Stephanie had the good fortune of moving with her family from her native San Francisco to Santa Rosa, California, in 1962.
Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County and home to Luther Burbank, the Plant Wizard, was primarily an agricultural county based in prunes, sheep, and dairies. Back then, wineries were limited to a handful, and the dairies and sheep operations had not been displaced by the real estate term “vineyard potential.”
When the term “sheep dog” was used around Sonoma County, it always meant the McNab Shepherd. The breed was a known contributor to the agribusiness in the wide-open spaces of California, as necessary workers in the sheep operations and dairies. Stephanie’s best friend growing up was Nancy Comstock, from the famed Comstock Lode family (yes, she remembers a family genealogy book on the bookshelf in the Comstock home!). During a visit to her Uncle Hilliard's 2,000-acre ranch in Middletown, California, Stephanie was first introduced to the McNab Shepherd.
Hilliard Comstock was a high school student with Wayne Foster, and they were both in Future Farmers of America (FFA). After graduating from U.C. Davis, Hilliard worked a sheep ranch in Annapolis, Sonoma County, and then his own ranch in Middletown, Lake County. Sonoma County, with its beautiful geography, was inhabited by people that had small and big ranches, pastures attached to their homes, and horse lovers. This lifestyle included the most popular local dog breed, the McNab Shepherd. Sonoma County was a small, primarily agricultural area when Stephanie was growing up. Often Sonoma and Mendocino had related families in both counties. Stephanie's nephew, Tobias de Turbiville, is a fifth-generation Californian from the Mendocino pioneer Hildreth ranching family.
After rescuing her first McNab, Kiser, in 1998, Stephanie found a person mentioned throughout the internet as a McNab expert, Alvina Butti. With one McNab rescue already obtained through U.C. Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, Stephanie contacted Alvina offering to rescue and accept another McNab into her home. Within the same week, she was contacted by a referral from Alvina and welcomed her new McNab, one-year old Russell. This opened up new friendships for Stephanie with Alvina, Russell’s breeder and namesake, Russell Christiansen, and others. Stephanie states Russell was a one-of-a-kind dog and the best dog of her life (so far!).
Being a Sonoma County resident, Stephanie found that much of what was being documented on the Internet was clearly inconsistent. The McNab Shepherd was consistently defined as a Border Collie. For those searching out information about the McNab Shepherd, the gold standard was the article “The McNab Dog” by Donna Seigmund and Alvina Butti.
Stephanie’s love for the chase began her search for McNab history, artifacts, and ephemera. The results of the work she began in 1998 are much of what exists today as the historical content of McNab Shepherd sites: Correspondence with McNab devotee the wonderful Wayne Foster included stories and photos of McNab owners with names that were instrumental in developing the McNab breed, Gaye LeBaron articles obtained from the Sonoma State Charles Schulz Special Collection, the Vonsen Mills Dog Food bag featuring a McNab Shepherd as an icon on the bag, Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine from 1976, The Mountain Lamb Cookery, the wonderful speech made by McNab son-in-law O.E Chambers at the Mendocino County Wool Growers’ First Annual Barbecue and Sheep Dog Trials in 1965, countless articles featured in The Redwood Empire section of the Press Democrat and authored by the hardworking Farm Editor, Mike Pardee, as well as from Mendocino County Pioneer Families, local veterinary professionals, historical societies documenting the pioneer families of Mendocino County, and archival documents.
The McNab Shepherd, a native California dog breed, deserves to be represented as it truly was in the history of Northern California. Stephanie was determined to not just rehash the same stories; her determination was fueled by her love of the McNab Shepherd and of research.
Alarmed at the amount of license being taken with McNab history, Stephanie wanted to create a legacy of fact-based documentation. Utilizing skills acquired in graduate school for nursing that demands a scientific approach, she began to research and document facts with integrity resulting from evidenced-based materials.
Once her research began, it became apparent that whatever small amount of information previously existed about the McNab Shepherd was a storyline that had been repeated because that was all that existed. Even more sadly, many existing facts had been, and continue to be, altered and enhanced to support the needs or objectives of the writer. Glaringly the dates, names, and places represented to support these versions of McNab history were made up or missing. Added harm was created based on the public’s propensity to believe whatever they see on the Internet or social media.
Stephanie’s work is the result of face-to-face meetings with locals that spent time on the McNab Ranch, from Mendocino County Pioneer Families, local veterinary professionals, historical societies documenting the pioneer families of Mendocino County, Scottish government registries, and archival documents. The McNab Shepherd Historical Society, Inc. is a California non-profit corporation.
The choice of web design team for this project turned out to be incredibly serendipitous! Keely and Michaela Brazil of Go West Marketing are Mendocino County natives who know the McNab Shepherd breed well.
Their parents are local veterinarians. Shortly after Drs. Rich and Erin Brazil moved to the area after graduating from the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, they rescued and adopted an injured half-McNab puppy. Petie quickly became a family fixture and is still remembered as the best dog they ever had.
From Keely and Michaela: "We loved meeting Stephanie and creating this website, showcasing her incredible research that tells the stories of this special Northern California dog and the pioneers who settled our beautiful and unique community! It was very memorable for us to be able to honor both our community and beloved childhood dog Petie with this project."