The great Pyrenees rescue

2012-03-14T00:05:00Z 2012-03-23T08:45:13Z The great Pyrenees rescueBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

White, furry chaos erupted from the back of the Gallatin County Sheriff's pickup when the tailgate was finally dropped.  

It was Tuesday afternoon and 11 Pyrenees puppies had just finished a four-hour trip from Three Forks to an 80-acre ranch tucked into the hills east of Lavina.

For the next few months, the puppies will be residents at the ranch, home base for the Great Pyrenees Rescue of Montana, run by the organization's president, Christiane Sikora.

As the truck pulled up Tuesday, Sikora yelped with excitement and ran down to meet the puppies, her face flush with joy.

"It's a challenging breed," she said of the Pyrenees. "But they're completely loyal and so loving."

The 11 puppies were from a group of roughly 50 Pyrenees living on a ranch in Willow Creek, just outside Three Forks, that officials are working to rescue. The dogs' owner had become overwhelmed by the animals in the last year. So she reached out for help.

It wasn't always such a big group of dogs. Originally, the woman had two female Pyrenees but took in a male at the insistence of a friend who could no longer care for hers.

As recently as three years ago, the dogs had increased to about six and the Willow Creek woman had a handle on them, said Pat Hess with the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office Animal Control.

But the woman never got the dogs spayed or neutered, and the group quickly ballooned until there were more than 50 dogs running around the ranch, Hess said.

"You drive to the place and they're just everywhere," she said.

It's a textbook example of why people need to spay and neuter their pets, Sikora said.

Pyrenees are big dogs with strong wills. They were bred two millenia ago in the mountains between Spain and France to control livestock without human help, so they're prodigious barkers and free thinkers.  

For that reason, they're challenging pets. Having more than 50 of them to care for, the woman in Willow Creek was simply overwhelmed, Hess said.

"I truly believe she loves them and tried her best," said Kathy Middleton with Bozeman City Animal Control.

But authorities needed to step in.

Sikora runs the largest Pyrenees rescue in five states. Before Tuesday's delivery, she had 10 full-grown Pyrenees in her care. It's about what she can reasonably handle.

With the addition of the 11 puppies, Sikora will be busier, but the puppies won't need nearly as much space as the adult dogs. And because they're puppies, they'll be much easier to place.

The remaining 35 dogs on the Willow Creek property will be adopted out to people from the area. Sikora already has 15 homes tentatively lined up, although those homes must be cleared before the adoptions become final.

Sikora is picky about the homes where she sends her Pyrenees. The dogs need lots of space and loving homes, she said. 

In the meantime, she and the Gallatin County officials are trying to get the 35 dogs left at the Willow Creek ranch spayed and neutered. They've found a veterinarian who will visit the property and do it all in one day, but they'll need to raise $1,700 to do it.

Any donations will help, they said.

Sikora has placed 90 dogs in the 12 years she's had her Pyrenees rescue. The project started after she and her husband adopted one as a pet 16 years ago.

"We never wanted to foster on this scale, but it's hard to say no," she said. "It's just so rewarding."

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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