Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc.



Capar from Ray Coppinger collection
Finding Capar - By Dr Susan Goldhor
(first published in Choban Chatter)

The following was transcribed from my field notes of May, 1980, another cold, wet springs in the mountains of the Kangal-Sivas region of Turkey. I was looking for dogs for our sheep guarding dog project at the New England Farm Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I was travelling with my Turkish adoptive uncle, Ahmet, and we had hired a taxi in Ankara. Since our project wanted to breed dogs, we were especially interested in females. This trip, like the one before, was generously underwritten by Quinn and Marilyn Harned, who hoped to increase the gene pool of the Anatolians in this country, and who were undaunted by my having brought back the wrong breed on my first trip. There's lots of non-dog stuff in my notes, but I thought it might be of interest to see what a collecting trip to Anatolian villages was like 25 years ago.

Tuesday, May 20: No luck, but an interesting day. I seem to be able to go to the doggiest places and demonstrate that (at least for the moment) there are no dogs there. We demonstrated this day that the entire Çiçekdagi (Flower mountain) region from Yerköy past Yozgat is useless. People are selling their sheep; the mountains are cultivated with wheat so there are almost no wolves, and there are very few dogs. Plus those few don't look very good. The Çiçek mountains lived up to their name, but not to their reputation as a wonderful place to get dogs.

But – they will be sorry! Past Yozgat a shepherd told us that a small pack of wolves came down from the mountains just a few days ago and killed some of their sheep. Ha. Now they are all desperately looking for dogs.

From Yerköy, some acquaintances (probably of the taxi driver) insisted on coming with us to the village of one of them (Çigdeli köyü), which is famous in this area for its dogs. There were four pups there which they would have given us but a) they were only about three weeks old at the most, and b) I'm not very impressed by the mother or the mother's sister. (Also hardly any sheep any more in that village.)

Ahmet and the taxi driver are discouraged and morose.

We did have a lovely stay last night at the driver's in-laws' house in a village down in a valley near Yerköy. They made us a wonderful supper of fresh yufka, a great salad of green onions, romaine and parsley, ayran (a drink of salted, diluted yogurt), yogurt, rice and tomato soup and rice pilav with meat. The pilav was swimming in butter (and delicious) and on top of it, as a very special treat for guests – were four pieces of the fattiest meat I'd ever seen. In fact they were only fat. I think they were sheep tail. I was given some, which I could hardly choke down; what I really wanted was the salad. We'd been up in the mountains for a week where there was milk and wheat; wheat and milk, and everything that you could make of those two ingredients, but I felt that I hadn't seen anything green for ages. It was a small salad and I had to stop myself from eating it all, by remembering that I hadn't had anything green for a week but they might not have had anything green since last summer. This morning for breakfast we had really good (and oily) fresh yufka, hot milk, tea, cheese and olives. Each of us had a pile of about six or eight pieces of yufka. I ate three or four and if I could have eaten it all, I would have.

They made us a wonderful supper of fresh yufka, a great salad of green onions, romaine and parsley, ayran (a drink of salted, diluted yogurt), yogurt, rice and tomato soup and rice pilav with meat. The pilav was swimming in butter . . .

Wednesday, May 21: Today was a really good day. We left Yerköy early and went almost directly to Akdagmadeni, stopping only a few times en route to ask about dogs. At Akdagmadeni almost everyone had at least heard about someone in a nearby village who had dogs, and there are wolves nearby. (In fact, one shepherd we talked to on the road near here said there had been a wolf attack just a few days ago and five sheep had been killed – his partner was away looking for a good dog!) Someone even offered us some wolf cubs. Coals to Newcastle. We were directed to a guy named Berber Mehmet in the village of Culhali, and set out over dirt roads, winding through the mountains to find it. However, we took a wrong turn somewhere and went to the wrong village, which turned out to be all to the good because the wrong village had two sets of pups. This village is called Karapir köyü (in case you haven't guessed, köy means village). Of course, when we first arrived, we asked some women outside and they said there were no dogs. But, having learned the ropes, we went into the village and found some men, including the primary school teacher who's doing his military service here. They immediately commanded some poor woman, whose house happened to be nearest, to bring us chairs – which she happily raced to do, and then brought us ayran. They yelled across the valley to a dog-owning guy and told him to come. He came but he only had a grown male which he didn't want to give up. There were, of course, no dogs to be seen, as they were all "davarda" – out on the mountains with the flocks. The village is immensely picturesque, surrounded by mountains with more trees than I've ever seen in Anatolia – lots of pines – lots of water flowing down from melting snow. 10 cm. of snow had fallen a week ago. They said the Muhtar (headman of the village) had dogs so we went to see the Muhtar. A child having been sent to fetch him, we met him halfway in a gorgeous flower-studded lawn of a pasture, with cows grazing and playing a few feet away, overlooking flowering fruit trees, old stone walls retaining terraces on the steep hills, and the picturesque ruins of a Byzantine church. During our talk with the Muhtar, it came out that he had two three-month old pups – a male and a female – perfect! We couldn't see them or their parents until 7:30 or 8 when they would return to the village, but they invited us to return then and spend the night in the village. Meanwhile, the taxi driver had settled in with some women who also had a male and a female pup. The male was out with the sheep but the female was there. However, she was small, there were house dogs around, and I wasn't sure about the way she looked.

So we set off again for Culhali. This time we ran into a man and a boy driving a small flock to Akdagmadeni for the next day's Hayvan Pazari (Livestock Market). Ahmet has really learned the ropes by now (not the driver) so we stopped and asked if they had dogs. Yes, they had five little pups – but all male! The mother had had nine, but they had thrown out the females – into the river, I think. They said that we could see the pups and the mother in the village and lent us the boy as a guide to help us find the village. Well, the village was very far away! It was amazing to think of their walking all the way to Akdagmadeni with the sheep – it must have been fifteen miles at least, although they may have taken some short cuts over mountains and down through valleys. The road had been washed out in several places by the winter storms, and was such thick mud in other places that we had to get out and walk, while the taxi driver spun his wheels and cursed the road, the dogs, the kid and (probably) me. We finally arrived in a tiny, bare village, perched in the middle of a barren nowhere, surrounded by piles of dung, and heralded by an awful, dusty windstorm. Down a bit in a valley, however, were green fields. We saw the pups and the bitch and both looked fine, but I wasn't sure if I wanted a male from here (plenty of males all over), and they also were quite young. As usual, everyone said forty days (forty in Turkish means a lot; it's not a precise number, which explains things like Ali Baba and the forty thieves), and then one month, but I expect that three weeks is closer to the truth. I asked if I could buy the bitch and they said that they couldn't give her now as she was nursing. I said I understood; could I come back and get her in August? The boy's mother said, "What do I know? I'm only the wife." Meanwhile, my eyes were watering from the windstorm and the dust as we were standing outside, and a cold rain was starting. The father, it turned out, was far away on the mountain, working. So we finally decided to meet him the next morning in Akdagmadeni at the animal sale, where they said he would go. This village's name was Vediralan köyü. Despite the rude surroundings, the puppies were fat and healthy, and the mother was sweet-tempered, unafraid of people and in reasonably good shape. The boy's mother apologized for how thin she was, but for a nursing bitch, she wasn't really bad. Then we set off once more in search of the elusive Culhali köyü.

Unfortunately, the male's ears had been cut too close to his head by the kids, but that can't be mended. (Ears were often cut off on the grounds that they were a likely body part to be grabbed by a wolf.) He had on a spiky and uncomfortable looking metal anti-wolf collar . . .

This time we found it. It was actually quite close to Akdagmadeni but on a different road from the one we had taken. Again, the road was in very bad shape and we had to back up and change routes twice. (We were lucky that alternates existed both times – once through a lumberyard and once where the taxi had to ford a stream.) We found Berber Mehmet and, sure enough, he had two good young males, just as had been reported. He also, he said, had some pups but – he said – their mother's legs were rather short. This was such an unusual statement (no one ever said that their dogs had any defects) that I asked to see the mother. The pups were very fat and healthy looking but also just didn't look like shepherd dogs. The taxi driver started to complain. "Mother, father, grandmother, aunt – what does it matter? A dog is a dog! Just look at it and take it". Then the boys dragged up a forty pound black and white street dog – the mother – who had been inseminated by a shepherd dog! Meanwhile, I was happy to see that food was being prepared, since by now it was about three in the afternoon and we had had breakfast before 7 that morning. We were served wonderful fresh hot bread – a round loaf apiece – and eggs scrambled in about a cup of butter, so that we all broke our bread in pieces and dipped it in the butter. Black olives and tea completed the meal – delicious! The girls of the family wore golden necklaces with huge coins hanging down – their dowries. The usual 15 to 20 people crowded into the room to gape and ask questions. Berber Mehmet said that he had sold his flock so he'd be willing to sell his males. He also said that there was a pregnant bitch in the village and that he would separate a good bitch pup out for us. I saw the bitch and photographed her – assuming the father was really a shepherd dog, which is likely, she looks good.

