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But What IS Curtis, Anyway?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Anyone who reads my blog regularly must be finding it a trifle odd that I have yet to speculate on Curtis' breed makeup. My first impression of him as I studied the only photo I had was that he might be a pit bull mix. I was going on his brindle coloration, which shows up pretty frequently in pit bulls, and his wide, spatulate tongue, and what appeared to me to be a deep-chested, wide-headed build.

But when I saw Curtis in person, all that changed. He was much lighter in build than he looked in that photo, and his head especially was almost delicate.  I looked beyond his coloration to his build, and what I saw was an archetype, a classic village dog body plan. At only 35 pounds, the idea that he might be part pit vanished with a poof. He looked like a cur to me.

 Like most of you, I grew up with the word "cur" being pejorative. There was a medium sized yellow dog down the street from us when I was growing up in Virginia that looked a whole lot like Curtis. Pete was rather low-slung, had a straight tail, a slightly boxy head with pronounced stop, and small folded ears. My dad always referred to him as "that cur, Pete." Well, since our dachshund was always picking fights with Pete and coming home torn up, I didn't think much of Pete.  I thought DOD was just saying a bad dog word when he called him a "cur-dog." So "cur" held negative connotations for me. I didn't realize then (but now understand) that my father knew a cur when he saw one!

And I think I did, too. The evening I brought Curtis home, I sat down to start Googling. I knew he was no Heinz 57. I sensed he was a purebred, and set out to find out which.  I started with "Catahoula Leopard Dog," since that was a southern mountain breed I knew about. A couple more clicks got me into brindle curs, and photos of Curtis' breed popped up everywhere. There he was! Over and over! I love the Information Age!!

It turns out that a cur is an historic American dog, and a recognized breed. According to one source, the Mountain Cur was originally derived from settlers' English pointers, plus some kind of (undoubtedly British) terrier, both interbred with Native American village dogs, a breed now extinct.  It's been assigned to the Hound group, but it has been in AKC's Foundation Stock Service only since May 2017.

From the American Kennel Club website: (lightly edited)

"Mountain Curs are the true all-American pioneer dog. They were a necessity to the frontier family and it is likely that the southern mountains could not have been settled without them. They were one of the biggest assets that the settlers had in the rough and unforgiving country of the mountains. They guarded the family and livestock against wild animals or intruders.
They were used to catch, tree, or hole wild game for the family’s food. Until the 1940s, these dogs were part of the way of life for the frontiersmen. They used money from sold furs that their dogs hunted to provide for their families. The exact origins of this breed are undocumented, as there was no need for an official pedigree among the pioneers.
The Mountain Cur was declared a breed in 1957 with the organization of the Original Mountain Cur Breeders of America (OMCBA). The most common strains of Mountain Cur included the McConnell, Stephens, Ledbetter, Arline and York strains, the categories being named after the owners of the dogs."


It had been established through family history and research that Spanish Explorers brought the brindle, bob-tailed Curs to the South.  Hernando de Soto brought the brindle Curs to drive the hogs and provide protection against wild animals, while he explored the South and discovered the Mississippi River.  Hunters and settlers found the brindles when they came South.  
From Original Mountain Cur Breeders' Association website: 

"The colors of Mountain Curs of early days are dominant today.  Brindle, yellow, black and blue.  Some have white markings... All these dogs have the same general traits, such as strong treeing instinct on all game, courageous fighters and intelligence.  The Mountain Cur today is still a varmint dog!  Hunting whatever game his master wants.  He is also a guard dog, farm dog and family protector.  This dog is put down and ridiculed by some uninformed people because of the word "Cur".  In Mountain Cur the word "Cur" is used idiomatically and has NO meaning of "low" or "worthless".

Low or worthless? Perish the thought! He's noble!

Now, as I understand it, there are three varieties of Mountain Cur, bred for coloration and conformation. One of the smaller ones is the Treeing Tennessee Brindle. 

Aww, it's Curtis! Look at all those Curtii!!

