Thursday, July 2, 2020
Seeing Double—Sheep Dog Rescue Adds to the Brood
This six-week-old pup was among those rescued near Kelly Mountain.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Gary Tickner and Tiffany Larson already had a full house with five 120-pound Great Pyrenees and Akbash dogs.

But that number doubled this past week as the couple opened their Ketchum home to a mother Akbash and four 6-week-old pups found out Croy Canyon.

The two have turned the living room of their home into puppy headquarters, barricading the youngsters into an area with an L-shaped couch covered with protective coverings and a floor covered with sanitary pads.

Tiffany Larson and Gary Tichner have their hands full with four new pups and their mother.

An array of stuffed toys, including a quilted donkey, caterpillar and brown fox, which appears to be the favorite of the play toys, are there to occupy the pups when they’re not busy crawling on Mom or exploring.

When one drops a turd, Tickner springs into action.

“You can see what we do all day—we’re constantly trying to keep up with these,” he said, as he rolls up a sanitary pad and delivers it to the garbage.

Tickner and Larson’s lives—already consumed by five large working dogs—got turned upside down just before Christmas when Tickner got a call from Lava Lake Rancher Brian Bean.

Tiffany Larson doesn’t let the pups keep her from attending to the needs of the other members of the family.

Someone had spotted a white sheepdog with puppies near Kelly Mountain west of Hailey, he said.

Tickner spent the next six days with a couple of his own dogs looking for tracks in the snow that would lead him to the mother but to no avail. Then a snowmobiler called to say he had seen them.

Tickner returned to the area but, with night and cold setting in, went home empty.

The next day Flat Top Sheep Ranchers Tom and Cory Peavey went out on snowmobile, finding the mother and her five puppies, one of which had died, amidst the sagebrush. They took the puppies to Mountain Humane.

Eve, the mother, has only let her guard down in the last couple days taking time to catnap with her brood.

Tickner returned to the scene the next day, armed with food with which he hoped to coax the mother out.

 “I was in my cab warming my hands and I opened the door and she was standing there looking at me—I guess she was looking for the puppies,” said Tickner who with Larson is a personal trainer at their fitness center The Mill SV. “She was hungry, skinny, tired and cold. She went for the food, but when I went for her she ran.

“She was hard to catch—she had never seen humans as friends, as someone she could trust.”

Tickner called Mountain Humane for help and, after three and a half hours he was able to pull the dog into his van.

Tough decision--Should I play with the donkey or the caterpillar?

“She ran out of a bunch of willows and I scooped her up as she was going for the food. We took her to the shelter and put her with her babies and I told her, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’ ”

It was actually a couple days later, after a veterinarian had had a chance to look at the dogs and give them shots, that Tickner was able to take them home.

“We figure she was probably pregnant in October when the sheep were coming through Croy Canyon and she hid in the bushes to have her babies. The band moved on and she was stuck with five babies—she really couldn’t move,” he said. “We don’t know which rancher she might have belonged to—there’s quite a few that go through Croy. “

Tickner and Larson did not set out to rescue Pyrenees and Akbash dogs. They were what you might call a normal family with three Labradors at one time.

Their foray into rescuing, raising, rehabilitating, socializing and placing big sheep dogs that have been abandoned, injured or lost into safe homes began five years ago.

“I don’t think it’s a big mistake. We have something special--a gift--when it comes to dealing with these great big working dogs,” Tickner said. “What makes it even more special is that Tiffany’s grandfather Tom Zabala was a Basque sheepherder here.”

They took in their first in July 2015 when Tiffany’s son JP found a small white three-month-old puppy  lying in sagebrush while riding motorcycles near Hailey. She was sick with parvovirus and near death. Her chances of surviving were 20 percent, but the couple was able to nurse her back to health with IV liquids and lots of love.

“I knew what Pyrenees dogs were, but I had to get on Google to figure out what this dog was—she’s an Akbash, a Turkish mountain dog,” Tickner said, petting the dog now known as LuLu.

Next, the couple took in a five-month-old Great Pyrenees with a cropped tail they named Boone. The dog had abandoned its herd in the Pioneer Mountains and kept running away, even after the rancher retrieved it.

A year-old male Akbash they named Olaf after the snowman in the movie “Frozen,” joined them in March 2018 when his owners decided they no longer wanted him. And they took in an aggressive 9-month-old male Pyrenees found near Fairfield, retrained him and named him Josey after the outlaw Josey Wales in December 2018.

In September 2019 they took in Spencer, a 10-month-old puppy who had been brought to Mountain Humane from Fairfield with a collar embedded in his neck. Apparently, he had gotten separated from his herd, and the collar became ingrown as he grew too big for it.

Tickner calls his 700-pound brood the Unega pack, using a Cherokee word for white wolf.

“They consume a lot of food--$70 a day, and we’ve had five surgeries for ACLS at $2,500 a shot,” he said.

Tickner takes his dogs walking for six hours—or, 30,000 steps a day--hauling them to various trailheads in his van.

The new dogs have added to the commotion at home. Tiffany sleeps in the couple’s bedroom with the five original Pyrenees and Akbash dogs, each of whom have his or her own mattress. And Tickner sleeps with the puppies so he can maintain turd duty.

“It’s a full-time job at this point,” he said.

All of the puppies have been spoken for and will be ready for adoption in two weeks. Their mother, who is believed to be two years old and has been named Eve, is also up for adoption.

In the meantime, Tickner and Larson are trying to raise $185,000 to purchase property to ensure a place for future rescues through a Go Fund Me account titled Unega Mountain Dog Rescue.

They’re also supporting Cory Peavey, who is trying to change the way sheep herding industry cares for its dogs in hopes that fewer dogs end up abandoned.

Peavey is raising his Pyrenees puppies with some human contact so they will be more trusting of sheep ranchers and others who try to help them when they become lost. He’s also microchipping his dogs, vaccinating them and equipping them with GPS collars. (See Eye on Sun Valley’s Aug. 22, 2019 story “Sheep Rancher Tries Bold Experiment with Pyrenees Pups.)

“Ours would be the only strictly Pyrenees and Akbash rescue in Idaho,” said Tichner. “The next closest is in Montana.”

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