Love at First Pyr

by Martha
(Barrie, Ontario)

My first encounter with a Great Pyrenees was over ten years ago in Peterborough, Ontario.

I was visiting one of the city's parks with my one year old son Eric and happened across an outdoor dog show in progress. Eric is the youngest of five children and from the get go, this kid has been in constant motion. Just to add some perspective, he was walking at 9 months and running at 11 months. He had all the moves of a top NFL wide receiver down pat: duck, turn, roll, fake, arch, slide, and dart. And he executed them all at lightening speed!... which was why I had him belted into the stroller, with a leather harness on him as back up.

Eric's love for dogs started early and his elation at seeing this dog show was over the top. And of course, while I was enthralled with watching the Goldens trotting the ring, he had other ideas.

Thinking back, I try to imagine the Mission Impossible soundtrack playing as Eric's little hands deftly undid the seat belt, and then silently unclipped the tether of his harness. Timing his escape with some passers by, he expertly bailed out of the stroller. His escape would have gone undetected if he hadn't let out a gleeful laugh as his little feet hit the ground. He cut through the crowd straight towards a group of large white dogs resting in the shade of a giant oak tree.

Upon hearing his "freedom" laugh, I glanced down at the unanchored leather straps of harness in my hand and instantly knew I had been foiled. I zeroed in on him over by the trees, closing in fast on what appeared to be a convention of polar bears taking a nap. My heart leapt to my throat when one of the "polar bears" slowly lifted its massive head as Eric approached. The dog's head was enormous! I ditched the stroller and took off after my son, hoping I would get there in time. My worry was that this group of huge canines (probably uptight show dogs) would not be receptive to a pint sized intruder interrupting their nap time.

I was still several yards away when Eric came to a halt just inches from the white mammoth. The beast's black eyes were locked on my tiny son as it slowly brought its colossal body to its feet. Eric was dwarfed by the snowy mountain that rose in front of him. The other "polar bears" raised their heads inquisitively, as I yelled out "No! Stop!"

In a matter of seconds a few things happened all at once, and for me time stood still...

-Eric reached up with both hands and grabbed the thick mane of creamy fur on either side of the giant beast's face;

-Only steps away, I froze because I feared that if I came any closer the beast would swallow my child whole;

-The great slobbery jaws of the beast started to open!

-A woman with long white-grey hair materialized and spoke in a voice that was as magical and silvery as her hair; "Its okay. Don't worry dear. Apollo loves children."

-The beast's wet, pink tongue slurped across Eric's face, covering it in a warm foamy kiss.

Eric threw his head back and let out a mirthful laugh, and I started to breathe again. The giant dog gently shook free of Eric's grasp and bowed his majestic head to me as he lay back down. Eric wiped the slobber out of his eyes, lowered himself to the grass next to his new friend, and started running his hands through the dog's long white fur. The other "polar bears" in the clan (I counted 4) glanced at me with muted interest, then pressed their chins back down on the cool grass and resumed their resting positions

The "magical silver lady" smiled at me.

I half stumbled over and plopped myself down next to Eric and the big white dog. Apollo lifted his head just high enough to look me in the eye for an instant, and then let out a big huffy sigh that made his cheeks expand and flap. He then closed his eyes and leaned back to rest.

I never forgot the weight of those dark intelligent eyes sizing me up. I reached out and stroked his fur thoughtfully, enjoying the thick, yet silky texture. Eric interrupted the moment by spotting a border collie, ready to bolt again. I corralled him quickly, and decided we had enough excitement for one day. It was time to go.

With my son safe in my arms, I found my voice, and I turned towards the "silver lady" thanking her. Then I nodded towards Apollo. "What kind of dog is that?"

The "silver lady" proceeded to tell me in her soft voice about the Great Pyrenees (Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Chien de Montaigne). She described a majestic breed that was used as livestock guardians for centuries. She told me it was an independent and intelligent breed that could be challenging to own as a pet. A very strong, fiercely protective creature, yet gentle with children, small animals and non-threatening beings. It is a capable and persistent guardian that is brave enough to fend off bears, mountain lions and wolves.

Eric continued to squirm in my arms, so I thanked the lady again, stole one last look over my shoulder at Apollo and his reclining pack and headed off to retrieve the stroller.

Over a decade later, I can look out my kitchen window and see Eric (now almost 12) lying on the cool grass under the shade tree reading a book with his outstretched hand resting on the soft fur of his own "polar bear Pyr" Frank. She is a great companion, a wonderful family dog, and for some reason Eric shares a special bond with her. I think back to his first introduction to the breed and realize it must have been "Love at First Pyr."

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