We’re excited to share a guest post by Emma Bland Smith, author of the upcoming children’s book, Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires.
Emma is a librarian and author and lives in San Francisco with her husband, two kids, dog, and cat—but no wolf, pig, or alligator. Visit her online at emmabsmith.com and on Twitter at @emmablandsmith.
Great Pyrenees: A Truly Special Dog
Have you heard of Great Pyrenees? I hadn’t, when I first saw a news story about a big yellow-white dog named Odin who had survived a devastating wildfire. Three years, I feel like I see this wonderful dog breed everywhere.
My picture book about Odin, which comes out on June 30, is beautifully illustrated by fellow Bay Area resident Carrie Salazar. Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires tells the true story of how a loyal dog refused to flee a wildfire with his family, insisting on staying with his herd of goats. The family left, heartbroken. When they returned several days later, their home was gone, but, to their shock, Odin and all the goats had survived.
To research the book, I visited the real-life Odin and his family on their ranch in Northern California, in between the towns of Calistoga and Santa Rosa. Odin and his sister are tasked with keeping the family’s eight goats safe from predators such as coyotes and mountain lions. My family and I got to pet the gorgeous pair and ask lots of questions about them. Here are some facts about Great Pyrenees that I included in the back matter of my book:
- They were bred to be livestock guardian dogs and their instinct is to be nurturing to vulnerable animals.
- Originally, they were owned by shepherds in the mountains of France and Spain.
- The Marquis de Lafayette first brought them to the United States in 1824.
- They have shaggy white fur and grow to 110 pounds.
- They are nocturnal by nature, making them excellent watchdogs.
- They are strong willed but patient, loving, and loyal.
Odin’s owner, Roland Tembo Hendel, told me an interesting story. When he and his daughter first brought home Odin and Tessa as puppies, they let the pups sleep in their house for one night only. After that, the dogs slept in the goat pasture. It was imperative, Roland explained, that the dogs bond most strongly with their four-legged friends, not the humans.
It worked—almost too well, as Odin’s experience demonstrates. The dogs can rarely be coaxed to leave the goats. When the Tubbs Fire swept through the area, Odin absolutely refused to leave. (The two sibling dogs take turns guarding the goats. At the time, Odin had been on duty. Tessa, who was off duty, did agree to go with her family.)
I also learned that there is a different between guard dogs, herding dogs, and guardian dogs. Great Pyrenees are the latter—guardian dogs. They do not herd animals, like Australian shepherds, collies, and sheep dogs. They do not necessarily bark ferociously at human intruders, as a well-trained guard dog will do. They simply guard over their flock and act as a deterrent to predators. (Odin spends much of his night walking the goat enclosure line, marking it and keeping predators away. Roland said that before the dogs came, mountain lions were regular visitors to the ranch. They haven’t seen one since.)
Despite their devotion to their livestock, Great Pyrs are loving and friendly towards humans, and excellent with children. If I lived in the country and had a little more space, I’d get one myself! I’m so grateful to have learned about this delightful dog breed.