Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc.



Collecting Dogs - By Dr Susan Goldhor
(first published in Choban Chatter)

Long long ago, I spent part of 1977 and 1980 in Turkey collecting sheep guarding dogs. I had lived in Turkey so I knew the language and the countryside and the customs. What I didn’t know anything about was dogs.

I wasn’t collecting because I wanted to own an Anatolian Shepherd. I was collecting because two colleagues at Hampshire College and I wanted to start a sheep research station, and we had decided that our first project would be testing Old World sheep guarding dogs on American flocks. Having lived in Turkey, I was a natural to do the collecting in that country. Our thought was that we would acquire likely-looking pups, since those would be easier than adults to handle and transport, and bring them back to Massachusetts to breed. It all seemed quite simple. I’d travel around eastern Anatolia; bargain for the pups that struck my fancy, and bring them back. I’ve always liked dogs and this project sounded like fun. Looking back, I can say that it was the most interesting project I’ve ever done. But it wasn’t always fun, and it sure wasn’t easy. I think that it would have been impossible, if it hadn’t been for my companion, guardian and native informant on every trip: Ahmet Kilic. During the time I lived in Turkey, I’d been adopted into a family of antique rug dealers. The first time I wanted to travel to the East, my adoptive father assigned Ahmet, his younger brother (who was close to sixty at the time) as my duenna. Ahmet and I had made rug buying trips around eastern Anatolia together, and had discovered that we shared a love of travel, a sense of humor, and a willingness to put up with rough conditions. We traveled by bus and train, staying in cheap hotels, and acquiring huge (and extremely heavy) bundles of rugs. So when I decided to look for dogs rather than rugs, the first thing I did was ask Ahmet if he would be willing to go with me.

Our first collecting trip was a learning experience, to say the least – I also lost eleven pounds, since I often missed things like sleeping and eating. It’s an understatement to say that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew one thing, which was that we would find working dogs in areas where there were still wolves; i.e., the wildest, most isolated and most mountainous villages. Our project had not yet received any funding, so this was done on the cheap. We traveled by bus, which had the upside of costing almost nothing and the downside of going to towns, but not the mountain villages we needed to reach. Probably these were some of the reasons why I couldn’t find any pups. However, I am nothing if not persistent, so I kept on pushing north and east, until we came to Kars, where we were up against what was then the Soviet border and could go no further. Here, by repeated interrogations of rug dealers and their pals, we met a Kurdish villager who said that there were two pups in his village which he thought might be available for purchase. We immediately hired a taxi to take him and us to his village where, while a posse of men dragged the unwilling pups out from their hiding place under a house, the village women dragged all their tapestries out in the hope that Ahmet would buy them. I will skip over the trip home except to say that we managed to get the pups (brother and sister, named Gneghis and Hatun) back to Ankara by bus, in a vegetable crate, and I air freighted them back to Massachusetts where, after 48 hours in a crate, Genghis, who I apparently had named accurately, emerged and instantly grabbed hold of an adult dog (a small one, it must be admitted) and could not be pried off until he was lassoed and hoisted into the air. At this time, Genghis had probably been weaned about a month earlier, and was still in the small fuzzy stage so that the net effect was of an adorable toy who also happened to be a crazed killer.

It turned out that Genghis and Hatun were not Anatolian Shepherds. I had somehow gone past the borders of that breed and had imported into the U.S. what may have been the first Caucasian Ovtcharkas to ever enter the country. This incredibly tough breed of dogs, stretching across parts of the Soviet Union, Iran and Afghanistan, bred to run alongside a horse all day, seem to have a built in desire to kill every other canid in the world. In fact, they were good with people, and all the students who worked with them loved them – as did I. But not only could they get over a five foot fence from a standing start, they were not trustworthy left alone with sheep. The one and only time we had them out with a flock for observation, we watched with horror as a ewe tried to nose Genghis aside to get at some hay he was lying on, whereupon with no warning he reached up and bit off half her face.

