Saving a Maremma sheepdog: How a community can rally

rescued maremma sheepdog

You don’t give up on a dog.

You just don’t.

At least you aren’t supposed to.

Taking on the responsibility of a dog — and especially a Maremma sheepdog — should be a lifetime commitment that lasts the life of that creature.

Some people don’t agree. That’s why shelters and rescues are always full with animals waiting to find someone who will honor the commitment.

Some people are willing to go even further — to euthanize a perfectly healthy dog.

That’s when a community needs to step up and save a dog.

A most special breed

The Maremma sheepdog is a breed attached to my very soul.

I was introduced to the breed in 2004 when Shep came into my life via private rescue. The big white hairbag saved me from myself and the world in many ways and on many occasions.

When he left this world, I knew I needed another Maremma with me.

The breed is fierce in its independence, stubbornness, loyalty and love. I imagine if I were a dog, I might be lucky enough to be a Maremma.

Since 2004, I’ve learned so much about the Maremma, researching and reading, reading, reading. I’ve become connected to people all around the world—people who employ the Maremma to guard their ranch stock and people who appreciate the special breed’s traits and ability to turn humans into their flock.

That’s how I met Karen O’Brien Maynard. Based in Pennsylvania, she coordinates the national rescue network for the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America.

maremma sheepdog rescued in spokane

Attached to the Maremma sheepdog

For five years, I’ve been donating images of Shep and Bella to the network’s annual fundraising calendar. I try to support the network as often as I can, whether donating money or just giving Karen a space to vent.

When she sent me a Facebook message two weeks ago, I was called to action.

A woman in this area reached out to the Maremma rescue network. She had a dog she didn’t want anymore.

She claimed the dog was aggressive and had a bite history.

Even worse, she had more dogs on the way from California and couldn’t put them at risk from this horrible Maremma.

While we were trying to find a solution for this dog, named Annie, this person, whom we’ll call ” lady,” dumped another Maremma at the Spokane Humane Society. (Sammy has since been adopted.)

And she gave Karen a deadline: take Annie or she dies.

We knew we had to save a dog.

H.E.L.P. answers the call

With time closing in, we’d exhausted all of our resources with local rescues.

Bite history.


Full to capacity.

They can’t do it.

Late Monday, though, I reached out to Karen Hansen, founder of Help Every Little Paw in Coeur d’Alene. We first connected months ago when I donated a portrait session to H.E.L.P.’s gala fundraiser, the Bartenders’ Ball.

Funny thing, I had no idea what H.E.L.P. actually does. Turns out, the organization isn’t a rescue. It uses funding and donations to help lower-income pet owners in North Idaho with medical costs for their pets. They pay for spaying, neutering and other procedures.

No matter.

Karen put a call out to her volunteer directors, Dawn Kelp of Coeur d’Alene Pet Resort and Terry Moore.

The wheels were put in motion.

Dodging her 4 p.m. date with euthanasia on Tuesday, Annie was safe and sound at Dawn’s beautiful grooming and boarding facility on Hazel Road.

It takes a community to save a dog

rescue relaxing at coeur d'alene pet resort

Lady is Annie’s fourth owner.

Lady’s intention was to start a sanctuary for livestock guardian dogs (actually, Lady, that’s my lottery dream).

Lady gave up on a dog that had a rough go in her first five years of life.

Annie, who came from around Kennewick, had three litters in quick succession. Since the MSCA has no registered breeders in that area—and, folks, if you want a purebred dog, do some research and find a registered breeder like we did for Bella—we can only guess Annie was the victim of backyard breeding.

When her poor little uterus could produce no more, she was dumped at a shelter. Maremmas, by the way, are known to have as many as 14 to 18 puppies in a single litter. That’s a lot … even for a big dog.

Shuffled around from home to shelter to home, Annie has every right to be anxious.

Even suspicious.

These dogs look to their humans as partners, not leaders.

Co-workers, not employee-boss mentality.

Trust is a big deal. Once you earn it, you learn a new definition of loyalty, respect and love.

Once you break it, you never get it back.

A breed often let down by humans

Too many Maremmas around the world get dumped at shelters because humans don’t bother to learn these characteristics before bringing home a gorgeous fluff of a puppy.

That and the incessant barking—but that’s a story for another time.

