"How old is that puppy?"
"Forty years old" is my answer.
And, while observing the astonished expression in the face of the person I'm talking to, I go back to my childhood in Bussi on the Tirino, a small village through which the river bearing the same name flows with its very clear, cold, abounding with fish, water at the feet of the Gran Sasso.
In those places the prince of dogs was the Abruzzi Shepherd or, more simply, the shepherds' dog.
The intrepid courage of the Abruzzi Shepherd brought him to challenge wolves' raids (at the time, they still populated the Appennines), therefore he deserved everyone's respect because he was essential to defend the family economy, which was largely based on agriculture and sheepbreeding.
During transhumance (autumn-spring), I waited for the shepherds' dogs to appear in the skyline. I was filled with dismay, due to the anguish of not seeing them anymore because, perhaps, they had received the worst in a fight against wolves. Finally, they came into sight, all their solemn figures like the statue of the Capestrano Warrior, strong in the body, but gentle in character.
They stopped for a while, they looked at me as if they said "I have recognized you; but my way is still longer and I can't stop." And, I felt satisfied as I thought we would see one another once more at their return in spring. I imagined them unblemished while watching that wonderful view. They, always the white warriors, seen as an integral part of Abruzzi like the Gran Sasso, the Maiella chain, the lake of Scanno and the Campo Imperatore plateau. Unfortunately, it wasn't as I had expected. Everything was preserved and upgraded except the Abruzzi Shepherd who were disappearing, like the wolves killed off by hunters and their traps.
Abruzzi fascinated tourists and attracted people to its mountains, the place of sheep, wolves and those who had to fight against them (THE WHITE DOGS).
If tourists had never represented a danger to wolves and sheep, the WHITE DOGS had. They used to threaten tourists who went too near flocks, sacred to the white dogs who had always fought against raiders stealing cattle (at the time shepherds were forced to move flocks from one mountain area to another). But they, the dogs couldn't know the tourists would not steal flocks, they would only take some photographs of the little lambs. The dogs did what was written in their DNA: to bite those who approached too close, who knows what purpose they had!!!
The unlucky ones' injuries were serious so they had to be compensated...well then, they started a true slaughter of these dogs who were brought to dog pounds, at the time joined with slaughterhouses, to be killed because they were dangerous, snapping animals.
Farewell Abruzzi Shepherd!
This piece of news appeared in a newspaper and the journalist who wrote the article regretted how no dog lovers breeding foreign breeds (a passion which in the 60's used to fascinate a lot of dog lovers in Abruzzi) wouldn't feel the duty to save this ancient breed of Abruzzi Shepherd, which had been a cultural heritage for thousands of years and why, even now days, no regional authorities responsible for the protection of the environment would claim this heritage.
It happened, then, in 1967, I felt it my duty to champion these wonderful collaborators of the Abruzzi people in order to prevent their falling into oblivion and extinction.
Unluckily, the breed had been heavily decimated at the expense of the hugest, most combative, formidable WHITE WARRIORS. My search to find some good typical specimens was long, before I could proudly and tenaciously start my own breeding for re-establishment and selection.
In the meantime, forty years have past, but I think I have been successful!
The huge WHITE GIANTS did not die out and they are still called ABRUZZI SHEPHERD!!!
Everywhere they go, they will take a piece of Abruzzi with them, the land their ancestors lived in. That's why I decided to name all the dogs in my breeding program with the names of towns, villages, mountains, or rivers in Abruzzi.
"Forty years", I repeat to the astonished prospective client, "but it doesn't look its age, does it?"
He's an army sentry! His vocation? To protect his territory over which he has absolute control. While he is watching over the boundaries (either marked or not) of the territory, of which he regards himself as the absolute landlord, he is never interfering, but he has a reassuring and, at the same time, aggressive look.
Heavy, strong and nimble as well, with full muscles, strong bones, self-confident, he has a straightforward look and he is never shifty, as if he said: "Heaven help those who violate my privacy".
I would state that the saying "strong and gentle Abruzzi" perfectly fits this wonderful shepherd dog. Because now he has become a town dweller and it is easy to see him at shows, while you seldom meet one on the mountains watching sheep with his proud, resolute look.
You can see an Abruzzi Shepherd keeping watch over villas or houses, but when he has to go into action, he doesn't manage to hide the heroic exaltation pervading him, so he expresses it with a terrible charge to the intruder.
Ancarano del Dannunziano
Tel. 085 65258