On my next collecting trip, I was a bit more experienced. And, we were getting to be known in the Anatolian Shepherd community (although goodness only knows why since I still had not collected any Anatolian Shepherds), as a result of which Quinn and Marilyn Harned, Anatolian Shepherd lovers from Alpine, California, had generously offered financial help with my trip in exchange for increasing the breed’s gene pool in the U.S. Plus, through them I had made contact with Natalka Czartoryska, head of the British Anatolian Shepherd Club, who was going to be collecting dogs in Turkey at the same time that I would be there. Natalka and I had corresponded and made a necessarily vague plan to meet in Ankara. Necessarily vague because of the state of the roads, travel and the fact that neither one of us would have easy access to a telephone. I did give her the rug shop’s number and my adoptive father’s address, and hoped her Turkish would be adequate for basic communication. It was. What follows are my recollections, a quarter century after the fact, of collecting with Natalka. We only did one short trip together, and I didn’t keep my usual journal (anyone who’s travelled with Natalka will understand that at the end of a day with her, one simply collapsed into bed and couldn’t possibly stay awake long enough to make a journal entry), so apologies in advance for any vagueness or errors. But – the essence of Natalka has stayed with me all this time. She was a force of nature, and I was in awe of her.

It was the wettest spring anyone could remember in Turkey. We met on a street in my neighborhood in Ankara, where Natalka arrived in what I recall as a Landrover, along with two much younger men, who were driving and assisting in various ways. Probably, they had signed on for the sake of adventure and, after wrestling the Landrover through the mud of various Turkish villages, had had it with adventure for a while. ,Both they and the car were in dire need of rest and repair, and they made a non-negotiable demand that they and the car spend some time in Ankara. Natalka, who had more energy than four or five average people, was totally unexhausted and was having none of this, so she asked me if I wanted to share the cost of a taxi to go to a village she had seen, where there was an adult female she wanted. Plus, we could go to some other villages along the way, and maybe I’d get lucky. So the two of us strongarmed some unlucky taxi driver into driving us into the country at the rate of $100 (U.S.) per day, which sounded exorbitant but turned out to be pathetically inadequate, given what we put the poor guy through and what the trip did to his vehicle. I did collect dogs that spring (more on that later), but my memory doesn’t recall any dogs that I got while I was with Natalka. I do remember that she got her bitch; I can’t imagine Natalka failing to get what she wanted. I’d been told that Natalka had been a member of the Polish aristocracy before she emigrated to England, and it made sense. She had the bearing and directness of that class. She was someone I liked; someone I enjoyed spending time with (although too much time would have left me exhausted), but she was always in charge.

Here’s my favorite recollection of Natalka. The taxi driver had managed to get his cab through the mud to an isolated village which Natalka was determined to visit. But the cab could only get so far. Ultimately, we had to get out and squelch through thick mud for the last few hundred yards. I remember that Natalka was well equipped with sturdy British Wellingtons; lacking boots, I had ordinary shoes on and the mud kept trying to pull them off me. As we approached the village, making loud sucking noises at each step, three or four large dogs started running towards us, barking aggressively. Natalka saw me hesitate and I’m sure she sensed my fear, so she gave me the following instructions. "Don’t stop walking, keep your arms at your side, and fix your eyes on the middle distance." I think that I was more in awe of Natalka than I was afraid of the dogs, so I obeyed. And we were fine. I’ve given the same advice to others numerous times since although, in my own defense, I have to say that since village dogs were essentially never immunized against rabies, my fears were reasonable. But Natalka was fearless (I’ve learned from her online journal that she also had been inoculated against rabies), and a great role model as a collector. I remember us riding back to Ankara triumphantly, with Natalka’s big bitch in the back seat, the taxi driver’s terror (both for his skin and his upholstery) notwithstanding.

Of course, we talked continuously throughout the long trip. What Natalka brought home to me was the difficulty faced by British residents who wanted to import dogs. At that time, the U.K. was officially rabies-free and the government had the irrational and cruel rule that any dog that had been abroad had to spend six months in government-approved quarantine facilities. Government-approved didn’t mean that these facilities were either good or caring. It was a sensory deprivation environment for the dogs, who lacked exercise and companionship, and an agony for the owners. Natalka had lost at least one valuable dog this way, and she would have to put all the dogs she brought back into quarantine at significant expense and risk. (Plus, being Natalka, all the time she spent visiting them.) It was easy to understand why people would hire small boats to land them and their dogs illegally on some isolated coast, and I felt my luck at being able to simply put my dogs onto an airplane and have them cleared to me without their even passing through Customs (a loophole that was taken advantage of by at least one person who imported Tibetan mastiffs in cages with specially built hollow floors holding significant quantities of drugs).

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