Lassie Comes Home! ~ Weatherwax Collies Gains AKC Registration

Cover of my book Natural Dog Care featuring myself and my Collie Connie! I have always loved this breed with all my heart!

Celeste Yarnall with  Connie!

By Celeste Yarnall, Co-Author of PALEO DOG with Jean Hofve, DVM for RODALE PRESS, June 2014.

I want to share a magical story of synchronicity with you all. It all started back in the early 70’s when I got one of my bright idea’s to just take a drive up to the home in Malibu that belonged to Rudd and Betty Weatherwax. Rudd Weatherwax was the owner and trainer of the famous Lassie (who was a male Collie) and I had been a huge fan of Lassie all my life. I was living in Malibu and so it was that I just drove my little dream car, a white Mercedes 350 SL out on this beautiful day with my daughter and Collie Lonnie piled in to that little car and I set out to take a chance and see if we might meet Lassie! Luck would have it that we did meet. Betty Weatherwax just happened to be out looking over their garden when we me  and then she brought Rudd out to meet us and once he saw how beautiful Lonnie was, he wanted very much to breed to her to Lassie 5. It was a fairy ‘tail’ love story and Collie ‘love at first sight scenario!’

Later when Lonnie came into season  I took her back to the Weatherwax’s and she stayed in absolute Collie honeymoon bliss with the Weatherwaxes and Lassie.

Rudd and Betty told me it was the hardest Lassie had ever fallen for a girl and we almost hated to separate them. But Lonnie was also the love of my daughters and my life, as well.  I was a very proud single Mom. And yes I raised my daughter all by myself, having separated from my first husband, my daughters father about 8 days after she was born. The puppies you see here at the end of  this blog are those very puppies, whom we called Misty and Alfie! Here is the press release announcing this landmark achievement for Weatherwax Collies!

“Weatherwax Collies proudly and gratefully announces its new status as an AKC-recognized and registered line of the Collie breed.

“Weatherwax-bred Collie litters are now AKC-registerable, with an AKC-verified pedigree available to puppy owners. Bob Weatherwax and his daughter, Mary Duxbury, hold AKC rights to the kennel name of Weatherwax, and their AKC breeding program will commence in 2014.

From this point forward, Collies with the Weatherwax prefix will have the ability to be shown at AKC conformation shows and earn championship titles. Likewise, Collies with the Weatherwax prefix will be able to participate in breed-appropriate performance/field activities – such as obedience, rally, and agility, herding, tracking, and coursing – earning those titles as well.

Achieving AKC recognition and registration is a daunting and meticulous process, requiring the authentication of sires, dams, and the spread of the family tree across multiple generations. The Weatherwax project took two and a half years to complete. It necessitated countless hours of research of all available data – from interviews with Bob Weatherwax and his sister JoAnn to interviews with veteran Collie breeders who were present and cognizant of the Weatherwax breeding program through the decades. It required scouring the breadth of Collie champion books, old breed magazines, and on-line breed databases.

Most surprisingly, several serendipitous moments occurred that also resulted in amazing contributions to the process. Above all, it could not have been done without the full cooperation of the AKC Registration department and its incomparable database. And finally, it took the generous support of key AKC and Collie Club of America VIPs to bring about final completion and approval.

Thanks (in alphabetical order) are humbly extended to: Melanie Adkins, Bill Brokken, John Buddy, Virginia Castillo, Claire Cone, Connie and Bob Del Rio, Mark Dunn, Helene Forthal, Tom and Sharon Frampton, Michael and Beverly Free, Denise Greskoviak, Helga Kane, Lenell Nix, Jon and Laurie Provost, Leslie Rappaport, David Roberts, Lorraine Still, Patti Strand, Theresa Uzelac, Dorothy Welsh, Doris Werdermann, and Celeste Yarnall.

Weatherwax Collies owes its existence to father and son Hollywood dog trainers, Rudd Weatherwax and Bob Weatherwax. Both Rudd and Bob had long and successful careers working with a number of canine actors, stretching from the 1930s to the early 2000s. But a certain Collie named Pal entered their lives and dominated their careers, in the process setting the standard for inspiration and breed type when he took over the role of “Lassie” in the 1943 MGM movie, “Lassie Come Home.”

From Pal on through the many generations of Weatherwax-bred Collies, the Weatherwax name became synonymous with the ultimate versatile Collie, physically gifted, intellectually capable of solving the trickiest of situations, and, equally if not more importantly, temperamentally superlative – truly everyone’s best and most able four-footed, double-coated friend. Those traits that Eric Knight wrote about when creating his iconic character are true and real, alive and flourishing in the Collie breed and in their ultimate representation among Weatherwax Collies.

