LOIS GEORGE, COPPER CANYON, AND A DOG NAMED RED
by Ernie Hartnagle and Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor
Lois and Norm George developed their love for the breed in 1956. They were living on a ranch in Cuyama, California when they got Cricket, a pretty little blue female from a friend of theirs who had gotten her from the Basque sheep herders.
In the fall, the Basques would bring several thousand sheep into Cuyama to winter on the stubble of the alfalfa fields. Cuyama is a small agricultural town in California’s Central Valley region. Basques from Spain and France dominated the sheep industry there and were contracted to herd the flocks along with their sheep dogs which they brought with them without quarantine, as tools of the trade .
In 1967, the Georges moved to San Luis Obispo. They acquired their first red merle female from their friends Bill and Stevie Black. She was by Black’s Freckles and was out of Black’s Brown Velvet and was registered as George’s Miss Molly. Molly went on to produce Ch. Moor’s Chino CD, Copper Canyon Dally of Las Rocosa, Slash V Latigo of Copper Canyon, Eklund’s Hondo Rojo, and Overbey’s Latigo Lady among others. Her hallmark was longevity. At the age of 17, she was still healthy and happily residing at Copper Canyon Kennels on the Buckeye Ranch.*
In 1971, they purchased George’s Dago Rojo (whelped in 1969). He was their first red stud dog as well as their first show dog. It was through him that Lois became interested in showing and promoting the breed. He was sired by Tartaglia’s Chocolate and out of Caligari’s Lady (also by Chocolate). Chocolate was bred by Alfred Scaltritti, a Portuguese dairyman who had been raising his line of dogs for over 40 years to work their herd. His stock originally came from the Oxbow Ranch in Oregon.
As fate had it, Dago was lost from squirrel poisoning (eating a poisoned squirrel). To replace him, Lois acquired his full brother George’s Compadre. Though Padre was a nice dog, she felt he was not the quality of his brother. “Padre did not live up to our expectations as a sire and went to live on a horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley.”
Padre left the same day George’s Red Rustler came into their lives. Lois recalls the moment she first laid eyes on the “big red dog.” When a pickup drove up the road to the Buckeye Ranch with a dog in the back of the truck, Lois saw what she described as “the most beautiful red dog I had ever seen.” The driver, whom she also was about to meet for the first time, was Linda King (Patchwork Kennels). Linda was looking for a new home for her dog before he completely demolished hers. A mutual friend had told King that Red wasn’t Lois’s type, but she took a chance anyway. She figured that if nothing else, the Georges might be able to help her place him.
“I just had to have that big red dog,” said Lois. From that moment on, Red was her dog. “He was my housedog, my companion and my friend. He was always the perfect gentleman. He never once destroyed anything, nor was he ever ill-mannered in our home.”
Red Rustler was three years old. He was sired by Ginther’s Rusty who was a full brother to Miss Molly. Lois campaigned him in the show ring. “Red (got some championship) points, but being a show dog was not his favorite thing to do,” Lois explained. “It was boring to him and it showed. If only those judges could have seen him at home working a cow or playing ball. He was so proud and alert. He did most of his winning in the Get of Sire class which always pleased me. He was my number one stud dog.” He is also one of the breed’s most important foundation sires of the 1970’s.
When Red Rustler came upon the California show scene, very few red Aussies were being exhibited. “Red was a champion in every way,” said Lois. “He played a big part in getting the red merle color correctly interpreted in the show ring of the early 1970’s. At that time the red color was looked upon differently by many of the judges. Sable colored dogs and Aussies with severely extended copper trim were many times placed ahead of the true red merles being shown. Red Rustler was one of the ‘correct’ reds and he helped to have an influence on the color classes being much improved.”
Red crossed well with many different bitches of top working and top show lines from all the prominent bloodlines. “All of the bitches we owned and bred here at Copper Canyon are the direct result of the blending of Red Rustler with these lines to produce the true versatile Aussie,” remarked Lois. “I am partial to a dog with a lot of bone and prefer a bit larger animal. I prefer very feminine bitches and masculine dogs. I like them with a heavier forward ear. Some of my pups look all ears, but grow into them as they mature. Our dogs are (of) larger type, but they are very athletic.”
Those traits were demonstrated in offspring such as Ch Copper Canyon Caligari CD, better known as Jimmie, who was whelped in 1973 and was named after their friend, Jimmie Caligari who was a dairy farmer and had just passed away.
Caligari was out of Quaglino’s Miss Pooh, a littermate to Dago Rojo. Jimmie was also Lois’s daughter Erin’s (Erin Walters) showmanship dog. In 1977, she won Best Junior Handler at the ASCA National Specialty as well as was selected Best of Breed.
Red’s pups were rugged stockdogs. “They were as tough as anyone could want,” said Lois. “I like a dog that will go in and take a hold if necessary. Many of these pups were so intelligent and intense that the average dog person wasn’t able to deal with their intense desire and loyalty.” This was exemplified in offspring such as Jimmie Caligari.
