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At Home with the King of the Collies
William O'Hallaren
October 02, 1961
His castle is a cabin in the California high desert. His realm is a kennel in a canyon
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October 02, 1961

At Home With The King Of The Collies

His castle is a cabin in the California high desert. His realm is a kennel in a canyon

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In thousands of American homes a generation or two ago there hung copies of a heroic painting in which a noble collie stood guard at the side of an obviously lost and frightened lamb, while a snowstorm raged about them and, on a nearby hill, a diabolic wolf howled his threats. The picture was a notable blow for the collie, almost equal to the stories of Albert Payson Terhune, which followed a little later, and which consisted, in essence, of variations of the picture's theme.

And although these are skeptical days, there are still millions who are sure the picture and Terhune were right, that here is a dog without peer at saving sheep or children and foiling evil. In the past year, despite a trend against big, long-haired dogs, the collie has risen a full notch in AKC registrations. There are collie lovers who are content merely to have a dog that looks just like Lassie. Others breed and exhibit, lecture, write books and think deep thoughts about the breed. And finally, in a lonely cabin on a commanding ridge in California's high desert lives an old man for whom collies are simply life itself.

Ted Kattell is often called the King of the Collies, and no wonder. At various times there have been upward of 50 collies frisking about Kattell's cabin, and the pack has run close to 100. For almost a quarter of a century Kattell has almost always been able to say he has more collies at his side than anyone else anywhere in the world. And during those years he has been the liveliest, stormiest figure in the collie world, a perpetual one-man commotion.

Kattell is a deceptively mild-appearing old fellow, his rugged frame, at 74, beginning to show a slight stoop, but his voice still hearty enough to shout down his most exuberant young dog. His cabin looks like a small boy's dream of the untidiness that could be achieved in a life without women.

The cabin is on a height in Vasquez Rocks, named for an outlaw who used to hide thereabouts. If he were alive today he could still hide there because the canyons and cliffs of the area are still lonely and largely unknown, even though the Los Angeles city hall is hardly more than 50 miles away.

For visitors to Borco, which is the name of both the retreat and the kennel, Kattell offers a favorite entertainment. He puts the company on a vantage point looking down a 500-foot canyon side. He gives a signal, a gate springs open and his pack goes shrieking and baying around the rocks and into the depths like so many flashing demons. If a rabbit is routed, the yelping ricochets from canyon walls like a berserk hi-fi.

If the visitors have the leg power, Kattell will take them down the canyon in pursuit of the pack. In time, after mysterious turns and bends, there is a tiny, hurrying creek which suddenly opens into a rock pool at the base of a 200-foot stone overhang. The dogs have already lapped at the water, and a few clowns among them have jumped in and paddled around. When it is time to return, Kattell calls just once to his lead dog, a grand old fellow named Roger Bright. Roger falls in step at Kattell's side, and the pack trots dutifully behind. Occasionally Roger will turn a quick, commanding look to his rear, and stragglers scamper into place.

Promised land for dogs

Whatever humans may think of the harsh surroundings, Borco is a promised land for dogs. His collies never feel a leash, never know the confinements of a kennel. In their lean, weathered, unkempt looks they resemble the working dogs of Scotland more than the glistening, pampered collies of U.S. show rings.

Kattell's critics, of whom he has had his share, complain that the shaggy, half-wild dogs give a bad impression to casual visitors, who make the trip expecting to see a collection of Lassies. "What should I do?" he asks. "Go out and wash 50 dogs every Saturday night?"

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