The legend: Robert Kemmer

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Robert Kemmer, or simply "Kemmer," is an elderly man from the Grassy Cove section of Crossville, Tenn., who started breeding dogs in the 1970s to produce the perfect wild hog hunter.

At this annual Kemmer Stock Breeders Association event in Pikeville, Tenn., he's treated like a cross between the Dali Lama and Albert Einstein.

"With many breeds, the developer isn't alive. You only read about him in books," said Calvin "The Cajun" Boutte, who drove from Lafayette, La. "What Robert Kemmer has cannot be taught. He's gifted. He just knows how to make the best dogs, how to make it work."

Kemmer has developed 12 standards for breeding: These dogs should be medium-sized or short with high-set ears; tails should be natural bob or bobbed; head flat, and wide between the eyes with a heavy muzzle and strong, muscular neck.

These dogs are not hounds but are more agile, like bird dogs as opposed to Redbones or Blueticks.

Some of the buttermilk, buckskin-colored curs can be mistaken for yellow Labs. The brindle black or blue curs would make most people think American Pit Bull.

While some traditional hound breeders don't want their dogs to have human contact, according to cur breeders, these dogs thrive on it and have an insatiable desire to please their master, say breeders.

In fact, Kemmer encourages the hunters to carry recently weaned pups around in their pockets.

"Take it wherever you go," Kemmer said. "A year-old cur treated in this manner would give its life for you."

Kemmer also warned to never beat a cur.

"No animal is perfect," he said.

The breeders association registers pups and makes sure the stock stays "pure."

"I am just glad everyone is here helping me hunt them, because I can't hunt anymore because of my joints, I've worn them out from hunting," said Kemmer, a white-bearded man of few words. "But I appreciate them all helping me promote the breed and keeping it alive."

Kemmer's old Ford pickup carried dog kennels and also rolls of barbed wire and tools that belie his work raising cows. He grew up in rural Tennessee, and his father bred Tennessee's original mountain cur hunting dogs.

"On top of that, he's down to earth," said Boutte in a heavily Cajun accent that stood out from the drawls. "And an everyday man. That's what kind of guy he is."

Kemmer is now breeding what he calls hybrids, a controlled mix of Kemmer stock and Tennessee mountain feists. The smaller dogs perform well, especially as squirrel dogs, and are gaining popularity among the faithful.

Kemmer sold one as we talked leaning against the tailgate of his truck. A man from Louisiana stuck a number of big bills in Kemmers top shirt pocket, pointed to a puppy in a cage and said, "We'll take this one."

Kemmer beamed and didn't count the money.

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