The path to AKC recognition and registration almost never took place. Pal came to Rudd’s Hollywood training facility as a rambunctious puppy with a couple of bad habits. He wouldn’t stop barking and he insisted on chasing motorcycles. A trainer friend of Rudd’s, who had no success with the Collie, brought him to Rudd as a last resort. Rudd had no trouble changing the barking behavior to speaking on command, but even he couldn’t alter the ingrained herding response to motorcycles. Pal’s owners didn’t want the puppy any more, and the trainer who had brought Pal to Rudd convinced Rudd to keep the puppy in lieu of his training fee.

So Pal stayed, received entertainment industry training, and babysat Bob. (Pal was one year older to the day than Bob.) Rudd never received the puppy’s AKC papers, but, for a trainer, that was not a problem. Many of the dogs Rudd trained came from the local shelter. Their trainability was their ticket to a lasting home and a career in the movies. That was Pal’s fate as well.

Rudd might never have thought of breeding, if “Lassie” had not gained such international fame, first through movies and then because of the long-running “Lassie” television series. Pal lived a remarkable eighteen years, starring in all of the MGM “Lassie” movies and making the “Lassie” TV pilot episode. Rudd realized that Pal had to have a successor as the prospect of the TV series became a reality and an eventual fixture on Sunday nights.

Rudd was also savvy enough to know that he needed to use quality AKC-registered, female Collies in a breeding program in order to maintain the ideal that Pal represented. He also wanted to ensure a smooth transition between generations, which he and later his son consistently accomplished by maintaining their own standards in selecting the next “Lassie”: classic Pal markings of a white blaze, full white ruff, and four white paws; superior intelligence and trainability; and inherent charisma – that “look at me” factor also prized in the AKC conformation ring.

As far as the public knew, the Weatherwaxes’ Lassie I was succeeded by Lassie II who was then succeeded by Lassie III and onward through Lassie IX. That succession was accurate in terms of a never-ending line of Weatherwax-selected and trained dogs, each appearing in their turn on TV and in movies. However, the truth from the breeding standpoint was a little different, and the truth had to be told to authenticate the line for AKC. In fact, Pal was a teenager when Rudd thought about breeding, and the dog proved to be past his reproductive capability.

While it is accepted lore that Pal was the first generation of Lassie-bred Collies, the line, as the Weatherwaxes bred it, started with Lassie II. Frank Inn, a well-known Hollywood dog trainer in his own right, who had learned his craft as one of Rudd’s apprentices, was asked by Rudd to search among local Southern California breeders for a Pal look-alike to succeed Pal and who would then be bred in his prime to produce the next generation. Frank didn’t have to go far. He went to Ted Kattell, one of Rudd’s long-time Collie buddies, who lived high in the foothills of Chatsworth, California.

In recent years, Pal’s pedigree was researched and made public. Collie devotees know that he came from the North Hollywood, California, kennel of Glamis. But the real start of Weatherwax Collies and the progenitor of the Weatherwax line originates with  the kennel of Borco. While Lassie I was always the ideal for the succeeding Lassies, Lassie II was the actual foundation sire of the Weatherwax line of Collies.

Surprises popped up in other generations as well. Rudd and Bob always believed that their tail/male breeding program was relatively unique and that the female Collies from different kennels brought to the Lassies a high degree of outcrossing. While Rudd and Bob were very familiar with many breeders – both locally in Southern California and nationally – they did not necessarily know the correlations among the lines.

So the complete pedigree actually reveals a different picture of criss-crossed lines that interweave some well-known dominant kennels and other derivative or regional lines into the grand Weatherwax family tree. What results is a remarkable picture, proving that the Lassies and the Weatherwax line represent all Collies across the decades and throughout Collie history.

When recreating the pedigree from earliest to latest generation, some parts of the family tree fell quite easily into their slots, while others proved more difficult to verify. But wonderful stories with ironic, Hollywood-style twists threaded their way throughout the pedigree, eventually helping to solve all the missing pieces. Some stories even added to the illustrious history of the Weatherwax Lassies, starting back in the 1940s.

As significant collie fanciers were interviewed, one discovery was made of a woman now living in the Pacific Northwest who had been a teenager in the very early ‘40s, living in the Los Angeles area, and had brought her show dog to the Collie auditions for “Lassie Come Home.” AKC’s own Best in Show judge and director of the Museum of the Dog, Dorothy Welsh, had begun her career as a Collie breeder and exhibitor. One of her puppies, marked with a facial blaze, was scouted by a Hollywood agent and flown out to appear in a “Lassie” movie where multiple puppies, ostensibly sons and daughters of “Lassie,” were featured in scenes. Welsh also came to visit, meeting Rudd, Ted Kattell, and a number of other Collie pioneers of the Southern California area.

