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A Rare Breed in Leland: TrailsEnd’s Estrella Mountain Dogs

Did you know that Leland is the only place in the entire country where Estrela Mountain Dogs are bred? There are less than a hundred Estrelas living in the United States, and most of them came from right here in Leland. Cindy Martishius is the only breeder of this dog in the country and her business, TrailsEnd, is in Leland.

Many of the Estrelas in the United States are family dogs, but there are working Estrelas, such as the TrailsEnd dog that currently guards a flock of sheep in Alaska. The furthest location from which someone has traveled to see Cindy’s dogs is Germany.

Jim and Cindy Martishius arrived in Leland by way of Montana, where they met while Jim was working on the film A River Runs Through It . Jim and Cindy love North Carolina, right down to the humidity.

Cindy came to own her first Estrela out of necessity. While living in Oregon, she needed a guardian dog that would keep her goats safe, but she also wanted the dog to get along well with humans. It needed to be a dog that she found attractive too.

“If I was going to invest time and money in a dog, I wanted to make sure it fit all my requirements,” Cindy says.

The Estrela Mountain Dog originated in the Serra da Estrela (“mountain range of the star”), which is the highest mountain range in Portugal. Shepherds bred the dogs to have the characteristics needed for them to both survive and be good guard dogs to the sheep: large size, strength, endurance, a deep chest, watchful and mistrustful but also loyal.

One might think that these dogs would be a herding dog, being that they were raised to live with sheep. This is not the case. They are a guardian dog. They live amongst the sheep and remain very wary and conscious of their surroundings.

“Their first line of defense is to bark, but then they will engage in a fight with it [a wolf or other predator that might threaten the sheep] if they need to,” says Cindy.

Estrelas do what their “flock” (which in most cases today is humans) do and stay with them to protect them. “They reserve their energy for that big moment that might happen,” Cindy says. “If you are a couch potato, they are content to lay around with you.”

Of course, there are drawbacks, and Cindy informs her potential buyers of those before they buy. “Estrelas bark, they won’t accept all of your friends, they like to dig, they shed and they are not the most obedient,” says Cindy. She deems it a responsibility of any breeder to address the down sides of the breed as well as the strengths.

Estrelas are protective and can be aggressive toward other dogs. However, if they are raised with another dog and are spayed or neutered, they will generally get along with one another. Temperament varies between genders as well. Cindy compares them to a pride of lions: “The boys lie around and look handsome and are only concerned with the threat that might be there at that moment. The girls are always concerned about the threat that may be coming and they are the first to fight.”

Cindy’s entire family—her husband, Jim, and three children, Mitchell, 19, Zachary, 15, and Madeline, 9, have all helped with the time-consuming effort of breeding and raising dogs. There is a lot of work to be done. In addition to caring for her own dogs, breeding them, raising pups and cleaning up after all of them, Cindy is one of the founding members and the current president of the Estrela Breed

Club. Between all of these tasks, Cindy estimates that she spends around six hours per day on dogs.

Cindy’s Estrelas compete in five dog shows per year (the American Kennel Club has granted the Estrela partial recognition and the United Kennel Club has granted full recognition). Most shows are within five to six hours of Leland.

“I haven’t found a better way to introduce people to the breed,” says Cindy. Many people go to dog shows to educate themselves on all the different types of breeds out there and are essentially shopping for their next dog.

In addition, Cindy participates in a program in which she takes her dogs to schools to introduce children to dogs and also to teach them about dog safety. The Martishius children help with this community service, too, and sometimes handle and field all questions regarding the Estrela breed. Patrice Kaizer of Einstein’s Canine in Wilmington, conducts the demonstration and showing of the dogs to the students.

There are short-haired and long-haired varieties of the Estrela, and their color can vary between fawn, brindle, wolf gray and yellow. Cindy breeds the long coat variety. Females are generally around 70 to 90 pounds; males average between 110 to 120 pounds. The dogs stand between 24 and 28 inches tall.

Cindy’s intent is not to spread the Estrela breed and grow its popularity to the point where it is a household name. This dog is not for everyone, but it is perfect for some.

“It’s growing at a great pace right now. It’s going great!” she says.

For additional information visit http://trailsendestrella.com.

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