We drive back to Akdagmadeni and dropped the child (who was still with us) by the side of the road where his sheep and shepherd were camped, and then drove back to Karapir köyü to see the Muhtar's pups. The taxi driver didn't want to stay overnight in the village, but finally gave in. The pups appeared as promised and looked good, especially the male, who was gigantic for a three month old. The female probably weighed only half as much. They said that they gave her less food because she was female, but after watching them eat, I think the situation was exacerbated by his grabbing all her food (if they got fed together all the time). Unfortunately, the male's ears had been cut too close to his head by the kids, but that can't be mended. (Ears were often cut off on the grounds that they were a likely body part to be grabbed by a wolf.) He had on a spiky and uncomfortable looking metal anti-wolf collar; she didn't. The parents looked good – the mother almost white and rather slim; the father a real karabash and quite good-tempered. I said I would buy them; what did he want. He said 15,000 lire, and I gasped with unfeigned surprise. I thought that $200 was too much for two young pups and it was clear from the expressions of the villagers gathered around that they thought the same. I said that I had expected the price to be lower – around 7,500 lire. (In fact, this was the most I ever paid for dogs – many villages simply gave them to me, along with their hospitality.) For a while it looked like we were at an impasse; he wouldn't come down at all, and I didn't want to be gypped. Almost the entire village stood around, watching with great interest, and it looked like the Muhtar not only didn't want to lose money, he didn't want to lose face. Finally, one psychologically astute villager said to me, "Why don't you add 500 lire and make it 8,000? You pay a little more, the Muhtar gets a little more. Will you accept that Muhtar Bey?" So the bargain was concluded. The school teacher wrote out an official agreement (price not mentioned) which we both signed, for me to buy the male named Çapar and the female, named Karabash, and then we were served dinner (yufka, mixed grain and milk soup, and hot milk), and all the village men came into talk (or listen) to us in the village's guest room, where we were put up. The stove was lit to take the chill off the air, the lamp was lit (this village has not yet been electrified) and we all settled in for a good chat on religion, politics, sheep diseases, vets and dogs. I counted, at the maximum, 18 people in the room, including two old ladies who came in to gape at me.

The men all said that for a flock of 2,000 sheep they would use four dogs – three males and one female. They said that the females are more nervous and more apt to circle around the outside of the flock. They bring the news that a wolf has come. Then the males race out for the kill. One male should be chained where the shepherd is sleeping, to wake him. As soon as he is wakened, he should unchain the dog. This idea of using both males and females is quite different from most villages we've been in, where female pups were discarded and only males were used. But, when we got back to Ankara, and I talked to Ali Bey (Ahmet's older brother, who had been a shepherd in western Anatolia 50 or 60 years earlier), he said they used to use three – one female and two males – and that not only is the female a better watchdog but, if there are only males, they sometimes won't attack a female wolf. He says you really need both males and females, even though lots of shepherds nowadays only want males. So that definitely agreed with what the locals here said.

To make things worse, Çapar's anti-wolf collar (another stupid move – we hadn't taken it off right away) ripped a hole in the back of the driver's seat.

At about 10:30 everyone politely said goodnight and they all filed out with their flashlights. I learned were the toilet was, and the Muhtar brought in three lovely mattresses, pillows, quilts and sheets for us. The villages are much cleaner than hotels in eastern Turkey, but if I were a village wife I'd tell my husband never to invite a guest because doing laundry is so difficult.

Thursday, May 22: We had breakfast (hot milk, yufka, tea and salty, crumbly cheese) and the kids grabbed the puppies and put them in the taxi, snarling, squirming and hating it. The villagers loaded their yogurt for sale onto a wagon behind the village's Massey-Ferguson tractor to go to the Akdagmadeni market, and we all set off. Akdagmadeni had the local veterinary directorate, and we got an awfully nice vet to come out to the car, give the pups their rabies shots and fill out a health form (required for export). I almost got run over by a tractor at the Hayvan Pazari but I found the Vesiralan köyü boy's father's brother (couldn't find the father) and told him that I was interested in their bitch for August, especially if she was pregnant by someone good. They wanted some sort of down payment so I put a 1,000 lire deposit down on her, figuring it was worth it, even if I didn't take her.

