I am back in Italy after a very successful visit to Israel.
One of the primary purposes of the trip was to see if it was possible to observe a small pack of dogs that appeared to be Canaans and to identify them as such. This pack is found in the south of Israel and lives on the edge of a settlement and in an area that includes wilderness areas and agricultural lands.
A friend, who is very interested in nature and the Canaans, and who lives in the area, has been following and observing them for a long time. She also observed the mating of the bitch who was the pack leader and the male who also has been her companion for a long time. There is also another bitch in the pack, and a few puppies of about 4 months of age.
Canaan packs are always very small, rarely more than two or three, and sometimes a few pups that are not independent, as the conditions are so difficult and finding enough resources to support a larger number is nearly impossible. They are very devoted to each other, and a pair will stay together for life if they can. Canaan bitches are very particular about whom they mate with, and we have seen in fact bitches that would ignore all sorts of males in their vicinity and travel a distance to find a Canaan male to mate with.
It was important for me to see these dogs, as it is possible to find the den of the mother and to take a few pups when they are old enough and raise them as family dogs, but dogs that will be available for breeding in future, to add some new genetic variation to the breed.
Friday night, my first day in Israel and a night with a full moon, we went out to the wilderness area where the dogs live in hopes of seeing them. It was a beautiful night, clear and cool, and everything illuminated by the wonderful full moon. The wilderness, so harsh in the daylight, was magical in the moonlight. And to our joy, the bitch was there, very heavily pregnant and resting in the fields. We could get to about 200 meters from her and observe her with binoculars. Watching her, seeing her body build and movement, athletic and balanced, her head and expression, and her behavior, I had no doubt that she is a pure Canaan, also the fact that she has been able to survive for several years (she is about five or six) in a difficult and dangerous area indicates her purity. I was really thrilled!
She was the only dog we saw that night. We made plans to come again on the next Friday. Friday is the best day, as the Arab construction workers do not work on Friday, the area is quiet, and the dogs more readily come out and move around. In general, it is only possible to see the dogs early in the morning or in the evening. During the day, they disappeared into sheltered areas and rested, not attracting attention.
I very much wanted to see the male. I had seen photos of him, but needed to see him in the flesh, to be sure he was also a Canaan, and therefore the pups would be of great value to us.
We walked along the dirt track leading away from the construction sites towards the open areas and the fields. There were many dog tracks here, and also tracks of many quail, one of the most common prey of these dogs. There were also here and there some remnants of other prey, bits of fur and bone. My friend told us that they also hunt small game - mice and rats, lizards, and such, but also can hunt foxes and even cats. (Sorry to all the tender hearted, but this is the truth of nature...) My friend has set up a feeding station and puts out supplemental food for them daily, to encourage them to stay in this area so she can go on observing them.
And then, as we climbed over a mountain of construction rubble and sand, there they were, several hundred meters away, resting in a field and watching us closely to see what our intentions were. The second bitch was there with two four month old pups; the pups were not hers, but the pups of another bitch that had been killed by the local teenagers, that thought that chasing and killing dogs with ATVs was a great sport. The mother of these pups was a mixed breed, but when she was killed, the pack adopted and cared for the pups, whose father seemed to be the male of the pack.
When we tried to get closer, the male immediately went on guard, barking and warning us to keep our distance, supported by one of the pups. But when we stopped approaching, they settled down again, always keeping a wary eye on what we were doing.
The male was a lovely Canaan in appearance, strong, with good bone, excellent construction and typical movement. He had one broken ear, not surprising for a dog who has to deal with all sorts of challenges, but other than that, he was a beautiful boy. I was so happy to see him. The second bitch also appeared to be a Canaan, although a bit less typical than the other two.
Our pregnant bitch was nowhere to be seen, and we felt that she must have whelped and was staying in the den with her pups. We had seen several dens dug into the rocky, sandy hills around us, very deep and with a turn to the right so that the dogs and pups when inside were completely protected. We were confident that in a few days, the mother would start coming out for food, and it would be possible to find exactly where her den is.
I had been accompanied this time by two friends who were really thrilled to see free living Canaans and promised their help in future.
Our plans now are for my friend to keep a close eye on the pack, and especially the mother, and when the pups are old enough, six weeks or so, but not so big that it would be impossible to catch them, we would take a few of them to raise in "civilization", as pets and working dogs, and then be able to use them for breeding, to add a new bloodline to the gene pool of the breed. We had never had any Canaans from this particular area before, and the chances are excellent that they are completely unrelated to the lines we have.
I am so happy at this success! It has made the Israel trip very worthwhile.
But this was not the only success. A few months ago I was contacted by a Korean journalist working in Israel. She was living in Jerusalem with two other Korean journalists on the edge of Abu Tor, which overlooks a wilderness area continuing on in the direction of the Dead Sea. This area is often traversed by Bedouins moving their flocks. Some local children had been given a puppy by he Bedouin, but were not allowed to keep it, and these journalists agreed to adopt him until a permanent home could be found for him. He was now a year and a half old. The journalist had discovered that he appeared to be a Canaan, in appearance and behavior fitting photos and articles she had read about the breed. She contacted me to help find a home for him, and since she was aware of our interest in breed preservation and introduction of new bloodlines, she wanted for me to see him and tell her if he was really a Canaan, if so, he would not be neutered.
She sent me a few photos and he indeed looked like a Canaan. So now I had the opportunity to go and see him.
Their apartment was not easy to find in an area of small winding roads. But when I finally got to their door, I was greeted by typical Canaan behavior of barking "who are you???", and then when I was welcomed into the home, friendly greetings and an invitation to play. He was a typical Canaan in appearance, good size and masculine, but not at all heavy, comacta strong thick coat, well shaped masculine head and lovely expression, and tail carried well over his back. I was thrilled!
We went for a walk, and I could understand why it was difficult for the journalists to keep him. They had little or no experience with dogs and were quite tiny women, and he was a strong boy, not very well educated, who pulled them in all directions. He was also starting to show typical Canaan behavior of challenging other dogs. And with their busy work schedule, it was hard for them to deal with him.
I confirmed that he appears to be a Canaan, and that we would certainly find a good home for him. We already have some potentials. He will be used for a test breeding to confirm that he is a pure Canaan, and can then be registered in the stud book annex. And this will give us another new bloodline!
I am also happy to see some growing interest in the Canaan Dog Preservation Project. Although the rest of my visit was also very successful, with well received lectures, visit to my family, and the opportunity to catch up with friends, finding these dogs has definitely been the highpoints!!!