Thursday, June 24, 2021
Great Pyrenees Saved from Boneyard as Rescuers Seek to Give Them a Voice
Talk about a couch potato!
Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Sandy Berk cooed as she gently encouraged the 120-pound Great Pyrenees looking attentively at her to take a dog treat from her hand.

The big white dog, who had never experienced human touch, moved his face toward her hand, then hesitated. Finally, he took the treat from her.

“They all like treats, even though they’re teeny tiny,” said Berk as she sat in the shade of a 400-square-foot dog house on the Pyrenees rescue ranch south of Bellevue. “It’s all about touching, having them gain the trust to take from you. Trinity has come around. I’m working on the others.”

Tiffany Larson greets Trinity, one of the dogs she rescued from a “boneyard” near Buhl.

Until two weeks ago, Trinity and 11 of her fellow Pyrenees and Akbash                                                                                compatriots had to scrounge for food on a ranch near Buhl where countless dogs had already been shot or starved to death.

Then, on a tip, Tiffney Larson stepped in and rescued 28 of the feral dogs, taking them to the Unega Mountain Dog Rescue ranch that she and her partner Gary Tickner opened in October 2020.

“It was sickening to step on the property,” said Larson. “It was a junkyard and a boneyard with dead dogs everywhere. Nothing was growing—there were dead goats, mules and cattle, along with the dogs. The smell was horrible. I cried all the way home. But I’m happy, knowing that we’re giving them a second chance.”

Larson was notified of the situation by the Twin Falls Sheriff. The ranch owner was feeding the dogs rotting fish given him by neighbors, who complained the dogs were running at large.

The twelve permanent dogs at the Unega Ranch include Josey Jo, who was found double muzzled and with zip ties tightly tied around his neck, and Mamma Eve, who was rescued on Christmas 2019 with four puppies in tow.

“I had to trap them in order to bring them home,” said Larson. “I still have nine left to fetch. This is going on more than you would think. These guys get off without even a slap on the wrist because Pyrenees and Akbash dogs are classified as livestock, giving their owners the right to shoot them or not feed them.”

Larson and Tickner are trying to change that, though, with the help of concerned dog lovers from as far away as Texas, Florida and New York.

“These dogs need a voice and we’re going to give them a voice,” she said. “That voice is to change the law that classifies them as livestock.”

Tiffany Larson and Gary Tickner stumbled onto what has become a calling of immense proportions, given the size of the dogs, when Tiffany’s son found a 3-month-old Pyrenees in a ditch at the bottom of Kelly Mountain west of Hailey. She had parvovirus and was near death, unable to keep up with her herd.

A wooden patio filled with dog beds bridges the tiny house and one of the dog houses.

They took her home and named her Kellee Lulu. They began educating themselves about Pyrenees. And,  as they opened their hearts, they also opened their home—a condo in downtown Ketchum to more and more dogs in need of rescue.

By last Fall they and the dogs had outgrown the condo and so they moved to 133 acres of sagebrush in the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains near Timmerman Hill.

They bought a tiny house built by high school kids in Wyoming and outfitted it with washer and dryer, kitchen sink and a bedroom.

They put up two 400-square-foot “dog houses,” outfitting them with dog beds and sofas for the dogs when they needed to get out of inclement weather. They dug a pond for the dogs with a view of the snow-capped mountains to the north and outfitted a patio deck with still more dog beds.

Sandy Berg tries to socialize a Pyrenees with tiny treats.

In May they plan to plant some trees for shades, some clover to stave off mud come next winter and bring in another 400-square foot shelter for their growing brood. They’re installing a septic system. And, eventually, they hope to bring in manufactured housing for themselves, turning the tiny house over to a full-time volunteer who will be able to live there free of charge.

“I can’t remember when we last had a dinner out—we’ve been living on cheese and crackers and Kombucha,” said Larson. “One of us is always here—we can’t leave the dogs.”

Those who find their way onto the gated property are greeted by a rousing chorus of barkers—the 12 Pyrenees and Akbash dogs who are permanent residents of the ranch. They include Boone, who gets a prize spot on a bed inside the tiny house since he facies himself a house dog, and Moose, who was abandoned after 12 years as a working sheep dog.

In contrast, the recently rescued dogs lie in the shade of one of the sheds, quietly watching new visitors from afar.

Ketchum residents Sandy Berk and her son Richard Geigle volunteer at the ranch. Sandy tries to socialize the newcomers, while Richard picks up dog poop to ready one of the pastures for the new shelter.

Tiffany takes the morning shift at The Mill, a gym she and Gary run in Ketchum. Then, Gary takes the afternoon shift at the gym, while Larson returns home to wash dog dishes, fill water dishes and do other chores.

“We take them hiking and running out Rock Creek for 10 miles a day. And we spend a lot of time socializing them,” she said. “It’s gorgeous out here with sunny days and beautiful sunsets and sunrises.”

The Larsons are going through $4,000 worth of dog food per month with all the new dogs they’ve taken in. Fortunately, donors have helped defray the costs of the food and vet care by donating to Unega Mountain Dog Rescue Fund, a nonprofit.

The Larsons have adopted out 15 of the rescued puppies. And the older dogs will be good for adoption as soon as they get socialized. The new puppies will be ready for adoption in eight weeks, and there’s another batch on the way.

“I don’t think most people are aware what amazing dogs these are,” said Larson. “They’re smart, and sensitive. But they’re not like getting a Lab. They like to run. They can’t be confined in an apartment. You have to have a fence at least six feet tall. And you have to understand that these are barkers—they were bred to protect, to protect against coyotes, mountain lions.”


Visit the Unega Mountain Dog Rescue website at Donations are also being taken at Thunderpaws in Hailey.


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