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December 2009 cover image Birdwatching at San Bernard River National Wildlife refuge

Texas Reader: All in a Day’s Work

More than companions, these dogs really earn their keep.

By Kathryn Hunter

“Dogs live in a reality far different and more sensually rich than ours,” author Henry Chappell writes, explaining the sensitivity of canine hearing and olfaction. For example, a dog’s nose contains roughly 220 million scent receptors, while a human has only five million. “Imagine entering the woods on a summer night, in possession of a hunting dog’s senses.”

Many dogs, kept only as household pets, use these sensory talents for little more than stalking the postman, but the breeds featured in Working Dogs of Texas earn their keep as hunters, herders, enforcers, search and rescue animals, and caretakers. Chappell and photographer Wyman Meinzer explore the origins and special talents of working breeds often overlooked and, at times, underappreciated.

Hunting Dogs 101

Chappell describes, for instance, what it would have been like to approach a backwoods cabin in the frontier South. You would have been met by two dogs — a feist and a cur — and if you had any sense, you would have held your ground until the dogs’ owner appeared.

“Curs are not mongrels, as commonly believed, but a broad class or type of working dog developed in the American South. Without knowing the dogs, you could have inferred that they were good hunters, herders, and watchdogs — just by the fact that they were there to greet you. Backwoodsmen and yeoman farmers could ill afford to feed dogs that didn’t earn their keep.”

Bluetick hounds, Catahoula curs, blue laceys, bloodhounds, border _collies, great Pyrenees, beagles, rat terriers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers — breeds like these are still the nine-to-fivers of the canine world. Some can find a cold trail; others can tackle a fugitive, tree a squirrel, safeguard a goat herd, or locate a few grams of contraband in a traveler’s luggage. Considerations like the color of the dog, the shine of its coat and whether it’s registered usually don’t matter much to the owner of a working dog; what’s important is what the dog can do.

Chappell and Meinzer follow Texan working dogs and their owners as they do what they do best — whether in a field, forest, lake, crime scene or airport terminal — and provide a vivid pictorial and textual chronicle of their journey.

For more information on working dogs of Texas, visit

http://wymanmeinzer.wordpress.com/

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