Taken in 1928 in Carmel, Calif., this photo shows Mickey Rathbun’s mother, Sheilah Moore (left), and her brother, David (right), enjoying breakfast in the nursery with their “house dog” Willy. As young children, Sheilah and David lived on the 25,000-acre Rancho San Carlos in a Spanish Colonial hacienda built by their father, George Gordon Moore. A self-made millionaire, he was the youngest of 10 children born to a poor Irish family that had emigrated to Canada during the potato famine of 1847. He studied law and, by age 25, had begun to amass fortunes in railroads and land speculation. His business card read “Capitalist.”
The ranch was Moore’s version of a gentleman’s paradise, complete with a race track, polo fields and an artificial lake. He bred racehorses; imported Russian boar for hunting; and hosted balls, polo tournaments, chorus lines and boxing matches. Prohibition did not dampen his wild parties; he is rumored to have been the model for Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby.
Despite the Moores’ glamorous socializing, the ranch provided few opportunities for young playmates, and most of Sheilah and David’s best friends were four-footed.Working dogs—including Russian Wolfhounds and Cattle Dogs—were everywhere, and house dogs like Willy became family. It was not unusual for pets to be the only guests at the birthday parties and teas arranged by the children’s German nurse, Emma Meith.
In the mid-1930s,Moore and his wife divorced, and soon after, he lost the ranch in the Great Depression. Sheilah and David’s lives were tumultuous after that, but always full of dogs.