| Cow dogs bred and trained for life and work on the ranch |
The dogs working with Florida cowboys aren’t quite like Lassie, the popular television Collie featured on television rescuing a boy named Timmy Martin and traversing the wilderness with forestry Ranger Corey Stewart. But they are just as loyal and do a bit of rescuing of their own.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]
“One good dog is worth two or three good men,” says Mike Facente, a 41-year-old Polk City area day worker and a firefighter for the Florida Forest Service at Green Swamp Tower. “A good dog is sure enough your best friend in the cow business . . . We drive cattle with the horses and hold them up with the dogs.”
Cracker cur dogs, which may be part hound and part bulldog, are known for hard-headedness and aggression, pursuing cows and even capturing them by their noses when they stray from the herd. But they also are fiercely loyal and protective of their owners. “We have to muzzle them because of their aggressiveness. They are very very loyal,” explains Facente, a cattleman for at least 30 years. “It’s a pretty tight bond. You don’t mess with a man’s dog or his hat.”
“They want to be around you,” adds Jimmy Allen, a 47-year-old Bartow rancher. “Hopefully you’re going to take them to the next place they’re going to get to go.”
Cur dogs may rescue more than cattle. When Facente’s daughter Carrie was 2, his dog Sully protected her when she wandered toward the road, standing between her and road and pushing her back, he recalls.
Although cur dogs are work dogs that typically sleep in pens outside rather than inside with their owners, the dogs still bond with their masters and protect them. “My dogs don’t listen to anybody but me,” Facente says. “You pull up to my house right now and they won’t let you out of your truck. Once you’re there, they settle down.”
Dogs are bred for cow herding and trained by their owners using other work dogs. Cowboys will obtain puppies from other cowboys or cowgirls with working dogs, but not all of them take to the job description. The ones suited to it are eager to run after the cows and keep them with— or return them to— the rest of the herd. “That’s all they want to do is stop cows,” says Allen, a cowboy for at least 15 years. “He’s got to have a lot of go. Then you can teach them to whoa later.”
The dogs must be determined and have the heart to work in the Florida heat, even when they are tired. “When you whistle at him, you want to know he’s going to go and not just stand there and look at you,” Allen explains.
“It’s easier to take the hard-headedness out of them than to put it in them,” adds Facente. “They’ve got the nose. They’ve got the speed. They’ve got the aggressiveness. That’s what the Crackers have been using them for.
A good cow dog is around five to seven years old; generally they don’t last in the job for many years. Allen has one that is eight, who he describes as “retired” after working four or five years.
While cowboys like Facente believe the dogs are the best way to herd cattle, others make do without them. “A lot of people have gone to four wheelers and feed buckets,” he says. “We pen all our cattle with dogs. All our cows are broke to handle with a dog.”
He wants his children, Carrie, Kaylee, Radley and Karlin, to be raised in the ranch life, as he was, herding cows with horses and dogs and knowing the value of hard work. “There’s no way to grow up better,” he says. “My kids are taught with respect and manners.”
Still, the relationship between a dog and his owner is different for everyone. “It’s not like having a lap dog. It’s just something you need,” Allen says, explaining he enjoys his dogs and pets them but doesn’t have the same relationship with them as an owner might with a house pet.
Facente, a Polk County Cattlemen’s Association board member, used to have a dog with him where ever he went before he took the firefighter job. In addition to the three cur dogs— Red Bob, Dixie, and Digger— he, his wife Amie and children have six more— three for deer hunting.
story by CHERYL ROGERS
photo by PEZZIMENTI