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Born for tundra: how Yamal vet improves breed of small and very smart doggie

The Nenets Herding Laika, or the Reindeer Spitz, may be up to 50 cm high and can easily control up to 500 deer in an open area

MOSCOW, February 16. /TASS Correspondent Viktoria Ivonina/.To every reindeer herder, a dog is a most important companion. It does matter what it is like. It must be yip-yapping and smart. It's been quite a problem to find a Nenets Herding Laika puppy - any stray dog may spoil the breed, or a puppy may be foolish and stupid. Vladimir Laptander, coming from a reindeer family, was looking for a puppy at nomads' on the Yamal. Three years later, he thought better of it. His idea was to restore the endangered breed. Right now, Vladimir has orders for 10 years to go, but he doubts he will meet the demand.

Spitz for the tundra

It was a challenge for us to find his breeding site in Aksark, the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region: at first, we mistakenly came to a dog shelter in the city. A dull hum of about 40 dogs prompted we were in a wrong place, and we moved on.

We were told, a true Nenets Herding Laika cannot be confused with any other dog even by its voice. We could barely express our greetings to the breeder - five dogs, including three puppies shorter than my knee, were yapping so strongly that their voices must have stirred up every thought in my mind.

"They are devoted assistants to reindeer herders, there's no life without Laikas in the tundra - as there's no other way to keep the deer from scattering across the vast tundra. That's why we need a helper dog like this. It's hardy, affectionate, simple in food, and in the tundra it can feed on its own: it will seek out and eat mice and chicks. It can withstand the Northern frosts up to minus 50, just give it some warm food at that harsh time," Vladimir said.

The Nenets Herding Laika is one of the oldest breeds (it is also called the Reindeer Spitz or olenegonka - that is the one who herds deer). They may be up to 50 cm high, and one such Spitz can easily control up to 500 deer in an open area, and great good dogs are able to control even up to 1,000 animals. They manage tasks perfectly, and cannot be replaced with any other breed. One day, Vladimir took a puppy of a West Siberian husky, but it didn't work: the dog was completely uninterested in deer, it was more involved with birds. The Nenets Laika has a special, sonorous voice that deer can hear from several kilometers away, the breeder said proudly.

Offspring of brown Puro

Vladimir is a vet. He studied in Omsk back in the 1990s. When asked about the occupation choice, he laughed: "What else? I am a nomadic reindeer herder, and my "folk skills" were sufficient just to wash deer wounds. What was necessary is to be able to be skilled to treat on my own, as you never know what may happen in the tundra."

A nomad, he continued, must have a dog from early childhood. "At the age of about five, every boy gets his own doggie. In the tundra, without a dog you are like an alien, a slacker, and with a dog you are a real man," he said.

For many years, Vladimir has lived with fluffy Puro - the name means "brown" in Nenets. It is small and funny, resembles a teddy bear, but its value is much greater than that of a toy. Puro is purebred, an intelligent and very talented dog - it has never crushed a calf, he has never lost a single deer. The dog helps the owner, as well as neighbors whenever they ask for assistance. Once, somebody has stolen Puro, the owner said, but the dog did not agree - it came back.

In great care, such dogs live up to 15-17 years, and Puro is already 10 years old. The owner's love for the four-legged friend is great, but still Vladimir had to think about a successor - he started looking for a puppy to bring it up. Three years passed in vain, there was not a spare puppy in the entire vast tundra. And, it's worth noting, local reindeer herders began to notice the share of "no good" dogs was only growing.

"Geneticists from Yaroslavl have come to sample several dogs to confirm the breed purity. Of all the dogs, mine have turned out to be the purest, they met the standard. I was advised to take up breeding, to maintain the clean breed. Without these dogs, we will be idle in the tundra, watching how our animals are scattering, and no drone will be able to bring them back together. The most reliable thing in the tundra is a Laika. Centuries-proven live dogs. Nothing can replace them," the breeder said confidently. That was why Vladimir decided to start breeding Laikas. The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, the local Union of Reindeer Herders and the Project Office for Development of the Arctic supported the initiative.

A "bride" was found for Puro - a white and black beauty, two-year-old Laura. She gave birth to first three puppies, they were immediately taken. There is a clear shortage of dogs, and the breeder has a queue for 30 puppies ahead. When we visited Vladimir, he had the second puppy litter: white-and-black girls Barbie and Squirrel and white-and-red boy, Bim. Vladimir built an aviary for puppies, rather a protection measure than a comfortable facility. One day, Vladimir feared the puppies had been poisoned: no appetite, inactive. He failed to cure them.

To have good offspring and to make sure mom Laura is not exhausted, the dog must recover for one year at least. Laura delivers three puppies at a time, which means, Vladimir continued sadly, it will take the dog 10 years to satisfy the present demand from the nomads. The man would not torture the dog, thus he is looking for another "wife" for Puro. He admits, with time he may need to find even the third "wife." The problem here is - it is even more difficult to find a female Laika than a dog.

Girls are nothing but problems

Reindeer herders are known to prefer dogs. The reason is not a gender abuse, but a matter of everyday life and security. If there are many female dogs near the herd, then during the estrus period the dogs stop doing their job as natural instincts prevail. However, this is not the main problem. There is a great risk that females at that period may attract dogs of other, larger breeds: those may spoil the breed, and also may kill male Laikas.

Vladimir Laptander is adamant: pureblood makes the dog characteristics. "If the father is stupid, then all his offspring will be stupid," Vladimir said. This is why the nomads are waiting for puppies from smart Puro. Training is not needed. "Puro will teach his kids everything by himself, I don't need to train them. The son will walk next to the father to repeat everything after him," he added.

Vladimir plans to keep Bim, a boy with a red ear. However, he speaks very sweetly about baby Squirrel - the smallest, the smartest. How did he know she was smart?

- She always finds some kind of loophole, a new way out. I keep wondering where she manages to get out of the enclosure to run further over the fence. Apparently, there must be a secret passage, known only to her, - he said lovingly. - A new family is waiting for Squirrel - it will go far to the Yamal. Normally, I keep dogs for up to three months, until they get stronger, and then I give them to the owners. When puppies stay longer, I get used to them too much ... it hurts to part with them," Vladimir said as he patted Squirrel caressing him.

Giving away puppies, the breeder said, is always painful. He misses each puppy for two weeks, but without such a Laika a reindeer herder is not a reindeer herder, and the dogs are needed in the tundra. Vladimir follows up each puppy: either on social networks, or he may visit the owners, if possible.

Though reindeer herder Spitz is somewhat similar to their "apartment" relatives: elongated pretty faces, big curious eyes, fluffy ears and a warm fur coat - they are radically different in character. These dogs are freedom-loving, hardworking and hardy, they are "born for the tundra," as Vladimir said. Such a Spitz, although it really looks like a toy, would not stand it in a flat. Giving and, moreover, selling such dogs to cities and towns is out of question.

"This dog misses the space very much. It won't live even in a northern village next to those who enjoy lying on the couch. I would never give such a dog into the city, I don't want it to suffer. It's like putting it into a cage. It has to run with deer, to help the owner, and what's there for it in the city? Its life is the tundra, there won't be reindeer husbandry without this dog," Vladimir said in conclusion.