I had so hoped this would be a new podcast, but you get a write up instead. It’s been years in the waiting for me. Today I got to do something on my bucket list!
I met Lois George of Copper Canyon!
This one is pretty special to me because my first Aussie had her dogs fairly close up and the classics are in most pedigrees today. I knew she lived up in canyon not far from me – and was still breeding dogs, but I’m shy and I don’t like being the dog weirdo who calls people up for introductions.
I happened to stumble onto a woman on the Internet who knew her and she said she’d invite me up, and the Lois was “jealous with her time” so I was right back to being 12 years old and intimidated as hell. We left the visit and she said I could come back any time. 🙂
Anyway, she declined a formal interview and told me to read the 2011 Australian Shepherd Journal, but she’s a hoot. And she’s okay with me telling you what I learned. You can also read about her here.
She’s not that interested in the past, and I had to keep steering her back for me because this woman is enthusiastic, LOVES her puppies and dogs, and it’s every bit as awesome as it was the day she got into them. She was always into horses, then bred other breeds, but basically got her start with a dog that was left behind by the Basque shepherds that were all over the region in the 60s. Her husband worked feedlot stockyards in Cuyama so he got her. She got bred accidentally to another good working Aussie, and she had to whelp out the litter, and she was hooked. She said that litter paid her rent in a rough time so she was so grateful to that little blue dog.
What it was like back then with the dogs:
The dogs behind what Lois was producing mostly came off of dairies in the area (I find this hilarious that it was profitable to have dairies back then – we are so arid today; that’s a lot of feed for milk cattle), including the grandparents’ dogs of some of the people I’m friends with here. I happened to ask my friend one day (who actually has an Aussie) if he was THE Tartaglia of Tartaglia’s Chocolate and he was! Nobody else was really involved with the breeding, it was casual, but Lois got smart about her program and would send out bitches and get puppies back in return, which got her dogs she liked with bloodlines from all over the country – she mentioned the Hartnagles (Las Rocosa) and how she got a Shiloh pup back this way.
I asked her if she traveled a lot to be able to figure out what she liked outside the area and she said the early Southern California Aussie magazine and the Aussie Times helped her figure out what she liked. She didn’t have time to leave the ranch for more than a day and her husband hated that .. . she used to show quite a bit but decided that when parvovirus became really prevalent, she decided it wasn’t worth losing puppies over and gave it up, and her husband wasn’t sad about it in the least.
I asked her if she was intentionally breeding for working dogs back then, and she said that everybody’s dogs were working dogs but her thing was just dogs with wonderful temperaments and beautiful to boot. She said she’d breed to both, but that was the goal, and that’s what she’s doing now. She said the Flintridge line pretty much didn’t work and if they did, it was mostly thanks to being biddable, so that kind of changed things there, and her thought was today people don’t come to her for anything other than a friend and a pickup dog so it’s not a big deal.
Today that’s what she’s producing – happy, tractable, agreeable, well-built and whip smart Aussies in all colors. Honestly, I knew she’d been breeding primarily for companionship all this time, so I wasn’t expecting her passion for the conformation aspect – but she brought it up enough that it was pretty apparent that even if she’s not actively showing or competing with the dogs, she’s striving to make sure people can. She recently got a bitch from Heatherhill that Alan McCorkle gave her with a really cool old pedigree that is close to her old stuff but outcrossed enough to keep breeding to (following her strategy of keeping her line going), she said he has done a phenomenal job with the dogs and he has the finest Aussies, bar none and deserves that recognition – and she’s blown away that he reached out to her to offer this dog.
She doesn’t have the Internet so it was fun to tell her about what people were up to and she laughed about how back in the day you’d put down mismarks (and certainly never let the world see you produced them) and everyone thought the red coloration had to do with hip dysplaysia and how the world has changed.
I think the biggest takeaway I got from our meeting was her just pure passion for the dogs and her enthusiasm for them even though she’s not involved in the club activities like showing and politics. She was as giddy as a child around her puppies, absolutely in love with them, and she said that the only reason she didn’t feel bad about sending them to new homes was knowing her arms would be bloody from puppy needle teeth if she kept them any longer.
It was actually one of my favorite meetings of a dog person in a long time – she was just so much more than I’d dare imagine and I think we’ll have some fun in the future nerding out on dog stuff (and giving me fuzzy puppy fixes when possible). A lot of times, people are a lot more staid that are into dogs, and it was fun to meet someone who had that same level of energy that I have for it, around 60 years later. And I know other people feel it, too, because one of my favorite things on the house tour was this ribbon that “some handler” – the departed Red Oliver – gave her for some reason because he wanted to honor the contribution she’d made to a dog years later. You just know that he felt that same way back then.
Her passion for the breed is so contagious that her daughter and grand daughter continue with the Aussies, too!
I got into this breed back when I was living near San Francisco, and it has been the most fun journey learning that my favorite kind of dog had a big start here on the central Coast of California. There are definitely regional differences (Lois agreed), and it’s so cool to see why – the terrain, the need, and the source of the dogs varies so much – and it also makes this breed a cool example of how we should all strive for tolerance. Working, show, pet, colors, temperaments, etc . . . they have always had variety – and there’s something for everyone. And plenty to geek out on.