The Sheepdog Couple of Rio Blanco County

Festivals, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on July 15, 2001

Border collie sheepdogs are hard-working, intelligent, and loyal. So are Gus and Christine Halandras of Meeker, Colo. And they wouldnt mind that comparison a bit.

The couple helped start the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials 15 years ago in an effort to boost tourism. Its just a dog and a sheep, but it fits very well into the community, says Gus, 62, who raised sheep for years before turning the ranch over to his sons. Everybody can relate to a dog.

The compact black-and-white border collies are the star athletes of the sheepdog trials that put the town of 2,400 on the map. Using only spoken and whistled commands, a dogs handler directs the dog to gather sheep, maneuver them through gates, around posts, then into a penall within 30 minutes. With uncanny intensity, the dogs literally stare down the sheep, never touching them.

Thats how Babe, the pig in the movie of the same name, herded sheep. Unlike Babe, however, sheepdogs cant talk to the sheep. And these sheep are right off the range, with no intention of going where some strange dog wants to herd them.

Grant Nielsen turns the sheep out of the corral at the Meeker Classic. Our event is right close to the city limits, and weve had sheep run right into town, Neilsen says.

The Meeker Classic draws 10,000 spectators and 150 competitors from all over the world to the town, located 6,249 feet above sea level in the White River Valley of northwestern Colorado. This years championship on Sept. 5-9 will have a $12,000 purse.

The Halandras family has a long history with Meeker. In 1922, Gus Halandras Greek immigrant father, Regas, was driving a flock of sheep through town when angry cattlemen bearing guns blocked his way. Even the cattlemens wives held brooms to beat back the herd. It was during the historic range wars between cattle ranchers and sheep farmers, when cattlemen fought to keep sheep from grazing the range. But Regas persevered, homesteading his own ranch several years later.

Framed in Gus office is a 1977 story about Gus Dad from The Denver Post with the headline: The best-known sheepman in Rio Blanco County.

As a young man, Gus left Meeker to attend the teachers college in Greeley, the University of Northern Colorado. There, he met Christine, whose parents also were Greek immigrants.

They married and moved to Meeker, where Gus taught briefly before quitting to focus on sheep ranching and outfittingtaking hunters out on private hunts. Christine substitute taught for 27 years while raising three children, catering, and boarding hunters.

Early in their marriage, We began realizing you can have anything you want if youre willing to work for it, Christine says.

Both their sons live in Meeker. Regas, 35, does property management, home construction, and works with his brother, John, who took over the family ranch. The brothers also own a meat processing business.

John, 33, is a hunting outfitter, too. And he makes antler lamps and chandeliers.

The whole family gets up in the morning and decides What hat are we going to put on today? Gus says.

Daughter Pegge Marie, 28, graduated from medical school in May.

Theyre a very tight family, but yet theyre willing to make pretty much anybody their family, says Kim Cagney, who is is in charge of the craft and food vendors for the Meeker Classic.

Thats even spelled out at their Rambullinn Bed & Breakfast. Etched in stone at the entry to the kitchen is a sign: Come, a stranger, Leave, a friend.

The success of the sheepdog trials surprised even Gus and Christine. Its just a dog, a sheep, and a community, Gus says.

Christine adds: And it has magic.