Brave and Loyal – Book Recommendation

Title: Brave and Loyal, An Illustrated Celebration of Livestock Guardian Dogs

Author & Photographer: Cat Urbigkit

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016

Ages: 9-99

Themes: dogs, livestock guardian dogs, canines, predators, working dogs, shepherds, ranching, farming, ecosystems

Opening: 

The wolves arrived in the darkest hour of night. They travelled through the rain, tongues lolling from open mouths, trotting swiftly on long legs, toes splayed in the mud as they gripped for traction, leaving massive paw prints behind as the only sign of their presence. Easily clearing the pasture fence in one powerful leap, the smaller grey female and large black male were intent on returning to the sheep flock for an easy meal.

Synospis:

Wolf populations in the Rocky Mountains have reached recovery goals due in large part to an environmentally friendly method of predator control now in use on western ranches: livestock protection dogs (also called livestock guardian dogs). Although these dogs have been used around the world for thousands of years in primitive systems of livestock production, it’s only in the past four decades that they have been put to work in America in a systematic manner. Guardian dogs were imported to the United States, and their use has allowed the expansion of predator populations into areas where the animals were previously subject to lethal control. The use of guardian dogs is typical wherever livestock may encounter predators—from fox and coyotes, to wolves and grizzly bears.

In Brave and Loyal, Cat Urbigkit tracks her journeys from a Wyoming sheep ranch to learn about working livestock protection dogs around the globe. Using historic accounts, published research, personal interviews on four continents, and her own experience on western rangelands, she provides the reader an intimate look into the everyday lives of working livestock protection dogs. Brave and Loyal includes details on raising successful guardians, their behaviors, a discussion of breeds and historic use, an assessment of numbers for various predator challenges, the adoption and spread of programs to place guardians on American farms and ranches, problems and benefits associated with guardian dogs, predator ploys, and matching the dog to the predator challenge. Urbigkit’s work provides the best information on working livestock guardian dogs around the globe, accompanied by more than one hundred beautiful color photos. (Goodreads)

Why I like this Book:

When I asked Cat a couple of months ago about reviewing this book, knowing that I am a children’s books author/reviewer, she mentioned that it was really for adults. I questioned that then and absolutely question that having read it. While this is an authoritative, highly researched and scholarly nonfiction book, it is also delightful and easy-reading narrative nonfiction, and factually fascinating for young and old who love dogs (animals) and/or have a special interest in working dogs, notably those who guard (as opposed to herd) flocks. I know this will appeal to young readers too and am delighted to highlight it on Miss Marple’s Musings, a blog often dedicated to promoting quality fiction and nonfiction about animals.

During my 13 years living in Nice, in the Alpes Maritimes department of France I encountered shepherds and their guardian dogs (mostly Pyrenean Mountain dogs) many times whilst hiking and camping in the southern Alps above Nice. Transhumance was part of our life. I avidly followed the government’s reintroduction of wolves and bears to mountain areas and was always torn by the conflicts between pastoralists and environmentalists. While doing a summer of WOOFING in Tuscany on a small sheep/cheese-producing farm, I encountered Maremmas for the first time. When I lived in South Africa and visited Lesotho I met my first Africanis. And when hiking the mountains above Plovdiv in Bulgaria, we met two young Karakachan guardians and their shepherd. You can imagine how intrigued I was when Cat writes of visiting these breeds and herders, as well as many more around the world.

I wholeheartedly agree with the following sentiments of Cat’s. When I was coordinating the service program at our IB international school in Monaco, I took my 11th graders up to the mountains in the state park, Mercantour, just above Nice, and the students were fascinated by the dairy cattle and cheese and raw milk production, of which we partook daily during our time there. Very often when we hiked, we’d pick up some cheese direct from the producer.

Although agricultural systems in Europe are much less efficient than similar systems in the United States, we found that difference to our liking, as the result is that more people are involved in, and employed by, agriculture. Rather than crop harvests involving large pieces of mechanical equipment, much of the harvest is conducted with smaller equipment and human labor. Much of the livestock production systems we observed were small subsistence operations. Local diets rely heavily on locally produced foods, especially milk and cheese products from sheep and goat production. 

I absorbed with fascination stories about the attributes of different breeds against different predators (bears, coyotes, wolves, lynx etc), and how selection and training (or not) varied around the world and of course from owner to owner. One culture/farmer castrates another doesn’t, certain cultures favor spiked collars and tethering, others avoid petting their guardians. I was also intrigued to read more about the government and EU support/subsidies given in European nations to sustain a threatened pastoral lifestyle. I remember during my second year in Nice when I was teaching ESL, having a young female student in her early 20’s who stopped her lessons during the summer so that she could accompany her shepherd boyfriend to the mountain pastures. This is a sacrifice many young people are unwilling to make.

Throughout the book, though, the individual natures of the dogs is the prevailing message for me. I have been following Cat for a number of years on FB so I had already been interacting visually with some of her own dogs (Luv’s Girl, Rena, Beyza and the new Ovchek pups) and I was excited to hear more of their escapades on these pages. Cat does a great job in explaining and not minimizing the complexity of the cohabitation and interdependency of species. Reduce wolf predators and you reduce the need for guardian dogs, for example. Or, did you know that burros can work with the guardians to protect flocks. 

These are 216 pages packed with information and every page contains beautiful photography by the author. I have finally just bought a little bookcase for my new apartment, but Cat’s book I am going to leave on my coffee table as I want as many of my guests to get their hands on it as I can. This would make a fabulous gift too. I highly recommend Brave and Loyal.

Resources:

I interviewed Cat here on the blog back in 2014 but Cat also agreed to answer three questions related to Brave and Loyal for me.

[JM] How long did you work on this book?

The book is a collection of experiences over about two decades, but it probably took me about four months to write the first draft, and a few more months to continue to polish the manuscript and select the photos. That’s all work that took place before I felt it was good enough to take to a publisher. I worked with two other editors after that (for a few more months) in continuing to polish and edit. But it’s important to note that I write about dogs in my journal on a regular basis, and have written essays about certain experiences, so I had a great deal of written information to draw on once I sat down to write the book. 

[JM] Did you try out a different guardian breed because of your travels/research?

We didn’t really try out another breed because of our travels, but our research recommendations did result in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services importing several different breeds to study their effectiveness on western ranches. Their four-year field project has just wrapped up. The breeds we use on our ranch are the result of years of experience, trial and error, and a change in predator challenges. We went to more aggressive breeds because of increased numbers of wolves and bears, but we know that’s not the situation many livestock producers in the US face.

[JM] Which non American breed of guardian dog do you wish was legal to bring into the US but isn’t at this point in time?

Legality really isn’t an issue. It’s more a situation of dogs are located in conflict zones (such as Afghanistan), or are fairly rare (Mongolian Banghar), or the cost to find the dogs and import them are cost-prohibitive. Because our interest is in working guardian dog lineages, we’re not stuck on any particular “breed” of dog, preferring to look at them more as landraces that move across the landscape

 

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