“When our Santa Gertrudis bull hid up in the brush, a gentle fetching dog would not budge him. Our Jimmie was helping gather and load up cattle to be shipped a month before we lost him. He was rough as you could ask for, yet he would find a batch of chicks or ducks and work them, divide them, put them back together. He’d spend hours doing this on his own and never ruffle up the feathers. He was the most intelligent animal I’ve ever known in my life. I swear he understood English. I’d be looking for a bunch of chicks or a batch of baby ducks.” Lois would say, “Where are my baby ducks?” Jim knew what she was asking and would lead her to them even if it was a distance up the creek.
Another quality the Georges admired in Red was how gentle and kind he was with the puppies. He was always tolerant of their antics. He’d even share his bones or dinner with them, although the adult dogs would never dare take a bone or share his food. Red’s favorite pastime was pursuing squirrels. Laughingly Lois said, “He’d dig for hours and rip the dirt out by the mouthfuls which did wonders for (his) teeth! He was so funny to watch. When he was wanting to go, you could just see his expression and his communicating with the other dogs— ‘let’s go, what fun we could have ‘— so they would go above the house and hunt for an hour or two and be back after a swim in the creek to cool off after all that hard work.”
As far as watchdogs go, Red topped the list. He was head of ranch security. The Georges described how, if someone would drive up and they weren’t outside, the big red dog would bark a warning and stand by the car with a look that indicated, ‘Don’t get out of your car until somebody comes out.’ As soon as one of the family members said, “O.K. Red,” signaling that person was welcomed, he accepted them and never barked another warning.
Sadly, Red was injured in mid-1979. He was paralyzed from the withers back. After a battery of tests, the vets recommended euthanasia. Lois wanted another opinion and called in a neurologist who also suggested she put him down. “I went in to see him and to see some of the tests they did. I stayed with him after they left to further discuss the case. I decided to see if Red would acknowledge things I did. He did. I tickled the hair between his back toes. He turned to look. Then, I did the same thing farther up on the leg, and again he looked back to see what I was doing.
“When they came back I showed them Red’s reaction to me. They felt it was a nerve sensation more than feeling. Their recommendation was still the same, but I took him home.” Lois purchased a stainless steel vet kennel for him, but she never put him in it. It was summer so she kept him on the front lawn. She gave him daily physical therapy. “Red learned to pull himself from one shady spot to another with his powerful front. We bought a large trough to swim him in at least once a day.” Lois remembered how much he loved the attention along with the blow-drying and grooming that went with it. “He always loved lots of attention.
“One day, about six weeks after the injury, I was inside watching him when he heard a car drive up. Red pulled himself up on his front legs as he had done before, but this time he had pulled up his rear legs and his back toes were under him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I called the neurologist and she made a house call to see for herself.” The veterinarian performed more tests, but there was still no reaction to her. The vet decided Red was the most stoic dog she had ever worked with.
Lois added a few minutes each day, standing him. “His show training came in handy, as I’d pull him up on his front, then hold him up and get his back feet and legs under him. I’d tell him to “stand-stay.” Every day he could stand a few seconds longer. Within a few weeks he was getting around the yard and then finally strong enough to do ranch chores with me, which is a very important part of a ranch dog’s life. He’d even try to get up and hunt squirrels. He made it up there and had a good time. I had to go and get him because he got stuck, so that was the last time he got to do that. If I wasn’t with him I kept him in the front yard where he was safe.”
In the morning on December 5th, 1979, the Lois went out to do chores. Red came as far as the hen house and stayed there to rest in the shade. She checked on him several times during chores. He seemed content so she left him there. When she returned he’d moved to a shady spot so she spent some time loving on him. When she returned around noon to check on him he didn’t look well, so she rushed him to the vet hospital. They performed blood tests and did exploratory surgery. Regretfully, the brave red dog was full of cancer. Had Lois wanted to they could sew him up and keep him alive for one to three weeks. Unbeknownst to her at the time, both vets and their assistant had brought their dogs in to use for transfusions if she decided to go that way, but Lois George made the only decision that was fair to Red. “I couldn’t do that to my friend. He’d given me so much I couldn’t ask him to suffer more. The right decision had to be made for Red’s sake.”
He was buried on the ranch so dear to his heart and where he loved to hunt squirrels. George’s Red Rustler, ‘the big red dog’ will always be number one in my heart,” said Lois. Red Rustler, whose life was far too short (5-17-1969 to 12-5-1979), nevertheless made a major impact on the breed and is now listed among ASCA’s Hall of Fame Sires. PHOTO
*Point of interest: the name, Buckeye was used as the prefix for some of the George’s earlier dogs before Copper Canyon became an ASCA registered kennel name in 1973.
2008 © Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ernest Hartnagle