Catahoula Webbed Feet Dogs and One-Eyed Boars
There are memorable people in this world, the ones we can't easily forget. The ones whose memories last us a lifetime. Then, there are our canine friends who make the same impression. This is about one of them, a certain webbed footed Catahoula Leopard cur and his battle with a one-eyed wild boar.
Near Beaux Bridge, Louisiana there lives a brilliant blue cracked-eyed dog, with webbed feet and exceptional courage. No wild boar would ever get the best of him, for Maurice was a champion working dog. When it came to stamina, outworking, outsmarting, and outfighting his enemies -- typical of this breed of dog, none stood above Maurice, the Catahoula Leopard dog.
None were prouder than my cousin, T-boy (shortened nickname for Theophile), was of his working dog. So, when we came for a visit, he offered to take us on a wild boar hunt. Loaded with hunting gear, three men, one woman (me), and four Catahoula Leopard dogs -- off we went into Bayou Teche, headed for a local swamp, in a modern day pirogue that T-boy had built from aluminum. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the dogs knew they had a job to be do.
T-boy made several stops along the way, routinely checking his crawfish traps. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana for those who don't know it, is the "Crawfish Capital of the World." My husband and his friend were as eager as Maurice, Onezime, Pierre, and Leonce -- two men and four dogs -- all leaning forward into the wind, with anticipation in the hunt.
Cousin T-boy didn't seem to notice the electricity of anticipation as he rounded a bend and slowed the boat to a crawl. Suddenly, without warning all four leopard curs nearly knocked each other over, as they bounded from the boat, into the water and off to a nearby island of cypress treed swampland. The men quickly and quietly tied up the boat, grabbed their gear, and before I knew it everyone had disappeared into the swampland.
The Hunt Was On
I'm not sure why I was along, given that I don't hunt, and at the time was recovering from a broken leg. So there I sat, communing with nature, shooing mosquitoes away from exposed body parts with Deet, and listening to wild mayhem in the direction that everyone had gone. At first, I thought I saw a glimpse of something running. I realized it was a huge wild boar, quickly followed by a very small baby wild piglet, both running at a neck-break speed.
Next came a very large herd of much smaller boars, followed by one lone dog, Maurice. No sign of the other dogs or the men. I got my binoculars out for a better look, but quickly found no trace of anyone or anything. The only thing I could see was dense swampland against the background noise of excited dogs hollering to each other.
Turning the Tables
Everything got strangely quiet, then I heard thunderous pounding of hooves, snorting, and the labored panting of Maurice -- as he and a monstrous boar whizzed by, in the direction from where they originally went. Something didn't look right. This time, Maurice was the one being chased!
This didn't look like the fierce and "afraid-of-nothing" Maurice I knew and loved. His tail was safely tucked between his legs. Helplessly, I watched as the boar tossed Maurice in the air like a kid playing with a ball, as they disappeared into the trees. Something seemed wrong, still no sign of the men or the other dogs.
Hunting History Repeating Itself
It was about a half hour later, when hunting history would repeat itself. Here came the big boar, followed by what seemed to be a tiny boar, chased by Maurice. This time Maurice was winning the battle of the boars. Relieved that he wasn't a "goner" I again watched them disappear.
It wasn't too long before Maurice streaked from that same vegetation, tail in the "I'm scared" position with a very fierce wild pig in pursuit. His posse of other boars trailing behind, should he need a backup. Trailing farthest behind was the littlest wild pig.
Several hours lapsed, as the scenes of dog chasing wild boars and wild boars chasing one lone dog repeated themselves over and over -- like some endless rerun on television. It was clear that everyone of them were getting as tired as I was watching them.
Feeling Lonely in the Swamp
In those several hours I became increasingly concerned. While I could hear some of the other dogs, they seemed to be at a great distance. Why weren't they helping poor Maurice? For all I knew, he could be in the process of being eaten by the herd of wild boars right now. Don't these dogs hunt in packs?
It worried me that there was no sound or sight of T-boy, nor my husband and his friend. It was getting near dark and I'm thinking I'm not going to be happy, if they don't come back, and I'm all alone in the bayou for the night. There was only one lone kerosene lantern, and it was in the boat with me. Then it dawned on me that matches or a lighter weren't in the boat with me and probably in one of the pockets of the men..
