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Dog Is My Co-Pilot

Canines are the real attractions of Memphis carriage tours

Author Kate Silver Illustration Peter Oumanski

globetrotting2TENNESSEE – As a horse-drawn carriage clip-clops down Memphis’ famous Beale Street, a woman turns to a man walking beside her. “See?” she says, pointing to a mastiff occupying the carriage’s passenger seat. “They all have them!”

Next month, as thousands of cynophiles descend on Memphis for the Southern Festival of Dogs, they’ll find another dog show on its streets. The spectacle comes courtesy of the city’s carriage operators, whose ride-along pooches have become an attraction in their own right.

Courtney Simpson, a chipper 33-year-old brunette who’s been driving carriages in Memphis for 10 years, says the tradition has its roots in more pragmatic concerns than wet noses and waggly tails. “It actually started back in Roman times,” she notes, her two-year-old German shepherd, Sonya, lolling on the seat beside her. “They took wolfhounds to protect the chariots when they went out.”

While allowing that Memphis doesn’t have any problems with mace-wielding barbarian hordes, Simpson says she feels safer with Sonya around. “If she growls, that person does not get on my carriage,” she explains. “She is a better judge of people than I am.”

So far, Sonya has growled at only a few passengers. Mostly, she sits in front and watches the world go by or snoozes in the back, lulled by the swaying carriage and the perpetual ear rubs. “People like to ride with dogs; they like to pet them and love them,” Simpson says. “Honestly, I think Sonya gets me more rides than my horse does.”

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