By Renee Jackson
The Catahoula, why not a wooly coat?
In order to understand how the catahoula that we know today developed, you must take into consideration several factors. First and most importantly, you must take a look into the past. The people, geography and weather, each played an important part.
The natives were self-sufficient, very much a part of their environment. Most of their material possessions were very utilitarian, even their pottery, which often was very elaborate in most tribes, was often only adorned in basic striations. While most tribes ate their dogs, the Choctaw appreciated the worth of their dogs as a beast of burden.
The early settlers were of hardy stock, tough as nails, simplistic in their nature and material possessions. Life was hard and their outlook reflected such. Actual cash was almost non-existent; they traded freely with the natives of the area. No one received a free pass, if you didn’t earn your keep, you didn’t stay.
The land surrounding Catahoula Lake geography is tough. Even the soil, which is hard as a rock when dry, but turns into as the locals say “gumbo mud” when wet, which is most of the time. If you aren’t pulling through the gumbo( area people called it pulling, because each step you take, you have to pull your leg out and then take the next step, walking at a normal pace is not possible), you are up to your armpits in briars and brambles. Saw palmetto, saw briars, cuckle burrs, wild lemon, beggar lice just to name a few.
The rough terrain, actually helped in the development of the breed, it kept the tribe isolated and allowed the breed to evolve. As the area was settled, it was the isolation and inability to be serviced by Parish officials was the cause of the Parish being divided. In 1910 Catahoula Parish was divided and LaSalle Parish was formed from the western area, of which the lake was included and was no longer in Catahoula Parish.
Louisiana is considered sub-tropic, but due to the amount of water in the Catahoula Lake area, the humidity levels are usually much higher than that of the piney wood areas. Spring is often hotter than most summer temperatures for the rest of the continent and summer is excruciating in the heat and humidity. It is very common for temperatures to stay above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks accompanied by humidity levels 80-90 percent. It’s hot; stifling hot at times you can barely breathe.
Other contributing factors…
Upon the arrival of the white man, there was only one beast of burden on North America, the Native American’s domesticated dog. It is said that the dogs of the Catahoula Lake area looked exactly like the Red Wolf; the only difference was the wolf howled and the native’s dog barked. The Red Wolf does not have the fluffy coat of the grey wolf, it is of medium length with an under coat of which it loses during the hot summer months. I’ll not get into the origins of the breed at this point, but I will mention the beauceron, because it is often mentioned when coat length is discussed. The beauceron is an ancient herding breed from France, of which also has a medium coat.
It was in March 29, 1542 when DeSoto first visited ancient Anilco, later called Troyville, present day Jonesville, Louisiana. It was also where he later returned, the expedition fought a tremendous battle, of which they lost and abandoned most of their worldly goods which consisted of trained war dogs, hunting dogs, hogs, cattle and horses.
From that period, not much is known of the local tribes, except brief mentions by further explorers such as Tonti. It was shortly after his explorations that Fort St. Jean Baptiste was established in 1716, this was located where present day Natchitoches, Louisiana is today. At that time, the ancient trade routes used by the Natives became known as the El Camino Real, today US highway 84 follows a good part of this original route through central Louisiana. It was also at this time, that the Choctaws of Catahoula Lake began trading with the whites that had settled the area. I will not go into details, only to say that it was also at this time the Catahoula, as a viable utilitarian breed assisted in that trade.
To give a broad look of the “dog world” it was some 160 years later that Westminster was founded and primarily consisted of setters and pointers as recognized breeds.
How does this apply to the Long Hair gene and its absence in catahoulas? By applying common sense, I am following this with some photos. Of actual long haired dogs that were exposed to the same conditions as the early catahoula and those who are being worked in these conditions today. It will be evident that long hair not only serves no purpose in the catahoula, but would actually be a detriment and possibly lethal. Knowing this, not only is a long haired “catahoula” not breed standards, but in my opinion is an indication of polluted lines.
How do we address the problem? The long haired gene is recessive, the only way it exposes itself or as we commonly say “pops up” is because BOTH parents are carriers OR there is a question in parentage. I would suggest in the event that abnormal pups appear, that parents be tested to make certain if they are carriers or parentage is verified. I know this isn’t going to be popular, but in the event that the dogs that are positive long haired carriers, they should be removed from the breeding pool, the same should apply to their pups.