Hamilton: The Tibetan Sheepdog, or not?
May 6, 2016
A few years ago, Wonder Wife, working with Tracy's Dogs of Texas, rescued a one-year-old male canine of undetermined breed. With his bushy tail carried over his back, and his blue-black tongue, we suspected one or more of his ancestors might be a chow. DNA testing proved inconclusive. But his friendly, regal bearing caused us to name him: Prince.
Of all the canines recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Tibetan Terrier and Prince look most alike; however, Prince is twice the size of the typical Tibetan Terrier. Moreover, Prince exhibits more the guardian behavior of the Old English Sheepdog than that of a terrier. In order to suit both his looks and his behavior, we call Prince: a Tibetan Sheepdog. Wonder Wife made business cards for Prince, implying that Prince is the world's only Tibetan Sheepdog.
But now, we have our doubts. A recent re-reading of John Master's World War II classic, The Road Past Mandalay (1961), uncovered the following account of when John and Barbara Masters were hiking above 12,500 feet in the Himalayas:
"…Marmots whistled at us from every stone, and we came upon two shepherds, with their flock, living in a stone shelter which they willingly shared with our porters. Their dogs were Tibetan sheep dogs, huge beasts of the chow family, their coats so thick and matted that even a leopard would have a hard time sinking his fangs through them; and they wore collars made of solid steel, with triple rows of spikes, hand-beaten and sharpened, six inches long.
"The shepherds told us that these two dogs had killed a leopard down the valley only a month earlier. The dogs eyed us coldly, slow growls rumbling in their deep chests, as ready to kill us as any leopard, if we had come to harm the sheep. When we patted them they looked very puzzled. One tried to wag his tail but he really didn't really know how to, and almost threw himself over. Affection was something they had never known, or had forgotten. They were guardians. But they came back for more, and I pulled the thick coats and pushed the heavy heads this way and that in a flood of sympathy. I had something to tell them about our common lot, if only I could speak to be understood…"
Of course, our Prince has known nothing but affection and, in the world of tail wagging, Prince is so proficient there is no danger of him falling over. But now, we are faced with the realization that Prince might not be the world's only Tibetan Sheepdog. Did John and Barbara Masters encounter Prince's ancestors long ago high in the Himalayas? Is our gentle, loving, yet protective, Prince a part-chow descendant of those brave guardians of Himalayan sheep?
We don't have any sheep for Prince to guard and we don't have any snow leopards, only mountain lions. Fortunately, we never told Prince of our belief that he is the world's only Tibetan Sheepdog. So, there's no need to trouble him with what a re-reading of The Road Past Mandalay has revealed. But now, we are wondering if the time has come to tell him he's adopted.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.