21 Dec The Presa Canario and “Dog fights”
This afternoon, I received a message by whatsapp from a young man in Peru, asking, and I quote, “Sir, have you any video material of dog fighting?” To which I replied, “No, I´m not interested in that sort of thing”.
In my understanding, dog fights or “pechadas” as they are called in the Canaries, date back to the beginning of the 20th century and have been prohibited since the decade of the 40´s. Little by little interest has declined, to the point of disappearance, as well as the dogs that were nothing more than a cross between the English Bulldog, German Bulldog, the Perro de la Tierra of Gran Canary, which was a working dog and whose origin can be found on the Spanish mainland, Perro Majorero – from the same lineage – and Spanish Mastiff. According to testimonies of the old Dog Fighters whom I interviewed at the end of the 70´s and beginning of the 80´s, it would seem that nothing was known in the islands of the English Mastiff or the Bullmastiff. And it was again from the 70´s that this activity resurged in the hands of some of these old Dogfighters, which, incidentally has no place here, but if of interest, their names can be found in my book ´The Presa Canario, it´s true origin´.
But owing to the fact that this activity is now prohibited by law, I can now confirm it has ceased. There still exists the occasional nostalgic in Gran Canary and Tenerife that organize a fight but these are almost non-existent. Nowadays we have far healthier hobbies than in those times.
Dog fights were the hobby of the common people, the simple, country folk and people from the marginal areas of the cities. And don´t think that dog fights or fighting dogs were so numerous. Times were hard and these humble families had a hard time putting food on the table with a dwindling economy, and an elevated rate of natality.
In the last decades and with a renewed interest in guard dogs, the past has become more of a myth than a reality, so much so that there are many who affirm that there had always been guard dogs in their grandfather´s houses.
“But how were they going to have these dogs, with what they eat, if they didn´t have enough money to buy even gofio”.
Gofio is flour, milled from toasted cereals and was and still is in some households an important part of the diet. “I eat gofio every day for breakfast with goat´s milk and honey,” an old man told me.
Well, there were some homes that had these dogs and some no, but what is true is that these dogs were very respected for being so useful, they were excellent guard dogs as well as managing and working the animals.
These days we make the mistake of associating too easily and too frequently the Presa Canario with dog fights and betting. It´s amazing the ignorance of how people talk so lightly about this subject. I can affirm without a shadow of a doubt that the vast majority of the Canary people have never witnessed a dog fight in their lives. I am referring to the current population, not those inhabitants of the past for whom dog fighting, cock fighting and ram fighting were popular.
These days, the Presa Canario is selected and bred for guarding and defense not for fighting, not even for working with the stock which nowadays is not found loose in the countryside.
There are some who use the breed successfully for hunting wild boar.
Manuel Curtó Gracia
Tenerife, 14 December 2014