Curs and 'Coons

Good old boys love their mountain dogs

For most people, a barking dog prompts an angry call to animal control.

But to 80 people in a wide circle around an oak tree in the Tennessee mountains, it's reason to celebrate.

"Fifty-eight," yelled one of the three judges. "That's 58 barks!"

The yappy dog named South Fork Bear earned the title of champion at the much-anticipated treeing contest by barking 58 times in 30 seconds, one of four events at the annual Kemmer Stock Breeders Association meeting.

The caged raccoon hung from a limb 18 feet off the ground. And when these medium-sized, tenacious hunting dogs got a whiff, they went ballistic, running at the tree and shooting up, scratching the trunk and belting out sharp, desperate barks.

Everyone clapped and howled. Everyone except the anxious coon at the end of its rope, that is.

Westminster it's not, although there is a dog bench show among the squirrel and coon hunts and the raucous coon-barking contests. But that doesn't matter to this congregation of dedicated mountain cur breeders, who live for these regionally famous dogs, which they say are the bravest, strongest, most loyal pups on God's green Earth.

A Breed Apart

"You can't find a better dog than these," said Wintford Miracle, who has been breeding these dogs for more than 20 years. Like most of the folks here, he is a longtime member of the Kemmer Stock Breeders Association. "They'll be on the trail for 15 minutes before a hound ever picks it up," he said.

"Cur" means crossbreed in the lexicon of the American Kennel Club--and crossbreeds cannot be AKC registered, said an AKC representative.

However, the United Kennel Club recognized the mountain cur back in 1957, and Tennessee breeder Robert Kemmer's stock was registered in 1991.

The Kemmer association registers dogs or litters with white paper--more than 75 percent Kemmer stock for $10 per litter. Green-paper dogs are less than 75 Kemmer stock.

Regardless of their paper, they all share a common origin.

Mountain curs go back to European hunting dogs brought to Tennessee by settlers in the 19th century, so the story goes.

They were originally part of a breed called the "original mountain curs," which has its own association in nearby Jamestown, Tennessee.

But since the 1970s, Kemmer of Crossville, Tennessee, has developed a new super-breed of curs, devotees might say. The Kemmer stock claims to show an insatiable desire to please their owners, boasts a super-cold nose and uses their excellent winding ability, that is, they can pick up a distant trail quickly.

"I can tell you this about the curs," said Craig Chandler who came from Dodson, Louisiana, for the event. "I've never see one backtrack. Never."

He spat out some tobacco juice.

"I started hunting with hounds, but you spend more time hunting for the dog than you do the 'coons," he said.

Chandler drove up with his wife Angie, who coddled three rowdy, curious, 10-week-old Kemmer-stock curs in kennels in the bed of the family's truck.
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