Love Saves Lives: Couple Gives Canaan Dogs New Life

By VICTORIA FORD | Feb 28, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

There are dog lovers, and then there are Patty and Michael Robbins, who are in a class of their own in terms of their willingness to rescue dogs that might otherwise suffer starvation, abuse, torture or death.

When they discovered the ancient and rare Canaan breed, native to the Middle East, they embarked on an adventure that would ultimately bring four new four-legged family members into their Deer Lake Park home in Stafford Township. But the story is “interesting in other ways,” according to Patty. The dogs have introduced them to the culture, geography and people of a foreign land and broadened their understanding of humanity and the so-called global village.

First came Dakota. When the Robbinses were ready to adopt again, after the death of their last Brittany dog, they fell in love with Dakota at the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter. A soldier had brought her home from Iraq, but when she proved incompatible with a new baby, she was surrendered to the local shelter. The Robbinses brought her home in 2013.

In their homeland, Canaans are known as pariah dogs, or free-ranging strays that survive mainly on humans’ trash. The breed is believed to have been a primitive feral in the biblical land of Canaan, a guard dog and herding dog of the ancient Israelites. Depictions of the dogs were found on pottery shards in Iran from 6,000 B.C.; paintings of the dogs were found in an Egyptian temple from 2,200 B.C.; and, more recently discovered on rocks in Saudi Arabia, petroglyphs of hunting scenes from 9,000 years ago are the oldest on archaeological record.

But today in their native region they are widely considered to be a nuisance and therefore often suffer the fate of “pest control.”

In the course of their research, the Robbinses found a nonprofit organization called Canaan Rescue Jordan, founded in 2012 and run by a woman named Lama Ghobar, based in Amman. The organization rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes the dogs, either in Jordan or abroad, raising funds for medical treatment and to fly them to the U.S. for adoption.

The dogs’ stories range from sad to gruesome.

The Robbinses’ second dog, Sugar, came to them blind and missing half her tail, having had untreated infection and been beaten about the face and maimed. She had also been burned with hot tar. Prior to the adoption, they were worried.

“We thought we were going to have to blind-proof the house,” Patty said. But to their surprise, Sugar’s visual impairment has posed no trouble, for her or them, even with stairs to navigate. Due to her traumatic history, however, a prescription for Prozac has helped calm her anxiety issues. She is now 4 years old and happily rolls over for belly rubs.

The following spring, they got Ben, now 3, who “is basically afraid of his own shadow.” As a youngster he was hit by a car and left to die with a broken pelvis and brain swelling, and later stabbed. As the only male dog in the Robbins household, he has trust issues and has yet to fully integrate with the other dogs, and he seems to favor Dad over Mom. His bark definitely says, “This boy means business.”

Finally, Chance joined the family. The 2-year-old is also blind, as a result of brain damage from a drowning attempt as a puppy. She also has a compulsive habit of circling in a counter-clockwise direction. Chance’s outward appearance is closest to the breed standard, Patty noted, with her bodily dimensions, athletic, graceful physique, curled brush tail, wedge-shaped head and erect ears.

In spite of the considerable food and vet bills, the dogs’ special needs have mostly been “a non-issue,” according to Patty. They have their individualized routines at mealtimes and bedtime. When together, the couple can walk all four dogs at the same time, two each. But if she’s on her own, Patty takes them out individually.

Locally, holistic veterinarian Dr. Catherine Dreskin in Ocean Acres has been their primary doctor, and NorthStar VETS (Veterinary Emergency Trauma and Specialty) Center in Robbinsville is where they see specialists. The Robbinses are grateful to have found medical experts who have heard of the breed and are familiar with their needs.

Genetically, Canaan dogs have a strong survival instinct – quick to react and wary of strangers, on high alert to any disturbances and known for their barking (good watchdogs), defensive but not aggressive, intelligent, high-stimulus, and protective of their own family.

Sure, the barking can be a bit much, at least for a newcomer. Old instincts don’t fade. But to Mike and Patty Robbins, it’s the soundtrack to a happy life. “We don’t miss anything that goes on,” Patty said in terms of outside activity. (The jury is still out on how their cat, Frederic, feels about the noise.)

They also have their quirks. The female dogs, for example, burrow in the yard to make safe places for giving birth – even though they have been spayed. Again, those stubborn instincts. “Mike goes out and fills in the holes every weekend.”

Luckily, the couple has sympathetic neighbors. “This is a very dog-friendly neighborhood,” Patty said.

Part of the reward of adopting “the unadoptable” comes from seeing improvements in their behavior, measures of growth. At any sign of progress, Patty said, her heart just swells.

The adjustment period when Sugar arrived on Dakota’s “turf” was about two difficult months, Patty recalled. But when Ben came, it was a matter of days. And with Chance, it was 24 hours.

“They are a family, a pack,” Patty said. “They couldn’t have had that over there.” To see their joy, as in video footage of all four prancing and playing together after a recent snow, assures her the dogs are “better off, by a million,” than they would be “over there.”

If she and Mike had more land and unlimited resources, they would adopt 10 more, Patty said with a laugh. She finds them fascinating, for both their provenance and their personalities. She loves that they are less refined than the designer breeds so many find appealing.

“There is a joke among those who fancy (Canaans) that if Jesus had a puppy, this is the breed he would have had,” she said.

Patty said she would love for more people to become interested in the breed and in the cause of saving them from their perilous environment. She welcomes people to reach out to her via email,, if she can help answer questions or help guide them on their own adoption journey.

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