Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Woman's best friend

Sept./Oct. 2015 California Bountiful magazine

Rancher is big believer in Anatolian shepherd dogs

More online: The conversation continues

Kathy Gerlach with Val, one of her Anatolian shepherd dogs. Gerlach breeds Anatolians as livestock guard dogs on her Napa County ranch.

There's a lot to love about an Anatolian shepherd dog—and not just in the literal sense. While these powerful animals often tip the scales at 110 to 150 pounds each, Napa County rancher Kathy Gerlach weighs the dog's value in its intuition and fierce loyalty. She has bred Anatolians as livestock guard animals for more than 20 years and currently has five on her own property to protect the sheep as well as the human inhabitants. 

Why did you get your first Anatolian?

When we built our home, we wanted to raise a little bit of everything: chickens, rabbits, sheep, a horse and a cow. Pack dogs and coyotes were running our fence line. We purchased our first Anatolian because our sheep and chickens were killed by pack dogs, and our neighbors had also lost animals to predators. Now that we have Anatolians, we don't worry about livestock losses.
Do the dogs form attachments to the animals they guard? Yes. I have had some dogs lay with a ewe until she lambs, then will move on to the next ewe. Others will stay with the lambs.

What qualities of the Anatolian do you appreciate most?

They're very loyal and can sense anything that goes wrong. When our first Anatolian, Fayda, died, I was devastated. My male Anatolian sat with me all day long and kept his head in my lap. They tug at your heartstrings for just being so in tune to you. Even though they're a livestock dog and they're in tune to everything around them, the personal bond they have with their owners, their family, is amazing.

Sirin, a 10-year-old Anatolian shepherd dog, looks after quadruplet lambs, while Val, below, comforts the lambs' mother.

Why did you become a breeder?

I loved the dogs and wanted a couple more pups. That's how I got started. Now I do it because I want to preserve the temperament and working ability of the breed.

What does the future hold?

I hope to always have Anatolians and I will always raise sheep to be with them. I believe they need a job and are happiest guarding livestock.

The conversation continues

What do the dogs eat?

I feed them large-breed dog food. The puppies gets 3 cups in the morning and 3 cups in the afternoon. The old dogs get 2 cups at each feeding.

Who buys your dogs? 

Most go to families with property with some type of livestock.  I have many second- and third-time buyers.

Describe the connection between Anatolian owners.

There are two Anatolian clubs in the United States. We all say we're part of the same family. If you have a problem or a question, you're always going to find someone to help you. Each dog is different, so I'm always learning something new.

Photos courtesy of Kathy Gerlach

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