Monday, April 2, 2018

A Shaggy Sheepdog Story for an April Fool's Sunday

This was just a little fun I had today, although I had a moment of worry, wondering about the wrath of a wary guard dog. We've visited the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge several times in the last few weeks. The refuges seek to maintain an environment conducive to the survival of the native birds and other animals of the Central Valley. Unfortunately over the years, many of the native species have disappeared or have been displaced. This is especially true of the big grazers. The valley once hosted mammoths, mastodons, bison, horses, camels, and pronghorns.
So the rebuilding of the natural grasslands involves returning native species of grass, and to the extent possible, the return of larger grazing animals. The managers will often allow the limited grazing of the prairie by domestic sheep and cattle. We've been seeing a herd of sheep on our recent visits. We haven't seen the human shepherds, but we've noticed the herd's protectors: some rather large sheep dogs. I think they are a breed called Maremma or Great Pyrenees.
And the sheep do need protection. Their natural defensive nature has been largely bred out, and they don't really know how to face down predators like the coyotes we've seen in the vicinity of the sheep herds.

So, we were there again today, enjoying the beautiful spring weather and the birds, and even a few newly born lambs in the sheep herd. We got to the southeast corner of the Waterfowl Auto-tour, and found out that the sheep dogs recognized us as a possible threat to the sheep. They actually jumped a fence, slogged through an irrigation canal, and loudly barking and growling, chased our car down the road to the Souza Marsh. They finally seemed to lose interest and fell behind. We parked and I walked around for a few minutes. Then I turned to walk back to the car...and came face to face with a very large sheep dog! Those crafty little beasts had snuck up on us and had me trapped in the open.
I actually got bit by a panicked dog a couple of weeks ago, so I was painfully aware of what a dog bite can feel like. I was more than just a little nervous. Luckily, Mrs. Geotripper was already in the car, but I was frozen in place. I finally realized they weren't barking, just watching. I walked slowly to the car. The dogs allowed me to get in the car without making a sound. And then: they herded us out of the marsh and away from the sheep flock, with one dog on either side of the rear of the car. Not a growl or a bark between them. They walked us almost a quarter mile in a highly disciplined manner.

I fear for the well-being of the coyote who decides to go up against them.

So, there you go for an April Fool's Day, a shaggy dog story, but without the painfully stupid pun at the end. At least none that I could think of in the spur of the moment.
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