My Famous Shoes

There is a special breed of purebred farm dog that traces his modern origins right back here to Tennessee

Today, the English Shepherd is considered a rare dog breed. And within those ranks of rare farm dogs, the black and tan is rarer still. Here in Tennessee, these dogs are now hard to find. Sadly, along with the black and tan English Shepherd, a part of rural Tennessee history and culture is being lost. Black and tan is more than just a coat color. It is a type of dog that was used by rural Tennesseans to sustain their way of life. There is no question that the black and tan English Shepherd represents a piece or rural Tennessee history.

Natchez Trace Famous Shoes AKA "Sugar"

There’s a secret that some rural Tennesseans know, but you have to find the right folks. There is a special breed of purebred farm dog that traces his modern origins right back here to Tennessee. A lot of folks from other places call these dogs Black and Tan English Shepherds. But the local people of rural Tennessee just call them English Shepherds. Locals feel these are the true English Shepherds, the original. No need to say “black and tan”. That’s just what they are. I personally have started to call them Tennessee English Shepherds. Because this is where they come from.

Yesterday I visited Mr. Jerry Prater. Mr. Prater keeps horses and purebred CKC black and tan English Shepherds. He lives out in the country between Waynesboro and Clifton. Mr. Prater is one of the last folks I know of who still breeds these dogs. When we first arrived, his English Shepherd adults we're mostly paying attention to my wife Bekkey and me. They were all friendly, the friendliest being Remington. Remy is Jerry's stud dog. Lots of petting and tail wagging while the three of us humans spoke and got to know one another.

But Remy, Belle, Lucy and the gang didn't like the horses getting too close to the fence around us. The farmhouse and yard were for humans and dogs only. So, when a horse came too close to the fence, the dogs would single-file through a space by the gate and push them back out to pasture. Jerry would giggle and hallow them to “get back here”. Which they promptly did. They were also intent on keeping any turkey vultures from landing out there in the pasture. On one such sally out into the field, I asked Jerry if I could go with them. He smiled and said, “go ahead”. I have to say, it was exhilarating to move across the open land with those 6 or 7 black and tan English Shepherds running alongside. It created a strong memory with me. Those beautiful dogs running in formation with their shining, raven-black coats rippling in the day light.

All-in-all, Jerry's adults were a friendly, active and socially healthy group. I was able to put my hands on most of them. By my measure they were of perfect weight, and they were free of external parasites. No runny noses, no grubby eyes. Healthy and well taken care of. And as I have previously mentioned, all of them had the shiny black coats of Stodghill's standard. And notably, all of Jerry's adults had a tan dot over each eye, tan around the mouth, under the tail, tan bar across the chest, and tan on all four feet running down to the ground.

Jerry’s stud dog Remi was the kind of boy I really like. Physically, to my untrained eye his build and movement seemed “right”. He was on the taller side, long, and with an undeniably straight topline. I didn’t see much of any extra movement when we walked and ran around. I felt as though his movement seemed “effortless”. If only I could carry around an expert in my pocket.

There were some puppies there, too. They were penned in a spacious, clean area with enclosed housing for shelter. A heat lamp kept the pups’ house warm. The pups were actively moving around, clean, and free of external parasites. They were plump like a puppy should be. Belle stood and began nursing her thirsty litter while I watched.

A little girl pup was paying attention to me more than the others. She responded to my calls, the clicking my tongue and when I tapped the ground. She followed me around curiously, at a safe distance. She was unafraid to make eye contact with me and held my gaze with an intelligence in hers’. I like a people-oriented dog, so I named her “Famous Shoes” and put her in my truck. My wife says we’ll just call her “Sugar”.

by Tony Bierman