Five kelpies land on their feet at Sunny Acres

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On a little farm stay outside Rushworth, five kelpies roam. Owner Michelle Stivala says she started off with one troublemaker and didn't plan for more — but she couldn't turn down a dog in need. All up 11 kelpies have called Sunny Acres home.

How did this start?

Sunny in the blue collar was our first dog. We're his fifth owners, we got him at five months old. He was born in Mudgee, NSW. His first owners were working their way down from Queensland, had seen the Red Dog movie and wanted one. Every time they gave him away he kept getting returned. He was only five kilos when we got him.

Who's in the yellow collar?

That is Lexi. She is our second kelpie — actually a kelpie-cross-border collie. We bumped into her at Animal Aid in Coldstream, down in Melbourne at an adopt-a-dog promotion. She ran up to us in the shopping centre. She was involuntarily surrendered alongside her litter and mum.

Who is the third dog?

We've had Mollie now four years. She used to work 200 head of dairy cattle. Jim her original owner raised her from a pup, got two litters out of her and kept a pup from each litter. He had a farmer come in begging for a working dog and he gave him Mollie. She was beaten, dumped, shot at. One of her legs is permanently bowed after her chest, leg and jaw was broken. They wanted her as a pig hunter — kelpies don't hunt. She'd never worked sheep and wouldn't listen to them. We've since taught her sheep and she literally works them the same way as dairy cows, very soft. We're retiring her now because she is showing signs of arthritis.

Fourth dog?

Anzac. The boof head. The loud mouth. He's a rehome to us. He was one of 13 in the litter, two were kept to work. Neither of them work!

Fifth dog?

Millie belongs to a young girl in Melbourne, but she lives here. Millie was trained as an assistance dog in NSW but when her owner moved to Melbourne she wasn't doing any good in the backyard. The owner saw a video I put up and asked if I could take her and we said ‘she will always be your dog, when you get everything sorted or towards the end of her life, you can always have her back'.

Do they know their order?

Sunny and Lexi have such a bond, as first and second. We also feed them in order of how long they've been here.

Hard managing a pack?

Sunny is the alpha. Anzac wants to be the alpha. If you don't feed them in order and treat them as a pack they do get upset.

Have they had professional training?

Two have. We used Beloka Kelpies down at Welshpool. Paul comes to Shepp every now and again and Seymour for the agricultural days. Lexi was hard work. She was eight months of solid work to change her mindset. To go from the pound to working.

We're getting one of our pens done up for sheepdog training soon. The idea is Peacocks Kelpie Stud will come down and offer training courses on this property. It should be good. People and their dogs will camp on the property for the weekend.

A new dog just showed up.

That's Rocky from down the road. He must have slipped his collar. We rescued him but gave him to Ivan and Sherly down the road after they lost their dog in a shed fire. He is only young, two-and-a-half. Friends of ours rung us and said ‘people are going to shoot this dog, the dad just built a new house and doesn't want him anymore’ so we took him for a couple of months. All up we've had about 11 dogs here. At one stage I had nine dogs at once.

Ever had to bury any?

Not yet!

How do you tell them apart?

People say to us, how do you tell your dogs apart? Is that why you've got different collars? I just say ‘can you tell your children apart?’ I can even tell their barks apart.

Words and pictures: Daneka Hill