Again from AKC's website:

"In the words of Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders founder, Rev. Earl Phillips: “Our original breeding stock came from outstanding brindle tree dogs from every part of the country.” Many came from the Appalachian Mountains, Ozark Mountains and the places in between.
In the early 1960s, Rev. Earl Phillips wrote a column for a national hunting dog magazine. By way of his magazine column, Rev. Phillips gathered a wealth of information about these brindle-colored Cur dogs and the people that had or knew about them. Those people who corresponded with Rev. Phillips commended these brindle Cur dogs on their hunting and treeing abilities. There was a group that were trying to promote Cur dogs of different colors but none were trying to exclusively find, preserve and promote the brindle Cur dogs.

"Early in 1967, Rev. Phillips contacted many of the people that he had corresponded with about brindle Cur dogs. He suggested the formation of an organization to preserve and promote these dogs. On March 21, 1967 the Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders Association was formed and recognized as a legal organization by the State of Illinois. The purpose of this Association is to breed a dog brindle in color, smaller in size, with a shorter ear and different in conformation than the Plott. The dog may have dew claws and white feet and breast. By selective breeding, this dog can have great scenting power, be an open trailer with good voice, and retain the great uncanny ability of the Old Brindle Cur dog to tree all kinds of game."

You coming along, Ma?


"The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is another variation of the coonhounds of America. They are smaller than other coonhounds, however, and only range from around 16 to 24 inches. They have catlike paws, and a choppy bawl for a bark. With small ears and a brindle body, this breed is discouraged from changing size, ear length, tail, or colors so that it doesn't also change category. Treeing Tennessee Brindles are good at open trailing and locating prey. Courageous hunters and companions, the Treeing Tennessee Brindle is said to have an abundance of "heart and try." They are a sensitive breed, however, and owners warn never to mistreat the breed. This breed can be more sensitive than normal toward neglect or abuse, and it is thought that once you mistreat them they will never treat you the same again. They are good natured and friendly dogs, getting along with anyone and everyone. This breed is intelligent, alert, and vocal. They love to bark because it is usually their job. The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is a an American breed with a strong work drive and friendly demeanor."


GPS USE:  3241 Coon Hunters Lodge Road, Jamestown, TN  38556   
I boldfaced the passage that really spoke to me of Curtis' nature. 
He loves everyone, but is very sensitive to tone of voice, and you don't have to correct him over and over. He remembers, he listens, and he wears his feelings on his sleeve.

So those of you who have suspected Curtis to be a Plott hound were close. But Plotts are bigger, much longer eared and deeper-muzzled than Treeing Tennessee Brindles. He's not really a hound. He's a Mountain Cur, more specifically a Treeing Tennessee Brindle. And isn't that cool?

At least that's what I think. See if you agree. I'm not going to drop $200 on a cheek swab DNA test. I pretty much know what I'm looking at.  Lil' ol' good for nothin' cur.

Curtis Comes Home

Monday, February 25, 2019


 I looked at Curtis, this little miracle on the seat beside me. It was like looking at the sun. Since Chet Baker, I hadn't seen a more naturally beautiful dog, or one whose every thought shone out of bright brown eyes the way this one's did.  I couldn't believe that he was coming home with me. Still shaken by the hugeness of it all, I was vacillating between elation and terror, but trying hard to project the impression that I, and not some random nameless power, was in charge here.  I needed to be strong for Curtis.

 It felt so amazing to be riding in my car with a dog again. To know we were headed home, and that he had been plucked from an uncertain fate, and was hurtling along into a very bright future. I couldn't keep the tears out of my eyes, as his gaze searched the highway stretching out before us. I felt from the very beginning that I could read Curtis' thoughts, and he could read mine.

I wanted to bring Curtis to Bill, as soon as I could. For as much as I'd missed having a dog, the thing that pulled me out of my trench of resistance was knowing that Bill needed a dog. Chemo has been terribly hard on him, and he's endured days on end when all he could think about was getting out of the whole miserable thing. Outlook is so much a part of the fight. No one could fault Bill for the feelings that flooded and overwhelmed him just as the deadly chemicals did. I knew that having a warm, loving animal to love and hold would be immensely therapeutic for him and Wendy, too. Since she'd been with a Springer pup on her South Africa trip, she'd been talking about getting a golden retriever puppy. While I perfectly understood the urge to have a warm, cuddly puppy around to love and be loved, I was afraid for them both that a new puppy would be too much atop too much for Bill's devoted primary caretaker. It seemed to me that adopting a grown up dog who needed a home would be a better solution. I could shoulder his care, and just share him so all they'd have to handle is the joy he brought. But it had to be the right dog. And that's where my beautiful guiding spirits lent an enormous hand. All I had to do was accept their help. All I had to do was look at Kelly's Instagram post, the first thing on my feed Saturday, February 16. See the dog. Read her description of his singular personality.  Send a barrage of texts to Kelly. Change my travel plans. Stay another night in Columbus. Wait outside the shelter for it to open on Tuesday. Look into Curtis' eyes. And press, with trembling hand, the red YES button. No big deal, right? Then why am I bawling?