I suspect Lady never bothered to understand and appreciate what makes the Maremma breed so special.

But Karen Maynard and I do.

So we didn’t want to be more humans that let Annie down.

Without knowing the breed at all, neither did Karen Hansen and her team at H.E.L.P.

“We couldn’t not act when we found out Annie was being sentenced to death,” Karen Hansen says. “I rallied my board of directors and I’m so proud that my team could help.”

The Coeur d’Alene Pet Resort is but a transition space for Annie. She is bound for a real LGD sanctuary in Littlefork, Minnesota. The Ever After Rescue & Sanctuary, or EARS, is run by another Maremma lover, Kris Nelson.

“We’re happy to know Annie will have a safe place to live out her days,” Karen Maynard says. “Once we get her to EARS, she will be in a place where LGDs are loved and appreciated.”

A Maremma sheepdog saved

gentle rescue dog shakes paw at coeur d'alene pet resortLady brought Annie to the Coeur d’Alene Pet Resort and couldn’t wait to leave.

She jerked on the leash and described Annie to the staff as “vicious.”

When she left, Annie relaxed.

And it was an instant love relationship with everyone.

“We can’t believe what a sweet dog she is,” one staff relates. “She isn’t at all like the description on our intake form.”

I walked out into the recreation yard, still a little apprehensive.

Strange dog.

Possible bite history.

Ill treated by humans.

I also smell like dog. I always smell like dog. It’s the #doglife.

Best friends from the start

Annie trotted over to me and leaned her lithe body into my hips.

I gently placed my hand on her head and she nuzzled in.

My eyes welled up with tears at the thought anyone could mistreat this beautiful creature.

I quieted the rage in my heart. Dogs sense these emotions in us, and Annie didn’t need more stress.

I sat with her, coaxing her to take niblets of freeze-dried tripe from my hand.

Her trust was immediate and full.

If we had room and Bella could handle a sister, Annie would already have a home. The physical space just doesn’t exist for us right now.

So my time with Annie will be brief—stolen moments until the rescue network can arrange her transportation to EARS.

Just to be a positive part of Annie’s transition to her new life.

Just to be part of a team to save a dog.

It fills my heart and lightens my soul for another day.

The quest to save every Maremma sheepdog

It can feel impossible.

It can be a never-ending quest.

Not to save a dog.

To save every dog.

Since the Maremma sheepdog rescue network started, Karen Maynard has coordinated efforts to save single dogs and whole packs of them.


Amato from Edmonton (also at EARS).

Ten Maremmas in crisis in West Virginia.

Ten more at a neglected farm in Maine.

Every week, there’s another dog or dogs.

“Every rescue in this country is in constant motion to help dogs in crisis,” Karen Maynard says. “We rely on local communities like the one in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene to be our boots on the ground for these dogs.”

The network relies on funds raised through the annual calendar sales, car decal sales, and requests for donations throughout the year.

Annie’s transportation to Minnesota takes a big chunk of the bank account this year.

“That’s OK,” Karen Maynard says. “Our priority is to keep her alive and get her safely to EARS.”

Annie’s future would not even exist today, though, without the assistance of H.E.L.P. in Coeur d’Alene.

“This wouldn’t have happened without Karen, Terry and Dawn,” says Karen Maynard. “They are angels—all of them.”

Each of the three organizations mentioned in this story need your help. If you can, please donate to each organization’s efforts.

Maremma Sheepdog Club of America Rescue Network: Paypal to
Paypal to Help Every Little Paw
Ever After Rescue & Sanctuary

You could help save a dog.

big white dog rescued in spokane

7 thoughts on “Saving a Maremma sheepdog: How a community can rally”

  1. EARS and the Nelson family are so awesome! The love that Annie will receive here is real. Thank you for all that you do!

  2. Hello Ever After Sanctuary in MN! I found that one special Maremma dog at Angel Shelter in Pine County the week of 911. They named her after Sophia Loren because of the eyeliner around her big brown eyes. It was love at first sight. She was quite a challenge – an unruly 8 month old pup! We moved across country together. I was fortunate to have exactly 13 wonderful years with her. She passed away 9/11. I always education people that often misidentified Maremmas are nothing like light Golden Retrievers! “You threw it, get it yourself”, LOL.

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