Australian cattle dogs right at home in rural Michigan, USA
NOT so long ago we encountered an emu named Norman in a field near a village called Cold Ashton, on the fringes of the Cotswolds in England.
So it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when we went house sitting blue heelers in Middleville, Michigan, USA.
These two beautiful ladies are descended partly from dingoes. Ten-year-old Meeka (a rescue dog) and Kai, who is five, are Australian cattle dogs or, as we call them, blue heelers.
The object of the exercise: More exercise
They live with their humans, Hannah and Mark, on a lovely four-acre (1.6ha) property just outside Middleville. It was our pleasure to care for them for a couple of weeks. Middleville is near the city of Grand Rapids.
The back “fence” of Hannah and Mark’s property is a trout stream. Kai, in particular, often enjoyed cooling off between frenzied dashes around in pursuit of a tennis ball. If a ball wasn’t available, a large stick would suffice. Like every working dog, blue heelers love — and need — plenty of exercise.
Blue heelers are a recognised breed in the US
A recognised breed in the US since the 1980s, the blue heeler has been around in Australia since the mid-1880s. A farmer in New South Wales, Thomas Hall, cross-bred working dogs from his home county in England with dingoes he had tamed.
His aim was a dog capable of working in the toughest Australian conditions and the breed originally was known as Halls heelers, for their habit of nipping at the heels of any cattle reluctant to do exactly what the dogs’ masters wanted.
Eventually they became available outside the Hall family and the name blue heelers evolved, a nod to their blue-black coats. These days there are variations, such as red heelers.
Again typical of working dogs, heelers are known for their intelligence, energy levels and loyalty.
Hannah and Mark’s property is probably near enough to a perfect environment for a couple of heelers who are not required to work, as such. A downtown apartment or even a house on a block in the suburbs? Not so good unless you also are prepared to work very hard.
Meeka and Kai had been trained to walk on the lead. When allowed to run free in parks or on public walking trails, they were very responsive to commands.
And, while they loved their exercise, they also loved a cuddle and, when permitted, sharing our bed.