Background Switcher (Hidden)

What's a Cur For?

Monday, February 8, 2021


I will admit that when I brought Curtis home from Columbus Humane Society’s Animal Shelter, I did not know what I was getting into. I knew he was smart, intuitive, handsome and kind. I didn’t yet know what he was, and I didn’t know what he was made for. 

Literally one of the first of 10 million photos I have taken of this dog.


It’s important to know what a breed was made for. I had lived in the lap of luxury with Chet Baker, Boston Terrier, for almost 12 years. Because Boston terriers are made for lovin’,  keeping people company, and making them laugh. They weren't bred to kill anything, herd anything, guard anything...they were just bred as fun little pals. Chet hung on my every word and move, and he believed his highest purpose in life was to keep me company. (here, he's helping me sign books at a show). Boy, did I need that then. He was the perfect dog for me, a busy mom trying to keep my career afloat while caring for three other people. Chet never wore a collar because he never strayed far enough from me to need one. The only time he was ever on lead was in town, and that wasn’t very often.

Photo by Jenny Bowman at the Midwest Birding Symposium, 
Lakeside, OH, 2013. Bandana by Jen Sauter!


Because I hadn’t yet figured out Curtis’ breed, or if he even was anything other than mixed, I didn’t know how to work him. Work, as in David Byrne, asking, “Well, how do I work this?” I decided to trust him, and I let him out of the car without a leash on his first approach to his new home, and he peed on the forsythia bush, where he pees to this day, and walked up the sidewalk to the front door as if he understood perfectly that here he would live for the rest of his life. That night, I took him out for a pee before bedtime, and he perked up his ears and headed into the backyard, me close behind with a flashlight. And he was gone, running pell mell through the ruined orchard, crashing and leaping. And that, as Lyle sings, was when I made my first mistake.


I called and yelled and hollered and he didn’t come back. Oh boy. I’ve done it now, stuck my foot in it bigtime. He eventually appeared, eyes glowing in the flashlight’s beam, a wide grin on his face. 

Runs After Things in the Night. Check.

Ignores Frantic Calling When Running After Things in the Night. Check.

Needs to be Leashed After Dark. Check.


By the next afternoon, I’d done some thinking about how to work this animal. I had to know what he was made for. I decided he was far too delicate in structure to be a pitbull mix. I thought he looked like some kind of southern cur-dog, so I started by Googling Catahoula Leopard Dog, then “brindle cur.” Bingo!  I had a Mountain Cur, more specifically Treeing Tennessee Brindle. I had never even heard of the breed, but it seems I had rescued a hunting dog! Well, dip me in chocolate. Wonder what that'll be like?


Being a hunting dog means a lot of things. First, he’s a fine companion, and he seems to be able to read my mind. He loves to go out into the woods with me, but he doesn’t  stick close by my side, the way Chet did. He leads! He has a job, and that is to find edible things. Things made of meat.  Curtis might have written the line: “If God didn’t want me to eat animals, why did He make them out of meat?”


Now, this strike-out-on-your-own tendency Curtis has normally manifests with a lot of chasing and very little eating; high, excited yelps; crashing through briars; stripping himself of collar attachments such as tags, bells and trackers; and a resultant need to wear said tracker at all times. As I look back, I have been remarkably sanguine about the possibility of losing this dog. Something in me has known from the very start that he’s too smart to run willy-nilly, in a straight line, headed for the next county. That’s not who he is or what he's made for. He does, however, run after meaty things. If they can climb, he trees them, and tells me with excited barks just what he has and where it is.  Being human, I have been slow to awaken to the part he wants me to have in all this, which is to come join him, raise a gun and shoot the coon, possum, squirrel or what-have-you that he’s found for me. Then, in Curtis’ ideal world, we feast.


It is said that this is the breed that helped settle America; part hound, part Staffordshire terrier--which is where the brindling comes from--, part Indian village dog--which is where the brains come from. The mountain cur was bred to track and hunt anything, his highest mission to put food on the table for his family. And so when he trees a squirrel, he circles the tree, harassing and herding it around to my side, to give me the best shot. And still I don’t shoot. Poor Curtis must think I am either very stupid or very well-fed, because he keeps trying; it’s in his DNA to try. He wants to work with me, wants to be a team, but I just walk along with my head in the clouds, binoculars on my chest, and a trek stick in my hand, when I should be packing a thunder-stick.


I like to think I hold up my end of the pact pretty well, even if I don’t dispatch his quarry. I do take him out every morning without fail, and we are rarely gone less than three hours, rarely roaming less than three miles, either. He, of course, traverses far more ground than I do. I will linger in certain places, gazing around, and that’s when my wonderful companion invariably takes off. But only yesterday did I figure out why this happens again and again. I think that in stopping to gaze, I'm inadvertantly sending him the signal to go find me something to shoot.


I was standing at the overlook, the mile-long trail to which I have laboriously cleared this winter, enjoying the shifting light as it broke through high clouds and started raking the snowfields. I was peering, looking for the castle my neighbors are building to the east. It was vanishing in and out of the morning mist. Curtis, of course, had just ditched me, gone on a toot. Suddenly, the wooden fireworks of a startled flock of wild turkeys exploded deep in the valley to the east. Three, four, five, seven, they flapped noisily and then planed out over the holler. It was a stunning sight. For maybe ten seconds I simply stared at the silvery sunlight hitting off their bronze backs. They were too far away and I had only my phone, but I dug it out of my pocket and hit Video anyway. And so it was that I had my iPhone SE out of my pocket, turned on, and horizontal, even! when THIS happened.  

Of all the videos I've taken recently (and ask my laptop and it'll respond with a small, choked sound that means "a lot"), this is my favorite. It's perfect, perfectly focused, and perfectly unrepeatable. And I have Curtis to thank. Because it was NOT an accident that those five wild turkeys flew right the hell past my face. It was Curtis' plan. His design. This is how this dog works, and I have been too dumb, to asleep, to even know that.

Here he came, immediately on the spurred heels of those turkeys.

Had I had a gun on my shoulder, or even a goshawk on my fist, we would have eaten for a couple of weeks. 

Curtis tries, again and again. It's what he was made to do, and he is damned good at it. He emerged from the brush, glanced at me, knowing I would have blown this PERFECT SETUP AGAIN, WILD TURKEYS FIVE OF THEM MY GOD WOMAN WHY DON'T YOU SHOOT?? then shook off his disappointment and came to join me. Imperfect, clueless me, who he somehow manages to love anyway, because I love him so much. 

I'm no Annie Oakley, but we're a pair. 


How wonderful that all you had to shoot is an iPhone. Excellent shot too. Your hills and trees are so very beautiful. Oh, you knew that. Thank you for sending out into the world, the way you see things. Thank you for sharing your daily universe as you bless us with the cur, the sky, the trees, the hills. Oh, and your hills are alive with the sound of turkeys. Smiling in Saint Louis

A good reminder to appreciate the design. My terrier is so different from my Aussie; I know I bore her even though I love her.

"the wooden fireworks of a startled flock of wild turkeys" - tremendous!

"Well, honey, I don't know just what you heard,
But Tennessee is my favorite word . . . . "

I had a Boykin Spaniel who was constantly flushing game for me. She thought I was a sad specimen. Now I have a tiny oodly dog who is never more than 36" away from me. Bella was perfect for then, endlessly patient and eager with horse-mad daughters who built hunter-jumper courses for her and tiny Milo is perfect for now, able and willing to walk five miles but also happy to sit on my feet.

Hee hee,he probably feels sorry for you!

Such sweet words for a remarkable loveable dog.

[Back to Top]