In honor of National Dog Day, we would like to introduce you to our canine crew! It currently consists of five dogs, each with his/her own unique talent and role on the ranch. From protecting the goats to cuddling with their humans, each pooch is a valued and necessary part of the Stepladder team and we couldn’t do it without them!

Stepladder dogs as a group


Frank is our fun-loving Border Collie pup. At only 3 years old, he is still vibrant with energy and can usually be found either patrolling the orchards, harassing the local skunks, harrying the humans and other dogs in hopes of finding a playmate, or running alongside the ATVs as the farm managers work to keep the ranch running. He is instantly recognizable to anyone who has been on our tours in previous (Covid-free) years, as he was often the over-eager mascot on many of these tours.

Frank - Stepladder dog

Although his original job on the ranch was supposed to be to help us herd the goats, we quickly found that the goats were more likely to chase him than the reverse.

So now Frank avoids the pastures filled with cantankerous goats and instead actively patrols the other 750 acres of the ranch on a constant search for his next source of entertainment. Luckily for us, the abundance of activity on the ranch keeps Frank well entertained, which (as anyone who has owned a Border Collie knows) is a necessity when trying to keep this breed happy and healthy!

Frank and Gus playing

Frank trying to convince Gus to play...but it's not working!

Gus and Lily

Gus and Lily are our 5-year-old brother and sister pair of Anatolian Shepherds that act as our herd protectors.

They are both huge, with Lily weighing about 120 pounds and Gus weighing in at more than 160 pounds! This breed has been honed through selective breeding over many generations to defend herds of domestic goats and sheep, so they are generally best kept as working dogs rather than family pets. While Gus and Lily are kind and gentle with the dogs and humans of Stepladder ranch, this flips the moment that either of these two behemoths catches the slightest scent of any potential predators (coyotes, cougars, foxes, etc.) getting too close to the barn.

The peace and quiet of most nights on the ranch is often shattered by the barking and growling of these two sentries as they sound the alarm and charge toward their foes with hackles raised and teeth bared.

Stepladder owners Jack and Michelle with dogs Gus and Lily

While much of their protective instinct is due to their genetics, there is still an element of necessary training that is required for any good herd protecting dogs. These two were lucky enough to be trained by their predecessor, Del, who was the Anatolian Shepherd that protected the herd before Gus and Lily arrived. The first year of their lives was spent under Del’s tutelage, where they learned to stay near the herd and remain vigilant at night lest any unseen predators creep into the herd.

Gus - goat herd protector dog

Because these two spend most nights on guard duty, their days are often spent napping in the shade near the barn and they are usually the most inactive of all the dogs on the ranch. Lily spends most of her time by the avocado orchard, which she will intermittently cruise through to grab her favorite treat - avocados! Gus is often found by the entrance to the ranch, where he will go into high alert and chase any unknown cars off his territory before going back to sleep. Though most of their day is spent sleeping, we often see a burst of energy in the morning when the chill in the air will inspire these two into a flurry of activity. Though their playful energy burns off quickly and doesn’t last long, it is always adorable. See Lily getting her groove on in this video while Gus watches and cheers her on:

Gus and Lily as puppies

Right: Gus and Lily as puppies alongside Lucy (rear) and the late Sweetpea. Left: Del, who helped train the two little tykes to be our professional guard dogs.


Lucy is our other ultra dangerous “guard dog.” Or at least she thinks she is, and no one is prepared to tell her otherwise. She is a 9-year-old, 15-pound Mini-Poodle who is deceptively tough despite her minuscule size.

Michelle got Lucy right before graduating from college at CalPoly, so Lucy was raised in the relative urbanity of San Luis Obispo. After Michelle met Jack and moved out to Stepladder, Lucy adapted to her new life on the ranch with remarkable tenacity. So far, she has surprised Michelle by chasing the ATVs through the hills, befriending an 800-pound boar that used to live on the ranch, and even protecting Michelle from an aggressive 350-pound pig in the pasture!

Lucy - Stepladder Dog

Lucy is a bit selective about where and with whom she spends her time, so she can be a rather elusive presence on the ranch. According to Michelle, Lucy’s favorite things in the world in this order are: “Mom (Michelle), Grandparents (Michelle’s parents), Jack, naps, food, hiking, the beach, fuzzy blankets, and comfortable beds”. She also loves cats, and can often be found on the couch cuddling with them and Frank.

Lucy snuggled on chair


The fifth dog on the ranch is Dookie, the adorable 8-year Australian Cattle Dog. He has been on the ranch the longest of any of the dogs and actually belongs to our ranch manager, Pimi, and his family. He is rather small for his breed, coming up to only mid-calf height and weighing in at about 45 pounds, but he is as tough as any of the big dogs. Every so often the cows will escape their fencing and find their way into the avocado orchards, but Dookie will be there to assist Pimi as he herds the cows back to their pastures!

He was originally given to Pimi by his daughter, who wanted a dog to stay with Pimi and protect him from the numerous cougars that live in the hills around the ranch. While not the largest of dogs and therefore not very intimidating, he has warned Pimi several times about approaching danger and luckily his bark is enough to scare any cougars away! He is absolutely adorable and extremely sweet and loves to get attention. He can generally be found either sleeping in his front yard or chasing Pimi about the ranch as Pimi travels through the orchards and grounds on his various tasks.

Dookie - Stepladder dog

We love our Stepladder furry friends!

Frank and Gus - the best of friends


  • Kitty Knoll-Aldrich said:

    Oh, you are a refreshing couple that seems marvelous to dogs of all kind.
    I also have a 5 1/2 year old Anatolian Shepherd mix. She is beautiful. My son-in-law found her at 6am in the alley/garage area under a car. She weighed maybe 8 pounds. She fell asleep on my shoulder and it was instant love At age 2 she developed skin issues and non of the vets my daughter took her even a Specialist in Santa Barbara said it came back bacteria on the skin scrape. My daughter wanted someone who could afford to take care of her so took her to Camarillo Animal Resue. Well, I fell apart, crying to my medical doctor. I knew where I live in senior housing wouldn’t allow her size. My doctor said “there will be a therapy letter downstairs within an hour”. I’ve had her 2 years and 4 months. Her, now veterinarian, found her thyroid below a 1 and her fur came back within a short time.
    I will send you pictures.
    My manager here sent me a letter saying there have been complaints and if Bella becomes a nusiance I will be evicted. I’m 81 now and do very well healthwise. Bella is a big dog, 77lbs and guards this place like her flock. She’s affectionate to me: Actually will only leave my side unless my friend, who lives here, takes her outside. We only have a small lawn and benches, and a gated parking. But she’s not allowed off her leash. I take her to our Memorial Park where, after 5pm, the police don’t check off leashed dogs. They all play, chase eachother around and it’s such a joy to see.
    I do love my grand dog with all my heart. I’m feeling now that she deserves so much more than this. For her to be happy is tantamount to me.
    I only lit up when I saw your posting. I haven’t looked yet to see where you are.
    I hope you don’t mind that I send you my story.
    Any comments or feedback you give me will be greatly appreciated.
    Kitty Knoll-Aldrich

    October 05, 2021

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