I talk about this always, to anyone who asks about our Maremmas - no, they are not guard dogs; they are guardians and, in my eyes, there is a world of difference. The Maremma is a livestock guardian dog originating in the Maremma-Abruzzo region of Italy; a dog with a job, working with shepherds to protect sheep from wild predators in the mountainous ranges where the flocks graze. Centuries of careful breeding give the Maremma a dual nature: a great desire to bond and be gentle with its chosen flock and also the ability to act fiercely when faced with predatory threats. They are caretakers with exquisite, often tender, nurturing instincts, but with a host of scare tactics reserved for intruders, assault being the lesser of them.
The breed is garnering a bit of attention lately due to the novel efforts of some folks intent on saving a unique colony of little penguins in Australia, specifically Warmambool Harbor, and even more specifically Middle Island, a favorite breeding ground for the little peeps. The island used to be in deep water, but man-made infrastructures put in at the turn of the last century, have caused siltation, giving foxes (and people, who can be a nuisance to natural habitat) a means of crossing to the island at low tide. The end result is that the population of little penguins went from somewhere around 800 in 1999 to under 10 in 2005. Bad deal.
A Maremma named Oddball - and a lot of effort from good people impassioned about the cause - changed all that. No more fox predations and the population of little penguins bubbled up over 100. If you are interested in grass roots information about the project, check out the Warrnambool Penguins website. The Audubon did a fantastic piece about this project which you can find here.
And the reason this is getting so much attention now? Well, they made a movie about it. A sort of Disney-esque movie which has been released in Australia, but will soon be available through on-line sources (I will surely be checking into that). Watch a trailer of the movie: