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Local dog breeders win with Moose

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Sandra King said she first got interested in large dogs after a series of burglaries at her Chiefland home back in the mid 1980’s. She said she was working at a veterinary clinic at the time, and a co-worker, after hearing about the break-ins, said, “You need an Anatolian.”
Anatolians, properly referred to as Anatolian shepherd dogs, are a relatively large breed of dog from Turkey that are prized for their loyalty, courage and ability to intimidate, King said in an interview on the front porch of her business partner Linda Curran’s home in High Springs last week.
“That’s what they were developed for. They were developed over centuries to protect…Basically, whatever they’re raised with they bond to and will protect with their lives.”
King got her first Anatolian, a pooch she named Murgatroid, in 1987.  And she’s been in love with the 6,000-year-old breed ever since.
“These guys, they’re amazing.  They really get into your blood.  Sometimes it feels like they’re talking to you.”
She began breeding and showing Anatolians a few years after acquiring Murgatroid, a dog she never bred and affectionately referred to as “a big pile of mush.”
By the late 1990s, with the help of an Anatolian named Tilki, King and her dogs were winning awards at dog shows all over the country.
King met fellow Anatolian enthusiast Curran at a United Kennel Club show in 1997. The two hit it off and soon formed a partnership where King took care of the breeding and showing while Curran, having a 33-acre farm with chickens goats and sheep, mostly provided the farm setting that, according to both, is critical to the well being of Anatolians, bred by generations of Turkish shepherds.
“These dogs are actually raised with livestock,” King said.
Curran, who said she was initially attracted to the dogs because they are big, long-lived and relatively low maintenance, said providing the dogs with an opportunity to work is important in preserving the nature of Anatolians. Unfortunately, she said, some breeders are only concerned with creating show dogs.
“We won’t breed a dog if it’s not a good working dog,” Curran said.  “These dogs have been doing their jobs for 5 to 6,000 years.”
About five years ago, King said she got excited after getting a good look at one of their puppies, a dog named Moose who, according to King and Curran, came to embody all that a working Anatolian should be.
“You could just about write the standard by him,” King said.  “He’s got everything. He’s a full package.”
When judges look at Moose, according to King, they say, “Wow, this dog looks like he can work.  He looks like he can take down a wolf.” And, she added with a laugh, Moose has a nice shaped head, a quality she selects for.
In August, the 135-pound Moose, who spends more time on the farm than prancing around in front of judges, made history as the First American Kennel Club (AKC) Grand Champion Anatolian.  Moose, short for Mustafa, also won his 16th straight Best of Breed award in August, as well as two other awards in November, according to King. And he’s been invited to the 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club’s Annual All Breed Dog Show, held in February at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. The Westminster show is one of the biggest in the country and since 1992 has invited the top five dogs out of each breed to be pre-registered.  The show features all 179 breeds recognized by AKC and can have as many as 2,500 dogs competing.
“It’s a huge honor to be invited,” King said.  “They only invite the top five dogs.”
Yet, King and Curran said they aren’t sure if Moose will attend, adding that despite being an honor, it’s also hard on dogs.
“We don’t show him too much,” King said. “The dogs he’s beat out have been showing every other weekend all year long.”
The two business partners agreed that Moose, despite being able to charm the judges with his easy charm, much prefers to be on the farm, keeping at bay the occasional bobcat or coyote.  He’s also the father of nine new puppies being raised by their mother, Zena, in a barn surrounded by baby goats and sheep.
Curran said the puppies sell for about $1,500 each and are kept until at least eight weeks old, and both said they are very selective about who winds up with one of their dogs.  All the puppies they sell must, according to a contract, go through extensive health tests before being allowed to breed at about age 2. About 50 percent of the dogs go to farms.
One of the biggest challenges associated with Anatolians, according to King, is “learning to acclimate yourself to their attitude, the way they think.”
Curran said that the dogs have an uncanny ability to perceive true threats, meaning that they might not always respond the way an owner wants if the situation, according to the dog, doesn’t warrant a particular action.
She said she sometimes gets calls from owners wondering why their dog doesn’t appear to actively be doing anything other than lying on top of a hill. She said she asks them how much livestock they’ve lost, and they always say, “none.”  
King said Anatolians have a knack for knowing how to resolve a situation with as little effort possible.
“They’re very fair,” she said.  “If you go away when they tell you to, fine, but if you don’t go away…”
For more information about King and Curran’s kennel, Alturka Anatolians, visit their website at www.alturka.org.