From Arthur McNab’s daily Ranch diary, the McNab sons worked as hard on the Ranch as any agricultural effort of that size would demand. There are many entries about a ranch hand called “Indian John” that came to the Ranch to help. There is little mention of the dogs or their breeding. My personal belief is that much of we appreciate of the McNab Shepherd’s uniqueness and breeding over the years, must be credited to Bruce Walker as well as Truman Bonnifield and Alvin “Bonnie” Bonnifield who both worked for John L. McNab.
Through the years, the McNab Ranch had ranch managers. The Bonnifield brothers—Trumman in the 1920s and Alvin in the 1930s—were from a Mendocino pioneer family. They were both related to Bruce Walker by marriage. Along with Bruce Walker, the work, training, and development of the McNab Shepherd was influenced by these men.
I have personally been intrigued by the Bonnifield name because it would continually pop up in my research over the past 20 years. Paul Poulos is related to the Bonnifield family through his mother, Pearl, nee Bonnifield. Alvin Bonnifield sold McNab Shepherd pups for years in Ukiah as evidenced by his classified ads selling pups “from the McNab Ranch” for $15.00 in the 1930s. With inflation, that would be $215.00 today. A lot of money for the 1930s. Further in evidence of the importance of a McNab Shepherd in the work on a sheep ranch, was the price they would bring at the height of The Great Depression.
Alvin “Bonnie” Bonnifield made a unique contribution to the breeding of the McNab Shepherd. Speculation about what other dog breeds were used to create the McNab have always been “Basque sheepherder’s dogs.” It can now be confirmed that Kelpies were brought from New Zealand by A. R. Bonnifield in 1936 when he was Ranch manager. This announcement, as in many other historic references, refers to the McNab Shepherd as a Scotch Collie. The introduction of the Kelpie may explain the change in the conformation of the McNab ears and coat after the 1930s.
Dr. Paul Poulos, DVM, is head of the MCHS, and the nephew of Bruce Walker. Paul has been generous with his time and knowledge meeting with me several times over the last year and making his archives available for my review and use. Paul told me he is “intrigued by the history of the McNab dog, because those Border Collies were so much in my life as a teenager.” All of us that love the McNab Shepherd owe gratitude to Dr. Paul Poulos. I look forward to linking the results of my research and work on The McNab Shepherd Historical Society with the Mendocino County Historical Society as an important and unique part of the history of Ukiah and Northern California.
“The long hair of the Border Collie and the problem of the grasses and foxtails in the area—it is said, and I have no documentation on it, that they crossed them with the Kelpie in order to get the coat down. And the Kelpie was a reasonable sheep dog.” Paul smiles and says, “The Kelpie is a logical choice to breed to a well-known, short-haired, shepherd dog, to a long-haired, well known, shepherd dog, to produce a better working dog in Mendocino County.” “The Border Collie is a great, close-in, working dog while the Kelpie is a great dog for the wide-open spaces.”
Knowing through my research that Kelpies were imported from New Zealand in the 1930s and imported to the McNab Ranch breeding effort, I told Paul that my research brought me to an article from the 1930s announcing Kelpies brought to the McNab Ranch from New Zealand. Paul says he thinks “the short-haired version of the McNab was at the point of the Kelpie introduction.”
Paul remembers that “by the 1950s and 1960s, the McNab was primarily a short-haired dog that look like what we think of as the modern day McNab. McNabs were primarily black and white dogs and they were primarily short-haired.” When asked if all Border Collies had long hair, Paul responds, “I called my veterinarian friend in Scotland and asked if he has ever seen a short-haired Border Collie. The Scottish vet said that he has never seen a short-haired Border Collie.”
In discussing who was most involved in the development of the breed Dr. Poulos stated “…and by far Alvin was the least influential in the development of the breed. And Truman (Bonnifield) was probably the most involved. And so, John McNab had some shepherds that were, I think, were clearly shepherds, just, Border Collies.”
Until the Kelpie connection!
I have to add that, in my research and experience growing up in Sonoma County, when people in Mendocino or Sonoma County said ‘sheepdog,’ they were referring to a McNab Shepherd. We were all on the same page with that definition. Paul confirmed this when he added, “You know, when you live in Ukiah, and the McNab Ranch is down the road, everybody that had a sheepdog...it was a McNab.”