Monday, April 25, 2011

Media Stars

We have recently been overrun with interest in the Canaans by the media.  In the last few weeks, we had a film crew from Animal Planet doing a show about the dogs, and a photographer and writer from a very classy German dog magazine to do a feature story about them.  Very nice indeed to get so much attention, but it has certainly been exhausting.

The first to arrive was the Animal Planet crew, made up of Joe, the guy in charge who arrived from the US just for this project, and the cameraman, sound man, and driver, who were local.  Major interest, of course, was to show the Canaans in as natural an environment as possible, ideally to be able to show free living dogs or Canaans with the Bedouin.  Then, in addition, the plan was to film puppies at my place, and dogs that are family pets with others.  And all of this in two and a half days.

We are fortunate in that Israel is a very small country, and what is considered a long distance drive here is a picnic to an American.  So driving an hour or two south to get to suitable areas was not at all daunting for Joe.

Finding free living Canaans is just about impossible, unless you have a few weeks or months to learn the area, discover their habits and daily schedule and have the time to sit and wait for them to possibly show up.  So the Bedouin were our best bet.  The Canaans are working dogs for the Bedouin, notifying all and sundry if anyone or anything gets within a kilometer or so of the camp, and going out with the herds of sheep to protect them from anything that might be threatening. 

However, making an appointment with a Bedouin is another story.  Luckily, in our modern times, the Bedouin have cell phones.  So we did have the possibility of getting in touch with our friend Salame, who is the head man of one of settlements, and has helped us in the past in finding and catching Canaans.  Salame is a very intelligent guy, and quite up to date on what is happening in the world, and has no objections at all to being seen on television.  So he was quite willing for the film crew come out to film his dogs.

The Bedouin concept of time and its importance is a bit different from that of a film crew.  The Animal Planet people had a definite date for the filming, and wanted assurances that Salame would be available, that there would be dogs to film, and a number of other demands that I immediately told them to forget about – such as filming me riding on a camel.  Salame was very casual about it all – yes, he thought that their date was okay… More reassurances than that were impossible to get, since he often didn’t answer his phone (which is a very new and advanced model iphone) for several days at a time.  But I trusted that it would work out, since he had always been quite reliable in the past.

So the crew, equipped with a big van – I had warned them that they needed a vehicle that could go off road in rough and rocky territory – picked me up, and we headed to the “desert”. 

The picture that the uninitiated have of a desert is something out of Laurence of Arabia, sand everywhere, dunes and trackless wilderness with no signs of any sort of life, whether animal or vegetable.  Here, it is not like that. In Hebrew, it is actually called  “wilderness”, which is what it is – very rocky and mountainous, with deep ravines and wadis, and with sparse, tough vegetation growing among the stones.  This time of year, in the spring after the winter rains, there is quite a lot of green, and some areas are very lush and full of flowers.  It is a harsh landscape, but very beautiful, I have always loved it.

We rumbled up up to Salame’s camp over the rocky and potholed dirt track – which again, is certainly not something out of the movies.  Nowadays, few Bedouin have tents anymore, they have all built houses.  In a prosperous village like Salame’s, the houses are well built of concrete, but in the poorer settlements, they are just made of huge pieces of tin sheeting – I would not care to be inside of one of those in the heat of summer.  There is the area that used to be a tent outside of the house, with a roof and canvas around the sides for protection from sun and wind, and there guests are welcomed, with the traditional mattresses and cushions on the floor and the fire pit for making tea and coffee.

All of this is spotless.  However, anything outside the borders of the house itself is pretty much a junk heap.  The Bedouin are very frugal and save and collect everything that might someday be of use, and all of this is piled around, seasoned with old plastic soft drink bottles, plastic bags, and other stuff that is no longer of use.  There is no interest in the esthetics of the camp. When the film crew suggested to Salame that some old bottles and such be removed from an area that they wanted to film, he called a few kids over and had them move them – they picked them up and threw them further down the hill.

We arrived at the time that had been set with Salame – but, of course, he wasn’t there.  When would he get back? Well, soon…maybe an hour or two…he was coming….Meanwhile, we were settled in the coffee tent with a few of his brothers and children.  All of the camp children that had nothing else to do hung around also – this was a great break in their routine. 

I am accustomed to this sort of thing, but Joe and crew were a bit worried about the waste of time, and started to ask about dogs.  Dogs?  The men looked blank (there were, of course, only men and male children to greet us, women have more important things to do, like taking care of everything else in daily life) and the kids thought it really funny that anyone should be interested in dogs.

Finally, Salame arrived.  By now it was about noon, and it was very hot.  A lot of the time planned for filming had passed non productively.  And now it turned out that there was a wedding being held that afternoon in the camp, with relatives and friends coming from far and wide to participate, and they would start arriving in a few hours.  Dogs?  Oh yes, dogs…But first we needed to drink coffee and tea, and taste some of the food which was ready for the wedding…It was absolutely delicious, by the way!

There were some dogs in the camp, according to Salame, that stayed at home to guard, and there were others that went out every day with the sheep.  Where were the sheep?  Salame squinted at the horizon and pointed at some vague dots high up the side of a mountain about two or three kilometers across the valley – “There they are!”  No road access, of course. But they would be coming back later…

Meanwhile, we started walking around the camp looking for dogs.  The dogs, not being as foolish as us, were lying in various patches of shade, watching us but quite indifferent, since we were obviously insignificant.  When we got too near, they got up, barked, and moved away to a new patch of shade, usually somewhere off on the other side of the hill, where they would be left in peace.  They were indeed Canaans, but not really beautiful ones.

Since one of my major interests in this whole project was to possibly find some new stock with potential for bringing new bloodlines into our breeding, I was feeling quite frustrated.  And then, another dog came out from behind a pile of junk and started to bark at us.

This one was beautiful!  A perfectly typical Canaan, and obviously, from his behavior, a top dog in the camp, he kept his distance, but warned us that we were definitely trespassing and he did not approve!  This was a dog I would love to have!

However, with a wedding about to take place, and guests starting to arrive, this was not a time to talk to Salame about catching dogs – it was enough that he had spared the time for us.  So we and the film crew photographed, and decided to move on. 

The children were quite disappointed that we were going.  We had attracted quite an entourage as we walked around the village – I was beginning to feel like the Pied Piper.  This tribe are very good looking people, and the children were all dressed up for the wedding, and followed us around giggling as we tried to get close to the dogs.  How strange these city people were.

The sheep would be coming home soon, as we got towards evening, and we decided to drive around the area, looking for the herds, and going through some of the other villages to see if there were dogs there.  The villages were almost completely empty, as everyone had gone to the wedding, and we saw a few dogs around but not many.  We found some of the herds, who were now down in the valley on their way home, accompanied by the teenage boys who herded them.  Often the women go out with the herds, but not today – they were busy with the wedding.  The boys thought it was very funny for us to ask about dogs.  Yes, there were dogs around…Where? Well, somewhere, they will come out when they want to…

The sun was going down and it was time to head back north.  And then two Canaans came trotting across the fields towards the sheep.  They had been, sensibly, spending the heat of the day in the shade, and now they made a large circle around the flock, checking that everything was okay so that they could accompany them home.

The next day of filming was much easier.  We went to Tel Lachish, a beautiful archaeological site which was especially lovely at this time of year, and my friends who have three Canaans let them run free on the hill so that they could be photographed in nature.  They looked wonderful running through the tall grass (you can see some of my photos of that on Facebook).  It was still quite hot, and the crew were rather disappointed when the dogs weren’t willing, after running around for an hour or two, to go back and run around some more.  Dogs don’t really care much about the concept of multiple takes…But they did get some good shots. 

Then the puppies were filmed at my place, running around and destroying the garden and playing with my grandson – both the puppies and my grandson have plenty of energy, so there were no problems there.

So all of this will result in maybe ten minutes that will be broadcast eventually…But I am hoping that it will be worth the effort! 

A few days after this, a very professional photographer arrived from Germany to photograph Canaans for an article in a very high toned German dog magazine.  She spent a few days in the south with a friend of mine, photographing his dogs in the scenery of the desert, also went to Tel Lachish, and photographed the dogs here.  And to complete her article, she decided that she had to photograph me with Habibi, with the landscape of the desolate beauty of the area around the Dead Sea as the background.  So off we drove to the Dead Sea.

It is not far, only about an hour’s drive or so.  This was the first time Habibi was ever in the desert.  We stopped at a location that suited the photographer and got out of the car.  Habibi’s nose was in the air, testing all of these strange scents and examining everything in this new place. 

It took a few hours – this photographer is very professional and very, very thorough and took thousands of photos.  The wind rises in the desert as it gets towards evening, and it was getting chilly.  Habibi had already inspected everything, including the camels at a distance, horses and riders going past, jeeps raising clouds of dust, a few Bedouin women walking by, and was really getting bored with it all.

Finally we were finished and went back to the car. Habibi gave a sigh of relief.  Desert dog?  No way!  He has no interest in spending any more time in the land of his ancestors.  My bed in the Jerusalem hills is where he wants to be.

The beautiful Bedouin boy

One of the children, fascinated by the camera

Salame in his festive dress

1 comment:

  1. I think it's fabulous that there is so much interest in the Canaan dogs, but I have a little nervousness about it as well. It would be awful for some irresponsible breeder to get a breeding pair and start selling puppies to irresponsible customers. I still have a vhs tape of the National Geographic special, Search for the First Dog. It was wonderful. Do you have any idea when the Animal Planet people may air the footage they shot with you?

    By the way, your Bedouin friends are very attractive. You have built a great rapport with them, they obviously trust you. I hope I will have the chance someday to see the CD's in their natural element. I think the Mojave Desert is like your desert, it is very rugged. Every place has its own beauty. I love the desert.