Befuddled and often tongue-tied onscreen, beloved character actor Charlie Ruggles possessed sharp business and organizational skills off screen. He parlayed a love of dogs into a profitable kennel business for several years in the 1930s and 1940s, working to ensure proper, healthy living conditions and behavior for the canines in his charge.
Born in Los Angeles in 1886, Ruggles began appearing on the stage not long after graduating from high school, though his father hoped he would follow him into the wholesale drug business. The young man quickly found his footing, earning wide praise for theatrical appearances around California and on the Broadway stage in 1914. Not long after, Ruggles followed his younger brother Wesley, a future director, into the moving picture business, becoming a well respected performer for over 50 years.
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From his earliest days, Ruggles loved dogs, and as an adult he surrounded himself with them. He told the April 1, 1938, American Kennel Gazette that terriers were his first love and pets, but that he soon added other breeds as well. By the 1930s, he owned 20 dogs, including champion Ch. Marquis of Lochnagar, a West Highland white terrier. The busy actor somehow found time to enter kennel club competitions beginning in 1934 along with fellow performers like Stu Erwin, Gary Cooper and Johnny Mack Brown, becoming a prize-winning owner. After receiving good offers for a litter of pups from his English setter, Ruggles realized there could be a profit in dealing and handling dogs.
Ruggles began studying and learning about canines, from breeding to training to proper nutrition and living situations, especially after seeing deplorable conditions at some of the kennels where he boarded his animals while traveling for work. He yearned to establish canine hotels to approximate what conditions the dogs experienced at home.
Realizing he could do better, Ruggles established the state-of-the-art See Are Kennels, a play on his initials, in 1935. Located at 11636 Radford, soon changed to 11636 Tuxford out in what is now La Crescenta, the kennels were called the “Beverly Wilshire of the canine world” by Modern Screen in 1940.
A former chicken farm constructed by E. R. Zimmerman, the two-acre See Are Kennels acted as “home and school and hospital combined” per Hollywood magazine in 1938. Ruggles advertised to Westminster Dog Exhibitors in top journals like American Kennel Gazette, promoting the spaciousness of the 100 shaded dog pens, large and professional staff, veterinary service and quality food.
The kennels featured concrete floors with a wooden overfloor and gutters to facilitate cleaning, sleeping benches, large windows providing light, large runs outside to give the dogs room to play and to give them freedom. The walls and ceilings were painted white, while the floors were painted red. Air conditioning kept the animals cool during hot weather, and heat from electricity warmed the buildings in winter. There was a separate veterinary space, and special trimming and grooming rooms to service the pens. There was a special “shaking” space for dogs just out of baths before they went to the drying rooms outfitted with wall heaters. On his other two acres, Ruggles raised chickens and turkeys and grew citrus, which he sold to help pay costs.
The 1938 American Kennel Gazette noted the meticulousness of the kennels, in which Ruggles brought breeds from the east to help introduce them to the West Coast, including Afghans, miniature schnauzers, cairn terriers, Kerry Blue terriers, and miniature poodles. Ruggles’ own dogs and those attending competitions boarded in the main building, while “guests” and “vacationers” occupied rear buildings. A registered nurse handled the special diet, and canines received fresh meat. See-Are possessed a pristine hospital to tend to medical needs, while those with contagious conditions were houses at a special isolation unit miles from the kennels. Dogs were allowed as much as possible to move freely, except those in heat or with puppies. The October 18, 1938, Chester Times in a wire piece estimated that the kennels were worth $200,000, and that a staff of 20 operated the facility.
Max Weatherwax served as trainer for the facility, preparing pets with obedience classes and providing special training for those animals going into show business.
Ruggles described how he got into the business and what it meant in a long wire article published in the August 28, 1938, Ogden Standard Examiner called “Going to the Dogs.” He established the kennels in 1935, investing $50,000 over three years, realizing “There seems to be a profit in dogs.” “They pay expenses and make money. It may be years before they return the investment, but in the meantime they are interesting.
“Most of the picture people I know (Barbara Stanwyck, Kay Francis, Errol Flynn) send their dogs to me when they go away, or leave them at the kennels for stripping, etc….After I got into the business I began to see that money was to be made by introducing new breeds of dogs, or by bringing in dogs that happened to be the rage in other places. I introduced the West Highland white terriers, fine little dogs they are and now quite popular. They there were the Bedlingtons – the ones that look like sheep – and dachshunds.
“I have a trainer who takes the dogs as they come in for one of the courses he gives. My own dogs are given training, naturally. Max Weatherwax, the trainer, has an obedience course, which all young dogs take, a companionship course for dogs that are to act as special pets, and the training necessary for dogs that will enter pictures.” At the time of the interview, 20 of Ruggles’ dogs performed with Shirley Temple in her most recent picture, each with a special talent. In 1940, director William Seiter employed the kennel as a location for the film “Hired Wife.”
Besides operating the facility, Ruggles continued to enter his stable of dogs in kennel club shows across the country, winning awards. At the Ambassador Dog Show in 1937, Ruggles won 125 blue ribbons, four trophies, and three Best of Show Awards. He also operated a pet shop, first at 9090 Santa Monica Blvd. and then 611 S. Western, where he sold dogs bred, raised, and trained at his facility. His cheapest dog sold for $50, while his most expensive sold for $1,250.
The Cedar Rapids Tribune reported in its March 26, 1942, edition that many of Ruggles’ dogs were drafted by the United States Army and were undergoing special training there at the facility. Though Ruggles remarried in 1942, he continued operating the kennels and entering dog show competitions for some time. It is possible that he sold to A. R. (Gus) Hill in 1948, as Hill is listed as operator of the See Are Kennels in a dog food ad in a 1948 Life magazine issue, though the kennels continued to operate until at least 1957, with ads running in the Los Angeles Times that year.
Charlie Ruggles turned his love of dogs into a profit making business, preaching the beauty and intelligence of canines by introducing new breeds to the West Coast. Ruggles’ kind, loving, and generous actions towards animals proved him a good egg both on and off screen.