Working dogs of Red Hills helped on farms, hunts
September 11th, 2015 by Red Hills
by Natasha Hartsfield, published 9/3/15, Tallahassee Democrat
For centuries people have known that dogs possess heightened senses that exceed human ability. Dogs have been used to herd, hunt, track, rescue, assist, guide and comfort, in addition to serving as officers of the law and as soldiers in times of war. Historically, people in our region kept dogs for a variety of reasons, the most common of which was work. While today we often think of dogs as part of the family, their role as significant members of daily work was far more common 150 years ago.
Historically, it was common to send children on extended errands to procure needed items for the household. It was also quite common to send them with a dog to ensure safety and companionship on the journey, perhaps instilling a pastime that can still be seen today. Though the companionship then may differ from the pampered dogs we know today, the bond between human and dog was certainly present.
Throughout the 19th century, dogs played a significant work role on the farm in this region, and were considered to be as important as any other livestock on the farm. While some were used to guard the farm and home, others took on tougher roles. The vernacular “ketch” dog was commonly used in managing cattle. These dogs were trained to grab the snout of the cattle and hold in place while branding occurred. Ketch dogs were often a mix of bulldog and hound. While the dogs undoubtedly had a hard job, they were often held in high regard by cattlemen, as their work was a necessary job that was paid for in food, shelter and respect.
Working dogs throughout the region have been responsible for assisting, sometimes leading the hunt for a family’s food. Historically, people in this area have used dogs for hunting quail, deer, hogs and other small game, resulting in the many familiar breeds we see today in this area. The relationship between dog and handler remains a working one with the hunting breeds, though the bond between them is undoubtedly a partnership.
Sadly, today we see a great many of these breeds, particularly the scent hounds, in shelters throughout the region. What this tells us about the bond between handler and hound I’m not quite sure, but what is known is that these hounds possess the ability to work hard, relax, and remain loyal to the human who feeds and works them, reflecting the regional culture of the Red Hills and the Tallahassee area as a whole.
Natasha Hartsfield is the director of education at the Tallahassee Museum. She especially enjoys exploring the Red Hills region with her husband and three rescue dogs.