or walk her to the car. Finally, one of the Air Cargo employees came over, picked her up, and carried her to the back seat. Another man, assuming she couldn’t walk, said, “Man, that is some serious jet lag.”

Once in the car and settled, we began our trip home.

Of course, we were in rush hour traffic on the way home, too. But Adrian said, “You’re right. I trust you. It was worth it!”

Once we got Emma home, we called Jackie to let her know we’d arrived safely. Emma was excited to see livestock again–so excited that she started to chase the goats around the pen. It was nice to have Jackie on the phone to coach us through that.

Emma spent the first night in the doe pen. The next day, I finished the fence for her “moat,” which is a four- to five-foot-wide area that completely surrounds both the buck and doe pen. This enables her to guard all the goats from all sides.

She’s an official working dog, now. She is still a puppy, and definitely exhibits puppy behavior, such as jumping up on us occasionally. But by nature, she’s a mellow dog, and will grow up to be a fine guardian and companion animal.

Here’s her official “working girl” picture: