By Holly Culhane
It was just over ten years ago when Doug and I first encountered the Great Pyrenees dog breed. By Divine appointment, the details of which are for another time, we had been led to a small flock of sheep and their shepherd. He was wearing blue jeans and an orange hoodie, standing calmly watching his flock. I had just read Phillip Keller’s Lessons from a Sheep Dog, so I was especially intrigued to watch the canine-helper diligently herd the flock.
Then, without warning, something far in the distance caught our attention. Barking fiercely and running full speed toward us were two Great Pyrenees. To say they meant business would be an understatement. Known as steadfast guardians, these protectors of the flock are immensely strong mountain dogs that stand as high as 32 inches at the shoulder and often tip the scales at more than 100 pounds. These remarkable creatures usually exhibit a Zen-like calm, but they can quickly spring into action and move with grace and speed to meet a threat. That day, we were the threat. And they indeed exhibited both of those traits.
It was not until the shepherd’s stern “no” that the dogs stopped their advance. Looking directly at us, they snarled a ferocious last bark and obediently returned to the flock.
We were reminded of our experience when we learned of Casper, a Great Pyrenees, who risked his life for the protection of his pregnant partner and the sheep he guards on John Wierwille’s Georgia farm. Casper took out three coyotes that made it inside the pen and, once Wierwille appeared, leaped a 4-foot hog wire fence to go after the rest of the pack. The next morning, Wierwille and others found another five coyotes along the railroad tracks that Casper had killed. In all, he had slain eight of the eleven coyotes that had threatened the animals that night. Casper then went missing for two days, returning to the farm with infected wounds that Wierwille never thought Casper would survive. After multiple surgeries and 15 days with an emergency vet, Casper the Guardian-Dog-turned-Hero made it through with a bald spot on his back, a scar on one ear, and a docked tail.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd.
And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.
Casper was no hired hand. He is a shepherd. One who provides what the sheep need, protects them from harm, and assures he is fully present.
Doug and I have never forgotten our Great Pyrenees encounter, for many reasons, but we have often been reminded of how those dogs more diligently protected that grazing flock of sheep than many in leadership roles protect the flock of lives the Father has entrusted to their care.
The role the Guardian Dogs play in our lives is imperative to the safety of the flock – whether as parent in the home, teacher in the classroom, manager in a work environment, elected official in a community, or Elder in the church.
The Good Shepherd provided the example. As one of His under-shepherds, are you protecting your flock?