It’s a bucolic scene at Unega Mountain Dog Rescue in Bellevue: the sun casts a warm glow on nearby Timmerman Hill and a sea of tall grass billows with every gust of wind.
Gary Tickner takes a short water break at the shed, where six Pyrenees are lounging in dog beds. Meters away, other German Shepherds cast long shadows in the grass while they are playing and take a break from time to time to look left and right. In the distance, wooden thrushes are singing “ee-oh-lay”.
It’s a fleeting moment of peace for Tickner and partner Tiffany Larson, who began working as a team in 2015 to rescue, rehabilitate, and socialize Pyrenean and Akbash Sheepdogs.
Usually the animals Tickner and Larson encounter are dogs that have been left behind guarding sheep bands, or those that are ill-equipped for the workload. Last month, however, Larson came across a scene of neglect that will haunt her forever.
It started when the Twin Falls rescuer Dave Wright Larson drew the attention of an elderly Buhl rancher who had severely neglected Pyrenean dogs on his property. For a while, the Twin Falls County Sheriff had received complaints about the man’s sheepdogs running through neighboring cattle ranches, Wright said, but no one had been able to argue with the rancher. Larson tried anyway.
“On the phone, [the rancher] told me that he shot a couple of dogs, that he has no food for them and that he is feeding them rotting tilapia fish, ”recalls Larson. “He told me about a Pyrenean dog that got into his chickens about three days before we spoke, probably because he was starving – well, he just shot it in the head. At that point I changed my tactics and said to him, ‘I can help you. ‘“
After negotiating with the rancher for a week, Larson was given his address and arrived with friend and dog rescue colleague Ashley Stroebel-Haft, who was ready to fight wild sheepdogs.
“It was junkyard mood,” she said. “You immediately saw little puppies huddled under cars. There were dead goats and cattle with protruding bones. And then you saw five tiny dead puppies in one hole. “
On March 28, the women transported 18 sick Pyrenean dogs to Unega – eight easily scooped 8-week-olds, seven 16-week-olds and a newborn puppy. Stroebel-Haft wrapped the puppy to keep him warm, Larson said, but he died within 48 hours.
The 16 week olds were almost impossible to catch, she recalled.
“They went everywhere and when we cornered them they screamed like humans,” said Larson.
Over the course of three more days, Larson Tru Catch used live animal cage traps – a larger version of the Havahart traps commonly used for rodents – to capture and rescue nine more Pyrenees, this time adults. As she became familiar with the property, she began to make more cruel discoveries.
“I started seeing this graveyard of bones, dead animals all over the place, and the stench of death and decay,” she said. “I had to hold it together to save all these dogs, but as soon as I drove away I started crying. It was out of a horror show. “
Twin Falls Animal Control has an open investigation into animal cruelty at the goat farm, Larson said. But sheepdogs are kept wild to do their job, she said, and Pyrenean dogs – if they’re working to protect sheep or goats from predators – are classified as cattle in Idaho, which means they’re exempt from federal cruelty laws apply to pets. Larson said she doubted anyone would be held accountable for their treatment at the ranch.
“I had to hold it together to save all these dogs, but as soon as I drove away I started crying. It was out of a horror show. “
Tiffany Larson, Co-Founder of Unega Mountain Dog Rescue
Nursing is a full time job
One final afternoon, the twelve-year-old moose methodically dug a shallow hole with one paw, gave up his project, and ran after the others.
Sierra, a young adult Pyrenees, sat still with her eyes closed when Tickner patted her chest.
“Are you a pretty girl?” he asked.
After the rescued dogs came to Unega’s property last month, they officially changed the classification. They are now considered companion animals. With their gentle demeanor, it is hard to imagine that the animals were wild a few weeks ago.
Both Larson and Tickner, who own The Mill SV training center in Ketchum, say feeding socializing and taking on the “new crew” of sheepdogs has been a full-time occupation. After getting up at dawn to feed them fresh elk meat, the couple switches between the gym and Unega.
“It’s like we’re full-time parents – we literally sleep three hours some nights,” she said. “Gary and I are like two ships that go by in the night and switch off which dogs we sleep with.”
The couple have adopted 16 dogs in the past two weeks. They are still socializing nine adults waiting for their vaccinations.
Tyson, foreground, sits on a favorite dog bed while Gary Tickner, background, prepares to meet two new adoptees. According to Tiffany Larson, co-founder of Unega, dog beds are one of the center’s most needed supplies.
“It’s amazing how far the dogs have come,” said Larson. “It took two hours to catch a dog, they were so wild. But with a human touch, when we started rubbing them, they said, “That’s love.” You could see it in their faces. “
Eight more pups arrived on Tuesday evening. Larson said she just felt lucky that they were born in Unega instead of the Buhl property.
Tickner, who calls the adults “the big kids,” said he saw a bright future in every dog. When he saw them tumble in the long grass, a couple from Pocatello came to bring the young rescue dog Belle to their home forever.
“The users know what they are getting into. These dogs are not going to stay small and cute – they will be big and cute, but a lot of work, ”said Larson.
Since she and Tickner moved to the 20-acre Bellevue property last October – and the center received official 501 (c) (3) status – she said she has been overwhelmed with support from across the country .
“People handed in food and blankets. People from New York, Florida, Seattle sent checks to pay for veterinary care, ”she said. “Of course we always need dog beds.”