Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Man’s Best Friend

“I am almost tempted to say that if you will show me a man’s dog I will tell you what manner of man the owner is, with particular reference to temperament and his moods.” -- The Camden [Tenn.] Chronicle, October 3, 1902

Over the years, dogs have played many different parts in the lives of humans: protector, hunter, herder, guide, etc. But perhaps the dog’s most important role is that of companion. Long before Prussia's Frederick II coined the phrase “man’s best friend,” dogs lived in harmony with humankind and provided love and camaraderie.

A "future fox hunter," (little boy) at the Crossville Fox Hound bench show, Cumberland County, Tennessee, April 3, 1948, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

Tennessee has a rich animal history since critters go hand in hand with agriculture. While many dogs in the state are bred to hunt, others are raised to be herding dogs that can assist in moving livestock from one place to another and keeping young animals within groups and out of trouble. Many farm dogs also serve as animated scarecrows that protect crops from creatures that might otherwise eat up a farmer’s livelihood.

William Jackson Elliston and William Harding Jackson, Jr. as children, with Pickett the dog, Nashville, Tennessee, undated, Library Photograph Collection.

Mrs. H.C. Reynolds and daughter, Corley, are making their first garden preparations for the Home Food Supply Program while their dog, Sport, looks on, DeKalb County, Tennessee, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

While some dogs work in the fields, others have been employed at more amusing tasks. A flyer advertising “Skipper the Wonder Dog” is included in the Phillip Van Horn Weems Papers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. (Weems was Skipper’s owner.) Skipper had been trained by Wilson Garey and was billed as “The Dog with Human Intelligence.” According to the circular, Skipper knew more than 20 tricks and, among other things, could count, pretend to be lame, and pray. Weems is quoted as saying that Skipper was “the son of a vicious roving German Shepherd” and that he “never fails to thrill an audience.”

A Labrador Retriever, "Chief Draughon," jumping in the water, Davidson County, Tennessee, October 23, 1952, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

Borden C. Jones teaching his dog how to aquaplane on Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee, June 8, 1946, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

Entertainment and farming are not the only things dogs have notably been used for in Tennessee. The Volunteer State was also home to the first “seeing eye dog,” Buddy. Morris Frank (1908-1980) was a Nashville native who attended Montgomery Bell Academy and later Vanderbilt University. By the age of 16, Frank was totally blind as the result of two separate accidents. In 1927, Frank read an article by Dorothy Harrison Eustis and contacted her regarding the possibility of receiving a guide dog. Eustis was an American living in Switzerland who trained dogs. Most of the animals Eustis trained were employed as guides for emergency personnel, police, and military personnel. Even though Eustis had no experience training dogs to guide the blind, she invited Frank to come to Switzerland, promising to help him locate an appropriate trainer and dog. Frank was paired with a female German Shepherd (originally named “Kiss”) whom he re-named Buddy. The partnership was a success and Frank, guided by Buddy, soon became a common sight to anyone frequenting downtown Nashville.

Wanting all visually impaired individuals to be able to have the freedom and independence he had with Buddy, Frank established a nonprofit corporation, The Seeing Eye, Inc., to train guide dogs for blind men and women. While Frank started The Seeing Eye at his home in Nashville, it soon moved to New Jersey, where the organization continues to operate to this day. During his lifetime, Frank advocated that service dogs be allowed to accompany their owners in any public place and challenged many of the “no dogs allowed” policies that were common at the time.

Morris Frank returning to Nashville from Vevey, Switzerland, with his guide dog, Buddy, New York, New York, June 12, 1928, Archives Photographs Collection.

Buddy, Morris Frank's Seeing Eye dog, December 1937, Library Photograph Collection.

Dogs have even been used as a source of revenue for the state. In 1875, the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill (HB 438) to create a “dog tax.” This act required every “owner or harborer of a dog or dogs” to pay $1 per each dog owned with the exception of unspayed female dogs, which the owners paid $5 to keep. Spayed female dogs were taxed at the same rate as all other dogs ($1). Rep. Robert P. Cole (representing Henry, Carroll, Gibson, and Weakley counties) was one of the many state House of Representatives members who voted for the bill. His constituents were so outraged about the new law that Rep. Cole tried to hide his 'yes' vote. The Camden Chronicle (September 2, 1892) reported: “Mr. Cole voted for this dog law and when he went home and found how mad his constituents were about it, he tried to deny his vote, and they could not fix it down on him until the Journal containing his vote came out.” Since $1 in 1875 would be approximately $22 today, this was a fairly significant tax. Consequently, people could not afford to keep many dogs during the time that this “privilege tax” existed.

Mrs. Polk Chapleau and her champion fox hounds, March 30, 1941, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

Dogs have been an asset to the people of Tennessee in many ways over the years. But, no matter what other roles dogs may fill in our lives, they are first and foremost our friends. Perhaps a quote from Voltaire in his 1764 Dictionnaire philosophique sums it up best: “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”

Jack and Bill fishing in Cherokee Lake, Tennessee, May 16, 1946, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

To view more historic images of Tennessee dogs, please see TSLA’s online photograph database:

For more information on “Skipper the Wonder Dog,” take a look at the Phillip Van Horn Weems Papers: at TSLA.

For more information on Morris Frank and Buddy, including Braille resources, contact the Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped ( The Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (TLBPH) is a free library program of more than 50,000 recorded, large print, and braille materials available to residents of Tennessee who are not able to use standard print materials due to visual or physical disabilities. The TLBPH partners with the National Library Service at the Library of Congress (NLS) to administer this free library service. Check out the TLBPH link here:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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