Jeanne-Marie de Moissac purchased an 8 week old Kuvasz puppy. They needed a livestock guardian dog, because sheep and chickens were getting killed by predators (mainly coyotes). When I spoke to Jeanne-Marie a few years ago to see how things were going, I was fascinated to hear her say that ever since they got the Kuvasz not one single lamb or chicken had been killed by predators. This reaffirmed in my mind how well this breed can do their job.
“I live in Central Saskatchewan, in the Bear Hills near Biggar. As the name implies the terrain is rolling with sharp hills and long, wide valleys. My pasture butts up to a saline lake surrounded by bush and deep coolies. The lake is spring fed with a water source the year round – perfect country for coyotes.
We had been keeping a flock of about five hundred ewes when our resident barker and all round guard dog, a Malamute–Wolf cross, died of old age. The Border Collie, Miss Boo was spectacular at her job of herding and sorting but it wasn’t in her to attack a coyote if it came too close. The profit margin in sheep, slim at best, can’t take care of hungry coyotes. A guardian dog is vital to the operation.
With a Kuvasz pup on the way from Huron Kennels, I was trying to learn as much about these dogs as possible. A number of producers in the area were using Great Pyrenees and were having good luck. I was warned not to make a pet of a guardian dog – don’t love it or it won’t work for you, feed it at the barn so it knows where home is, don’t let it sleep at the house or it won’t protect the sheep. My intentions were good. I was determined to take this advice to heart – there was a job to do and the reason for a guardian dog was to do that job. But as soon as I saw my little bundle of white fluff I turned to mush and all best intentions did too. We named him Erik, but my daughter, about five at the time, dubbed him Kamusi and it stuck.
We were smack in the middle of lambing when he arrived, and the sheep needed twenty-four hour care. Kamusi’s first experience with sheep was a barn filled with new moms and lambs. Though sheep are gentle creatures they can turn into something entirely different with a new baby to care for. And they don’t work alone. Like most flocking creatures they work with a group mind. I once saw a pen full of sheep take turns bowling with a pot-belly pig who had gotten too close to their babies. They would back up and run at the pig, butting it with their heads, a formidable weapon. Butchers won’t shoot a sheep because the bullets often ricochet off the skull making the butcher floor a dangerous place. And the sound of rams going at it with their heads in the summer is like a shooting range. The ewes would have killed the pig if Miss Boo hadn’t come to the rescue and though she liked nothing better than chasing sheep, even she was reluctant to go into that pen. There’s nothing predictable about mothers. No – the lambing barn was no gentle place to bring a small pup.
And they didn’t like him. They didn’t like him one bit and they certainly didn’t want him anywhere near their lambs. Three new moms came at him at the same time and I was at the other end of the barn docking tails and castrating. Not only did he stand his ground, he put them very quickly in their place, growling and barking until they backed down. This set the tone of his career with sheep. He took care of them protected them, was in charge of them but they always knew who was boss.
That first year, like every other Kuvasz pup, he ate the cupboard bare supplementing his diet with afterbirth and the dead lambs he kept dragging in from somewhere. I know. Revolting. But birth and death are all part of any livestock operation and these dogs, like most, given the chance, are part wild. I’m sure this was another broken rule but he never in his whole life, harmed wooly head.
He bonded to his family in those first months. He was with us all the time but at about six months he started to change. He started to spend more time at the barn during the day and at night he wandered. The Kuvasz are a nocturnal creature with amazing eyesight and hearing and at night they come alive. And now would be the time to introduce you to Polly, Kamusi’s mate. Polly was a curly haired Kuvasz – tall with a long back and Kamusi was straight haired, broad with a massive chest and head. If Kamusi was out marking his territory around the pasture, then Polly was at the house or with the flock. If Polly was sleeping at the barn then he would be snoozing at the house. They never left anything unprotected. They could move, these two, through a flock of sheep and not cause a ripple. The ewes would go about their business, paying little attention to the white giants in their midst. But put a streak of black and white Border Collie anywhere near them and they were on red-alert, ready for flight.
A Kuvasz is a slow moving dog, hard to excite and rarely silly. Both of mine were generally good-natured however Polly was in charge of everything and everyone. Literally. The queen of the farm and sometimes the biggest bitch you’ve ever seen. Literally. She kept a tight rein on Kamusi and it was a good thing Miss Boo was quick. Though she usually listened and did what she was told, if Polly wanted a pat and rub, well you had very little choice in the matter. Both big dogs would push themselves against you until they had the attention they felt they deserved. Loveable. Affectionate. Coyotes stayed well away, partly because they smelled “big dog” on every fencepost in the pasture, partly because they heard the big bark living with the sheep. However one day, my neighbor Shirley came over for coffee.
Shirley lives about a mile and a half from me as the crow flies and she and her kids had come for a visit. It was a beautiful morning and we were all outside – the kids were playing on the swings and Shirley and I were having an iced tea on the deck. My Border Collie was at my feet and the Kuvasz were sleeping – one at the house, one at the barn. An idyllic scene. Then who do we see coming through the field but Shirley’s two large, registered German Shepherds. Kamusi and Polly were instantly awake. They didn’t bark they attacked. Gone were the slow moving, gentle creatures. These dogs were killers. I had read in a dog book that during Germany’s occupation of Hungary, a group of German soldiers found a Kuvasz in the mountains. They locked it overnight in a pen with sixteen German shepherds thinking to give their dogs a bit of sport. In the morning there were no German Shepherds left in that pen. None alive, anyway. I could believe this story now. I had never seen anything move that fast with so much force. Two white streaks that seemed to come from nowhere. When they were about three feet from the Shepherds they dived. No preliminary scuffle, they went right for the throat. If it hadn’t been for my daughter, seven at the time, and her high-pitched scream, in ten more seconds their throats would have been ripped out. The Shepherds didn’t even put up a fight. It was all so vicious. Yet these were the same dogs who slept with a pile of orphan lambs to keep them warm on cold, winter nights. The same dogs who worked with Miss Boo, and later her two sons, herding the sheep, acting when necessary as gates. These were the same dogs with a disposition as sweet as the smell of their beautiful coats and a heart for loving their people as big as them. It goes without saying the German Shepherds never came calling again.
Kamusi died when he was almost nine of what I believe was a heart attack and Polly nearly two years later, almost ten of a broken heart. She was never the same after he died and if someone tells you dogs can’t cry, don’t ever believe them. I miss them both more than I can say. Sometimes I still see them – white shadows moving slowly through the dark.
Jeanne-Marie has had many dogs over the years, however she states, “Kamusi was so different. He would have done anything for me. God I miss him”