  As we rolled along, I made plans to unload the car (I still had all my luggage from the trip to Oregon); give Curtis a bath, and take him over to the pink house to meet Bill. I had still breathed not one word of this momentous event to anyone. My heart was so full with the secret and the import of it all that it was about to burst. I was on the edge of tears or laughter the whole ride home.

I'm not crying, much.

Especially when Curtis sat right on the console, where Chet used to sit, and leaned on me, the way Chet used to.  And then he kissed me! Bawww! I will say that Curtis' kiss is far more gemmunly than Chet's. That Bacon would French you faster than you could say Pbbbth!! 

We made it home. 

I'm so glad, as excited as I was, that I thought to make this little video of Curtis walking up the sidewalk of his new forever home. On the ride home, he alternated between looking somewhat apprehensively at the highway ahead and curling up, eyes closed, in the back seat. I watched the thoughts crossing his expressive face, and I could sense that he was afraid that this car trip would end badly: perhaps in a visit to the vet, or to placement in another shelter. It was the oddest thing to see him retreat farther and farther into his shell as my car slowed and negotiated the curves and final turns into the driveway. Wouldn't you think a dog would sit up and want to see where he was headed at the point where the tires crunched on gravel?

But he didn't. He curled up tighter. Even when I turned the car off, Curtis refused to look out the windows. Oh, my heart. Oh, you poor darling.

Watch as it sinks in on Curtis, the Thinking Dog, that he just might have hit the shelter dog jackpot. 


Yep, I let him out of the car for the very first time without a leash. This journey is all about leaps of faith.

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of God's own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
No explanation
Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled
And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She'll make her way, she'll make her way
Natalie Merchant, "Wonder"

Making the Leap

Friday, February 22, 2019

I headed to the animal shelter on Tuesday morning, having spent the night at Kelly's house in Columbus  (I'm writing on Friday). I'd gotten in around midnight from Medford, Oregon. and was tacking another night and day onto my trip. I must really be thinking hard about this dog. I'd told nobody what I was up to, just told my family I was too tired to make the drive home Monday night. Which was not a lie.

 I walked up to the counter at CHA Rescue in Columbus, OH at the stroke of noon, when they opened. "I'm here to see Curtis," I said, very quietly. The words sounded so strange coming out of me. I still couldn't believe I was standing at the counter of an animal shelter, saying them. I'd always said that if I was going to have a dog, I didn't want to inherit anyone else's mistakes. I wanted to craft a puppy from nine weeks on, and make it, as much as possible, conform to the image in  my head.

I may be biased, but Chet Baker was one CUTE puppy, wearing his tubesock jacket.

I did that with Chet Baker, and deep inside I had a hard time believing that a grown dog could fit my needs as well as one I'd shaped from puppyhood. But here I was. "I'm here to see Curtis."

There was something about his smile, and the way Kelly wrote about him, that gave me faith enough to at least go look.
To meet this dog, who might wind up going home with me.

I was actually trembling because I had fallen far enough into his spell to know that I'd probably leave with Curtis. And that prospect terrified me. Going back into the responsibility, the expense, the time commitment of caring for a dog; the constant back-of-the-mind worry about what to do with him every time I had to leave. I'd had a year and a half of worry-free travel, and I had loved it. But I'd also had a year and a half without a dog's warm popcorn scent, without the feel of a satiny coat, without  companionship on hikes and runs, without the laughter and love of a dog. It had been a good year, until it wasn't a good year any more.

And there he was, behind a stainless steel grid.  He didn't get up when Carrie unlatched his door. All the other dogs were standing at their doors, barking. Curtis was silent, watchful. He wasn't barking. He was thinking.

