The father of Yorae’s puppies was either a black dog of allegedly middling character who patrolled a local apple orchard—a dog described by people who knew him as “uncool”—or the dad was a handsome stud of an Anatolian shepherd, a recent arrival from actual Anatolia who had been spending his January evenings humping Yorae amongst the sheep, though he had purportedly been de-balled at some point. The timing lined up decently well for either. Jack and Jenya hoped the Anatolian’s nutsack had survived the surgery, as the prospect of a hybrid Anatolian shepherd-Great Pyrenees would make the pups perfect for life with the sheep. However, Yorae hadn’t been seen for days, and we had to find them before a predator did.
Jack and Jenya run Cuyama Lamb, a herd of 400-or-so (and growing) sheep along the Santa Barbara coast. The flock spends a good portion of the year in the Cuyama Valley, and once Spring turns and the Central Coast’s grasses start to flourish, they relocate to the coast. The sheep will pasture in a series of fields, clearing the sort of brush and grass that can make this region such a volatile place during fire season, while also restoring the land and improving the soil’s ability to capture carbon. A chunk of the larger flock is currently munching grass in Elings Park, so Lexi and I went to see Jack and the sheep on Sunday morning.
While we were putting up fence around an untouched chunk of grass and answering questions from curious Santa Barbarians, he told us about his predicament with Yorae. One week earlier, a veterinarian pegged her delivery date to 1-3 weeks, and two days before we saw Jack, she had disappeared to go give birth somewhere. Yorae is the younger of Cuyama Lamb’s two guard dogs, and she and her sister Lucy had been working (read: sleeping and playing) with the bulk of the flock on the Gaviota coast when she’d holed up to give birth.
Problem was, it had been raining heavy, and the area where the sheep were munching was a fairly remote hillside above U.S. 101. Coyotes patrol the canyons, and while Yorae is a capable and large, her puppies are neither. The year’s biggest storm was set to land Sunday night, so Jack invited Lexi and me out the pasture to put in a shift searching for Yorae and her estimated bundle of 6-12 puppies.
Yorae was last seen two days before we arrived, protecting the sheep while they grazed in a large field dotted with head-high piles of logs and tree trunks awaiting processing at the on-site sawmill. Jack and Jenya had searched the day before, and found nothing. The flock had moved up the hill to a pasture thick with mustard and milk thistle, and still Yorae had not been spotted. She had clearly given birth, somewhere.
The four of us spread out in the junkyard adjacent to the wood field, stooping to check in on what seemed to be perfect puppy nests under old boats and cars. Jack headed up-canyon, only to run back once Lexi hollered that she saw a white dog. There she was, silhouetted against the ocean on a hillock above the woodpile. Jenya inspected her and quickly announced that Yorae had definitely given birth. The problem was now finding her puppies. We followed her, hoping that she would lead us to their den.
Instead, Yorae took the time to grab some food from a bowl of kibble put out for her the day before, prance around the pile greeting Rocco—a friend to all creatures—and eventually saunter up the hill to say hello to Lucy and her friends the sheep. We gave her space to go where she wanted, but the problem was she wanted to reacquaint herself with her pals, not show us the mini dogs. The rain picked up. Jack mentioned that we had to steel ourselves for the prospect of lifting a log and finding a pile of dead puppies.
So we searched the woodpile again, more thoroughly this time. I tried to listen in for mewling, but I heard nothing but the sheep idly complaining. I was standing on top of a large pile of redwood logs, when Jack and Yorae charged into the field, the now-skinny dog sniffing her way directly to my pile. She nosed into a hollow I thought I had looked into moments earlier, and showed us six beautiful, squirmy pug-looking rats. Sadly, one of her seven babies did not make it, but two days after escaping, Yorae finally showed us half a dozen healthy squeakers. What’s more, the puppies showed definitively who their father was: rather than display the alleged lack of cool plaguing the apple dog, their heads and ears showed clear Anatolian markings. Somehow, the beautiful sheep dog from Turkey had sired a litter despite doctors trying to neuter him.
After finally exhaling and cracking beers in celebration, we watched as Yorae shuffled her babies around in a little pile, eventually putting her into a nest in the backseat of the ancient Subaru then settling her into a new temporary home in an old pig trailer. Two-thirds of a bale of hay served as a new home for her to nurse her puppies up to size. Yorae started working as a sheep dog when she was ten weeks old, and given their impressive pedigree, the little guys will grow fast and start running among the sheep before summer hits the coast.