Working Dogs

Canine stars shine on the stage

By Sophie Baldwin

There is always a fair bit of action going on out at Echuca's Billabong Ranch.

There is mini golf, horse and camel rides, paddle boats and even an undercover animal nursery.

Their latest attraction, a live show called Where the Long Paddock Meets the Murray, tells the story of Australia's pioneering history and features three very popular stars — Scruffy, Dusty and Ted.

The three dogs are an integral part of the show and while they haven't received an Oscar for their performance just yet, there is always demand after the show for a pat and a cuddle from the audience and the dogs certainly love to lap up all the attention.

Worker Rob Strachan owns the two older dogs while Billabong Ranch owners Rocky and Kerri Acquisto own the energetic and very happy Scruffy.

What sort of dog is Scruffy?

Rob: She is a stumpy-tailed Smithfield heeler and the other two are kelpies.

How are they coping with their new-found star status?

Rob: Everyone is interested in the dogs and people always come up after the show to pat them, I haven't got them to sign any autographs yet but they are a very popular part of the show.

What is there role?

Rob: Dusty and Ted work the sheep and cattle for the show while Scruffy just likes to lick everyone as she runs around, although she is learning off the other two and can work the cattle which is a natural instinct of the heeler.

Tell me a bit about your dogs, Rob?

Ted is the black and tan dog I got from a bloke at Jerilderie while I bred Dusty myself. I had them to work the stock when I was droving.

The reason I got Ted was because the other owner couldn't get him to work the sheep in the yards.

I have used him as a lead dog for cattle mustering and he loves that.

I trained them both myself and they are pretty good dogs although we haven't been mustering for the last four years.

They loved it when we were on the road out the back of Hay and Carrathool and we spent spent a lot of time working the cattle.

Who is the boss of this trio?

Rob: Ted is the boss dog, I can't say I am.

Ted is much more loyal than Dusty, who likes a bit of adventure and is always running off looking for something exciting. Scruffy just likes to play a lot.

Kerri, how did you end up with Scruffy?

Kerri: Rocky has always liked the scruffy, stumpy tails.

We already have a smooth-haired one and when he was riding he came across a litter and we ended up with another one.

She is about nine months old and and a great watchdog when we are up at the house, but when she is in the show ring all she wants to do is say hello to everyone.