She clipped a leash on his collar and handed it to me. We walked together to a spacious exercise area with a single bench.   I could see Curtis was a favorite, though he'd been at the shelter for less than a week. His style reminded me of someone.

I had read through his medical records. He'd been dropped at a southern Ohio shelter on December 27 by his owner's parents. Curtis' owner had to go into rehab, and left two dogs with them. It was they who had surrendered Curtis. 

When he came in, Curtis couldn't bear weight on his left hind leg. He had ticks, and tested positive for both Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis. He was intact, and was said to be four years old. His teeth were in bad shape. Over the next month and a half, a dog fostering organization paid to give him the veterinary care he'd been denied for too long. Six teeth were pulled (mostly lower incisors, and one canine). He was neutered, and given a total of almost 40 days of doxycycline for tick-borne disease, as well as Clindamycin for his teeth. He got anti-inflammatories and painkillers, too. The hind leg lameness resolved with treatment. Whether it was caused by tick-borne disease or an injury, it got better. Finally, Curtis was ready for adoption, and he was accepted by CHA.  

He arrived in Columbus on Wednesday, February 13, and I saw Kelly's Instagram post on Saturday, Feb. 16. Now, Kelly has all of seven posts on Instagram. What are the chances that I'd be scrolling through my feed and see one of seven posts by my friend?

Is he already someone's darling?

And now here it was the next Tuesday, February 19, and this pretty little dog was, against all odds, still here and I was walking him up and down the dog run. I stopped and sat on the bench. Curtis leapt up beside me and leaned against me. Oh. It was clear he wanted to be with me. 

I asked him to stay, and walked to the end of the run. He never took his eyes off me. OK! He leapt off the bench and ran to me. He had a wigwag in his run. I fretted about that hind leg.

He kept jumping up to sit on the bench. And he made sure to keep a paw or two on my bag. So, you know, if I picked up my bag to go, I'd have to move him...or take him, too.

"He is WORKIN' you! My goodness!"  Carrie laughed. 'Struth. That dog stared into my eyes the entire time. He was lasering out his plan for our future together. He was sending me pictures of us, together, for good.

He leaned on me and licked my chin. I looked down at my fleece and jeans and they were absolutely coated in dog hair. Ew. Oh. Ack. I'd been spoiled by Chet's tiny eyelash hairs. 

I thought about drifts of dog hair on my kitchen floor. Hair on the butter in its dish. (Right, Jeanne?)
 I thought about whether I should be doing this at all. Did I really want to get back into dog ownership again, with all it entailed? Couldn't someone tell me what to do, other than this dog, staring holes in me?

 I milled around, threw a toy for him, sat down on the bench. He dutifully fetched it, twice, then laid it down and resumed staring into my eyes. 

"Fetching is stupid. Let's go. What happens now is you take me home."

The sun winked out in a wooly gray sky. 

 It was cold out there. Curtis was shivering. We had to go back inside. There was nothing else to do in the dog run. Carrie put him back in his cell so I could fill out the paperwork. 
 Fill out the paperwork! Am I doing this??
Curtis hesitated, but walked slowly back in and curled up on his hammock. The door clanged behind him. He sighed and put his head on his paws. I could feel despair wash out of him and over me. Another fail, he was thinking. I barely made it to the restroom before bursting into tears. I was so conflicted, so unsure, walking in circles, sobbing. It seemed so cruel to put him back in the cell, to dash his sweet doggish hopes, even for a few minutes. And the thought that I might be dashing them altogether sent me into a new gale of tears.

I got a clipboard, snuffling, and filled out two pages of forms. Did I own or rent my house? Who else lived there with me? How would I handle misbehavior like barking or digging? (What would be the right answer here? I wrote, "Firm correction." Was the yard fenced? I smiled. A form could not begin to describe the situation this dog would be inheriting. How do you describe doggie Valhalla?

I started to cry again. I needed to go see Curtis, to ask him if this was the right thing to do. 


Just as before, he didn't get up. He looked into my eyes, never breaking his gaze.  I stood silently, looking back at him from about ten feet away. 

"Everything will be all right," he said.  "You'll see."

OK Curtis. Come on. I'm going to take you home, hair and misgivings and firm corrections and all.

You won't be sorry.  I promise. 

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