If you don't hail from Australia, you might not recognize a kelpie at first glance. This smart, workaholic Australian herding dog descends from collie and dingo ancestors. Loyal and energetic, there aren't a lot of famous kelpie dogs. However, one kelpie in particular has spawned a small industry, with another kelpie playing him in a well-received film. A sequel -- and possibly a musical -- is in the works.
In the Beginning
The first "famous" kelpies were winners of Australia's extraordinarily competitive sheepdog trials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1898, a kelpie named Coil won a Sydney sheepdog trial, earning the maximum number of points. Coil accomplished this feat despite a broken front leg. In the 1920s, another top kelpie, Red Hope, won 19 sheepdog trials. He became an influential breed sire.
Red Dog, who was born around 1971 and died in 1979, spent much of his life wandering around Western Australia and farther afield. He had two actual owners in his lifetime, but after the death of his second person he became a community canine, with Pilbara region residents taking him on trips throughout the country. While he was deeply beloved by his community, it appears this red kelpie mix died as a result of poisoning. His life story was told in a novel by Louis de Bernieres, in a 2011 film.
Koko the Kelpie
In the 2011 film, a kelpie named Koko played the title role of "Red Dog." Koko initially found success as a show dog, later winning a working dog event before becoming a movie star. His trainer, Luke Hura, taught Koko over 50 commands to play the role. "Red Dog" won the first best film award at the inaugural "Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts" ceremony; Koko was probably the best-known dog in the country. He died of heart failure at the age of 7 in 2012.
The Next Kelpie Star
Koko's death meant the next Red Dog movie -- titled "Blue Dog" -- must have a different star. In 2014, the producer and director of the first Red Dog film announced that a "prequel" was in the works, focusing on the red canine's origins. The film will star a kelpie, and is scheduled to begin production in 2015. It's also possible that a musical version of the Red Dog story will come to fruition, making a star of yet another kelpie.
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