Blue Heelers Sink Tenacity, Hard Work Into Herding Woman Breeds Dogs For Cattle Driving

September 19, 1990|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

TANEYTOWN - Kathy D. Lawson recalls the terrifying time when only a few yards of pasture and Blue, her 50-pound Australian cattle dog, stood between her and a charging bull.

"I didn't have a prayer or a tree or a fence," she said. "I only had Blue, but she was enough."

The dog saved her life by working the bull, biting at his hoofs and steering him away, Lawson said.

The breed instinctively bites and ducks, usually avoiding a cow's retaliatory kick. Herding cattle comes naturally to them, she said, although they can work anything on four legs. As early as 10-weeks-old, the dogs have been trained to work sheep on her farm.

The dogs, also called Queensland blue heelers after their native country, coat color and herding ability, often lose teeth, but not courage, she said.

She has a photo of a dog who had been knocked out still clinging to a bull's leg.

"The rougher it gets, the better they like it," she said.

Their tenacity and aggressiveness come from their dingo ancestors, wild dogs that the early Australian settlers crossed with the Blue Merle collie, she said. Later, settlers added dalmatian, kelpie and bull terrier bloodlines to the breed, giving the animal guarding and herding capabilities.

"The dingo heritage makes them tough, rugged and cunning, with a natural ability to outmaneuver other animals," she said, adding the wild dingo might be the world's most intelligent canine.

Although blue is the most popular color in this country, the breed also includes red-haired dogs. All heelers are born with snow-white coats, which change to blue or red within two months.

Lawson's fascination with the dogs began about 20 years ago, when she owned a horse farm in Washington County. She bought Blue, the pick of the litter, from her blacksmith.

For several years after that, she bred her dog and sold the pups, keeping two females to maintain the blood line and hoping one day to open her own kennel.

She put those plans into action when she and her husband, W. Douglas Dowdy, bought a farm here in 1986.

They recently received zoning approval to keep up to 20 dogs. Her business is growing, as the breed becomes popular with American stockmen. Western ranchers are using the dogs to manage thousands of head of cattle.

Lawson has a one-year waiting list for her next 32 pups, which cost $300 each.

She has developed an Australian connection, a Queensland breeder, who has a "similar eye for dogs."

In February, he shipped her two young females. On Aug. 28, Dingo, a 3-year-old male and the product of a year-long search for a suitable mate, arrived.

"Dingo is a dream come true," she said. "His grand-sire is the Australian champion of the breed."

Through advertising, Lawson, a commercial artist for a Baltimore company, has received requests from around the world for her pups.

She shipped one 9-week-old to a Belgian ranch yesterday. Since his flight didn't leave BWI until mid-afternoon, the pup waited in his carrier at Lawson's workplace.

Co-workers, used to seeing a carrier under Lawson's desk, often will take the pup out and play with it. When someone invariably wants to buy one, Lawson tells them why that's not a good idea and suggests they try another breed.

"These dogs are much happier on a farm," she said, "Heelers need lots of exercise and are not a family backyard pet."

The breed, which has been registered with the American Kennel Association since 1980 and also is registered with the National Stock Dog Association, is protective, territorial and at a young age, becomes a one-person dog, Lawson said.

Their looks also precipitate impulse buys from pet shops -- also not a good idea for the same reasons, said Lawson. She said she has "rescued" some of those purchases from owners unable to handle them.

Hooter, a rescued dog, took to Lawson's daughter, Kara, 11, immediately.

The dog recently was certified by two judges for his ability to work sheep. Kara and her stepsister, Miranda Dowdy, 10, spoil the pups rotten, said Lawson. It helps the animals become people-oriented, though.

Two area veterinarians have each purchased a heeler from their client's farm. The dogs ride with the doctors on all their calls.

"Mine is pretty much a companion," said Michael L. Tanner, an equine veterinarian in Westminster. "I can't praise him enough. Whatever I'm doing, he wants to lend a hand."

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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