The first dog got sick about five minutes out of town, and the second one followed suit shortly after we'd finally cleaned up the first dog's mess. I'd stupidly suggested that the villagers feed the dogs well the night before, and goodness knows what and how much they'd been given. Of course, the taxi's upholstery was plush and not plastic. To make things worse, Çapar's anti-wolf collar (another stupid move – we hadn't taken it off right away) ripped a hole in the back of the driver's seat. The driver grabbed him by the collar, which immediately broke, whereupon Çapar growled and lunged at the driver. Only the driver's thick sweater saved him from a bite. Thank goodness he only had his puppy teeth. Oh God, I thought, I just can't deal with this. The poor driver was really upset, and I couldn't blame him. His upholstery was being ruined by ripping and vomit; the car smelled awful, the dog was attacking him, and his precious car, which had been in perfect shape when we set out, was covered with mud and had been through much worse conditions than he'd expected. "I told you to put them in the trunk", he said. But I just couldn't bear to put them in the trunk. The thought of them trapped there in the dark, in a hot stuffy place, in their own sickness, was too upsetting. So we set off again, with Karabash lying miserably on the floor, and Çapar sitting sullenly in the middle of the back seat, taking up so much room that I was perched uncomfortably in the tiny space he'd left to one side, afraid to move him.

All the above is almost an exact transcription from the journal I kept. What happened next? Well, the trip back to Ankara was long, and pretty soon my hand strayed to Çapar's back. Nothing bad happened so I started to pet him. I'm not sure he'd ever been petted but before an hour or so had gone by, we were snuggled together, and I was scratching behind his ears and talking to him. (Karabash was wiped out, lying on the floor.) Of the two, Çapar had by far the stronger personality; in fact, I would say that of all the dogs I collected or knew, only Genghis could match him for personality. I certainly felt the strongest bond to Çapar of any dog I ever knew, yet I had him near me for only a week, from May 22nd when we took him from his village, to May 29th, when he and his sister and I flew back to the U.S. Ahmet felt the same way. For a three month old pup to exhibit such strength of character and adult-type personality (he had no cute puppy-like characteristics; he always acted like an adult) is – I think – pretty amazing. By the end of the trip to Ankara, even the taxi driver was succumbing to his charm! (Incidentally, I visited the driver the next day, as he was dismantling the seats in order to wash and deodorize them, and offered him extra money because the trip had been so hard, but he refused.) Çapar (pronounced "chapar") was the name he had been given in the village. According to my dictionary, it has two meanings: "albino" and "courier" or "runner". Since he was far from albino; being tan with a typically dark muzzle (hard to say about his ears since they'd been clipped off), I prefer to think that he got this name by being fast on his feet. He spent time on our experimental farm, and ultimately became a well respected sire and working dog. The only photo I had of him was an old black and white head shot of him, that the Harneds put out, to announce a litter he'd sired. While I was writing this, it occurred to me to google "Çapar of Sakarya"and I got some hits. (Weirdly, the first was to Eric Conard's "Lucky Hit Ranch".) There was a color picture of Çapar looking gorgeous. Here's what Eric says: "Capar was imported from Turkey in 1980 by Quinn and Marilyn Harned. He was placed at the New England Farm Center for the first three (3) years he lived in the United States. Capar is featured on the Control Data Corporation video entitled, "Livestock Guarding Dogs." He was also the breed representative in George Ancona's book, Sheep Dog. Capar was one of the great, proven livestock guardian dogs. (Eric's emphasis) He passed on these outstanding guardian traits to his many offspring. At 115 pounds of lean muscle and bone, he proved that attitude and demeanor was more important than size and weight. He was awesome."

Dr. Goldhor's Map
Dr. Goldhor's Map

Somehow, I slid off the radar screen in all of this, although I expect that the Harneds – who were always supportive of my collecting, both financially and personally -- would be the first to give me credit. I collected over a dozen dogs from Turkey, and I'm proudest of Çapar. It's a nice coincidence that Janice Frasche, who contacted me after all these years, and asked if I could write down some of my experiences collecting in Turkey, has bred dogs that go back to Çapar. (I discovered this via Google.) It's amazing to think of the web of relationships he wove.

Other reading on Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed History

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