One empty pedigree slot with no apparent clues belonged to the missing dam who produced Lassie VI. Bob Weatherwax was confident that the dam had a Hollywood connection, and he was proven right. At one of the nostalgia celebrity conventions he attended with Laddie (his Lassie IX) and Jon Provost (TV Lassie’s Timmy), across from his table was Celeste Yarnall, who had credits ranging from an Elvis Presley movie and the original Star Trek series to roles in many other classic TV series and is also the author of Natural Dog Care, which features she and one of her Collies on the cover and the soon to be released PALEO DOG from Rodale Press, in June 2014.  Celeste spotted Bob and Laddie and immediately came over to talk. It turned out that she had been a Malibu neighbor of Rudd’s and decided one day to visit him and take along her female Collie. Rudd took one look at “Lonnie” and asked Celeste if he could use her Collie in his breeding program. Two puppies were born from that litter, and one became Lassie VI. Celeste still had Lonnie’s pedigree, and that information was added to the Weatherwax Collie family tree.

Celeste Yarnall’s AKC registered Collie, bred to Lassie 5 has two beautiful pups, one male and one female.

Celeste Yarnall’s AKC registered Collie, bred to Lassie 5 has two beautiful pups, one male and one female.

Coming full circle, uniting a recent Lassie generation with a star of “Lassie Come Home,” was the female Collie who became the dam of Lassie VIII. “Roxie,” owned by a local Southern California breeder, gave birth to two litters. Her first litter produced two female puppies. One of those puppies was presented to Elizabeth Taylor on the occasion of her 57th birthday and the bestowal of the America’s Hope award. Meanwhile, Roxie had caught the eye of a Weatherwax representative, and she spent the rest of her life at Bob’s Canyon Country home and kennel. There, she was bred to Lassie VII and produced Lassie VIII.

Currently, the Weatherwax line of Collies is represented by a litter of ten puppies, born three and a half years ago and sired by Lassie IX’s son. That litter included two males, marked in the Weatherwax/Lassie style. (Bob has one of those males, and his daughter has the other.) That litter is the first to be registerable as the proven and sequential branch of the Weatherwax Collie family tree. Future litters of this line will continue the new registration tradition of this venerable Collie family.

Over the decades, Rudd and Bob had to breed several litters in their quest to select the next “Lassie”, finding the right male puppy with the necessary markings and other “Lassie” criteria. Their puppy buyer contract always included clauses that prohibited both breeding and commercialized use of Weatherwax/Lassie progeny. The line was meant to be the exclusive property of Rudd and then Bob Weatherwax. In the last decade, however, some “Lassie” puppy owners broke their contracts and bred their “Lassie” descendants. None of those particular Collies came from Weatherwax litters that produced an actual “Lassie.” So those people and their Collies have no right to claim AKC registration, nor can they be considered as direct relatives of the Weatherwax line.

Collie fanciers know the difference. The Weatherwax Collies have been world-wide and world-class ambassadors of the breed. Weatherwax “Lassies” have performed at many Collie Club of America national specialties, and the CCA thanked Rudd for his contributions to the breed many times over the years. Both Rudd and Bob Weatherwax have been awarded numerous certificates of appreciation and excellence by watchdog organizations that oversaw humane treatment of animals in the entertainment industry. Their kennels were exemplary. All their working dogs were in top condition in the best of environments. And of course the “Lassie” Collies were known to have their own bedroom in any Weatherwax home.

Bob has said that, for all the awards and accolades given to his father and himself, nothing has meant more than the living dogs themselves. In Bob’s and his father’s careers and personal lives, dogs have been at the center. Now, as Weatherwax Collies takes its place as a recognized and registered breeding line of the AKC, Bob and his daughter, Mary, can be assured that the future of Weatherwax Collies is officially acknowledged and fully protected.”

It was one of the highlights of my life to go to the beautiful home of Rudd and Betty Weatherwax and see the conditions that Lassie and his elderly father lived in.  The conditions that the Weatherwax Collies were and still are raised in are fit for a king or Queen.

Celeste’s AKC registered Collie Lonnie gave birth to two beautiful Lassie pups pictured here with Celeste’s young daughter in the early 70’s daughter named  Cami.

Celeste’s AKC registered Collie, named Lonnie gave birth to two beautiful Lassie pups; the male who became Lassie 6 is pictured here with Celeste’s young daughter in the early 70’s, named Cami.

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