Wary of petting, dog relents in company of former, current master

Patti is more like a wild dog than a pet to the families she's belonged to. The shepherd mix is a recluse — refusing to be petted, running away from humans. Until one weekend, during an exchange that would send Patti back to her original masters, she surprisingly let down her guard.

Wild dog: Patti is part Anatolian shepherd, part Great Pyrenees. Pyrenees have been used to protect sheep against wolves by farmers across the world, like here in the Swiss Alps.
Wild dog: Patti is a mix between an Anatolian shepherd, like Piper, pictured at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in February, and a Great Pyrenees.

The big, elusive dog lay sedated in a ball on the floor of an Armstrong County family's basement.

Nearly a dozen people who share a love of the 8-year-old Anatolian shepherd-Great Pyrenees mix gathered around, crying and marveling how a dog so leery of humans attracted such a devoted following.

"You don't even like people, but so many love you," said Jackie Deems, an Ohio woman who once owned the herding dog and on Saturday drove eight hours to claim her after a three-year separation. "Look at all these people here, just for you."

The approximately 170-pound dog — originally Patti, but renamed Lily by the Apollo family who wound up looking after her for the past two years — has had many homes. Deems hopes this move is Patti's last.

Her story started on a farm in Appalachia, Ohio. Deems bought Patti and her sister, Sweetie, from a family there when the pups were 10 months old. Deems said the family did not know how to care for the animals and kept the roaming, herding dogs in a small metal cage with no protection from the hot August sun.

"I said to my husband, 'Whether we want these dogs or not, we've got to take them,'" Deems recalled. "They need to be out, doing their job. No wonder she doesn't trust humans."

The Deemses run a farm in Perrysville, Ohio, about an hour west of Canton, where they have 70 sheep. Patti looked over them as if they were her children, Deems said. When one sheep died, Deems found her in the morning, still on guard by its body.

"When she guards animals, they're all she cares about," Deems said.

Patti kept predators off the property, but also patrolled outside the Deems' fence. Neighbors complained and threatened to shoot her.

Reluctantly, Deems found a family in Avonmore, Westmoreland County, to take her. The family raises sheep and had an electric fence surrounding the property. Deems sedated Patti for the drive and handed her off.

Patti did not approve.

Ten minutes after she awoke, she jumped the fence and ran into the woods.

Racked by guilt, Deems spent months searching, handing out fliers and buying ads in local newspapers. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote of her search in 2010.

Patti ended up 10 miles away in Apollo, at the home of Randy and Laurie Williams. The Williamses have horses, and the dog made it her responsibility to watch over them. The dog would not let the Williamses touch her, but they were determined to gain her trust.

In early 2011, they heard about Deems' search. We think we have her, they said in a phone conversation. Deems arrived and confirmed the dog was Patti.

She tried to trap her, but the dog, which the Williamses called Lily, evaded capture.

Randy Williams said she could stay, and he promised to care for her. Deems, consoled by the knowledge that her dog had chosen a loving family, relented and left.

For two years, all went well. Lily watched the property from a hill, coming to the house to eat food the Williamses left for her.

The dog never let them touch her, except once, when hunters fired guns nearby. Spooked, Lily hid in a dog house. Randy Williams leashed her and brought her inside.

"We petted her up for two hours," he said. "Then we left her in the garage for a couple hours when we went out."

When they returned, they found that Lily had torn drywall, wiring, and siding around a door. She wanted out.

"I took her outside on a leash," Williams said. "I petted her and said, 'You can come around if you want, or you can stay away. It's up to you.' I let her off, and that was the last time we touched her."

Until Saturday.

Though Lily never showed aggression to humans — she flees when people approach — a neighbor complained to the Armstrong County dog warden that Lily was off leash. The neighbor declined to comment.

The warden issued a warning in January. The Williamses had to leash or cage Lily or face a $500 fine.

"I would never chain her up, and I won't put her in a pen," Randy Williams said. "She'd kill herself trying to get out. I couldn't do it to her."

Then Deems re-entered the picture. She talked with her neighbors, and they agreed to welcome the dog back. If the Williamses could capture her, she would come and get her, she said.

But could they capture her? Allegheny County dog warden Steve Stoehr — known as a dog whisperer of sorts for his ability to win over even the most aloof dog — visited several times. He approached; she fled. He set traps lined with steaks; she refused to take the bait.

Running out of time before the fines started, the Williamses stopped feeding her for a few days. Then, on Saturday morning, Williams cooked deer meat, slipped in sedatives, and called Lily.

She wolfed it down, then trotted off. Williams found her hours later in a vacant house nearby.

"She was under a table," Williams said. "All I seen was her white head and those black eyes."

On Saturday night, still groggy from the sedatives, the big dog blinked at Deems when she walked into the Williamses' home. A group of about 10 people, including neighbors who came to bid farewell, watched as Deems got on her knees and cradled the dog's big face in her hands.

"Hi baby," she said softly. "It's me."

Randy Williams' daughter, Alison, covered her face and wept.

"She's so happy here," she said. "And now we have to get rid of her."

Her mother, Laurie Williams, hugged the dog she had touched only once before. "I'm so happy you were here for a while," she said.

They led the dog outside and hoisted her into the back of Deems' sport utility vehicle.

Deems wiped away her tears and took in the sadness surrounding her.

"I mean, really," she said. "How many people would do all this for a dog?"

The answer was written on everyone's faces.

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