Monday, November 21, 2011

Fido and Friend in Five: Cat Urbigkit and Rena!

Cat Urbigkit
In a book I read and loved this year, A Dog's Purpose, a young dog goes through several life times wondering just what his purpose is in life. Now, I personally believe every dog's purpose is to show us what unconditional love is. But there are dogs who are born knowing exactly what their purpose in life is. Cat Urbigkit's dog, Rena, is one of those. She is an Akbash--one of several breeds of dog who's purpose in life is to protect livestock. Cat's latest children's book, The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo, follows two very different creatures--a dog and a burro. Roo is an orphaned wild burro taken in by Cat and her husband; Rena is the runt of the recent litter. Through Cat's heartwarming text and gorgeous photographs, we witness the two overcome their differences through their mutual passion to protect Urbigkit's  sheep out on the vast Wyoming plains.

Cat has written six award-winning children's books about life out on the plains. These books are beautifully illustrated by her photos and clear, engaging text. Some of her previous books include Path of the Pronghorn, Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs, and The Shepherd's Trail. Cat lives what she writes about on her ranch in Wyoming. Cat is also the author of a Wolf Watch news blog, and is a contributing writer to Stephen Bodio's Querencia nature blog. You can also view a gallery of her photos on her website.

I caught up with Cat and Rena during rare break in their sheep-tending, ranch duties to talk about their relationship on this week's Fido and Friend in Five:

Rena on the job
1. How did you and Rena find each other?  We raise livestock protection dogs here on our western Wyoming sheep ranch, so I usually have a litter of puppies every year. A few years ago, with the success of my first children's book, Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep, I decided I wanted a dog I could take to schools and libraries--and ambassador dog, so people could actually meet a livestock protection dog. I had a litter of seven puppies that year, and there was the sweetest little female pup that I knew people would love. But no, my husband talked me into picking the runt of the litter, Rena, who was always in fights with her siblings. She's sweet with her sheep, but the rest of her family members must face her wrath if she's not happy. For example, if I've done something she doesn't like, Rena will come up behind me and gently bite me on the butt, reminding me that she needed to get even!

A little lamb love
2.  What makes Rena's tail wag?  Rena loves babies of all kinds, but especially baby lambs. Livestock protection dogs have been bred for thousands of years to guard livestock from predators. Rena is no exception when it comes to her adoration and loyal protectiveness for those in need of a guardian. She'll lay down with a ewe that's going into labor, or watch over an orphan lamb I've brought into the house to warm up.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Is it horrible that my favorites make me cry, every single time I read them? For novels it's Wilson Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows. For stories, it's Corey Ford's 1964 The Road to Tinkhamtown. Ford's piece can be read on line at

4. If Rena could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  Rena would like me to not screech so loudly and run away when she tries to share her treasures with me. She would like my reaction to be a bit more enthusiastic when she brings me things like dead prairie dogs, or when she tries to rub against me to share the dead-skunk smell she's worked so hard to perfect.

5. In five words, tell us what Rena means to you:  Working partner, mischievous family member.

Thanks so much to Cat and Rena for visiting Fido and Friend in Five! Be sure to visit Cat's website to see more of her photos, find out about her other books, and learn more about the wolves of Yellowstone.

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