Meanwhile, nearby I notice a watchful alligator, then two, and then a third as everything around me becomes darker and more silent. Not even the frogs or birds are talking. I've lived in remote areas enough to know silence isn't golden in the wild, nor is being alone
In the Envelope of Darkness
Unreasonable worry and despair lurked in the envelope of my darkness along with the alligators and silence. It is now nearly ten o'clock at night and the ticking of panic is the only sound I hear -- until my Cousin T-boy emerged from the trees like a welcomed soldier returning from war.
"I was getting worried," I offered, trying to be non-chalant. T-boy, a man of few words, shot me a look that women often get when they say something stupid. He grabbed the lantern and stomped off without a word. Well, that made me mad enough to stop worrying. Clearly everyone was still alive, or at least I figured the men were.
Over an hour later, the men emerged from the swamp with two of the biggest wild hogs I've ever seen, one weighed over one hundred pounds. Everyone looked triumphant, but tired. They dumped the ugly brutes along the bank where I sat in the boat and went to retrieve another hog. Then, T-boy whistled for his dogs and all four emerged from the tree line, exhausted and victorious as they leaped into the boat.
Maurice looking none the worse for his part in the boar battle, stood eagerly and patiently beside me, drooling at my backpack and pleading with his eyes. I didn't have to tell him that I had brought sandwiches for the return ride home. I forgot to make any for the dogs, but that night he got mine, because I knew he'd earned his place at the dinner table.
A Hunt To Remember
On the boat ride back to Breaux Bridge, the men were too tired for talking, which was strange in itself -- as it's been my experience that men are normally full of great "top this" tales, when returning from such endeavors. They ate their sandwiches and what little conversation they had, revolved around their admiration of their kills.
I kept hearing T-boy muttering to himself about the sanglier (wild boar) in the same sentences with cherche inutile-- which means a wild goose chase. It wasn't until the next day, when my husband revealed they'd spent most of the day and evening treed by an old male boar, with only one eye. This is the one I seen chasing Maurice for hours. It seems every time they would get down from the trees, Maurice and the boar would head back their way. None of them could get a good shot at it, without risking shooting Maurice, or one of the other dogs.
Finally, T-boy shinnied down his tree and ran after Maurice, when he diverted the boar from the herd. As triumphant as the hunt was, the elusive one-eyed hog had gotten the best of them and got away. Turns out, Maurice and this boar were long time adversaries and once again the boar had won.
An Ancient Breed
Some say that they are an ancient breed of dog, rumored to have come from Mexico, that were known to lived over three thousand years before the Spanish explorers ever set foot in that area. Many believe that they were interbred with a kind of French explorer's breed of dog, known as the Beauceron. This is because the Beauceron has the same leopard spotting (aka Merle) that the Catahoula does.
One thing is certain, they are believed to be the oldest native breed of dog in North America. Cajuns and Texans have been using them as hunting dogs for centuries because not only are they good hog hunters, but they are excellent herding dogs. When they hunt, they work in packs, and will pin the boars down by the ears as a group.
Catahoula Wild Boar Hunt
"Desotos's War Dogs" -- that's how some refer to Catahoula Leopard dogs. This explorer's dogs were known to have bred with both native Indian curs and with the wild Red Wolf -- hence the crackled and marbled eyes, found in a color like no other. Speculation is that they are the forbearers of the Catahoula Leopard dogs.
The breed characteristics of Catahoula Leopard dogs are as follows:
- Weight -- Fifty to ninety pounds
- Height -- Twenty to twenty-six inches tall
- Short haired
- Long tail
- Coats in many colors, but most favored is the blue and gray, with black spots
- White toes and chest
- Tan legs and face
- Common characteristic is two eyes of different colors; or
- Crackled or marbled brilliant blue eyes
Catahoula Leopard Dog History
Cracked Glass and Marbled Eyes
Cracked glass and marbled eyes are not unique to the Leopard dog, however, once you've seen one with them, you'll forever think of them as a trait of the Catahoula. Some eyes of this type will be darker in sections or may be half one color and another. They can even have streaks or spots of a second color. If the eyes are grey, the cracked appearance is made of blue and green. Additionally, besides gray, the Catahoula's eyes may be brown, green, blue, or amber colored.
Prominent Webbing of Feet
The prominent webbing of the Catahoula's feet are unusual because even though all dogs have some webbing between their toes, the Catahoula Leopard dog, has very wide webbing. This enables it to walk easily in marshy and swampy areas. Ideal for Louisiana (and Florida) wilderness areas.