Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Life of a Pothound

For an animal lover, it's impossible to spend time in the Caribbean without being acutely aware of the dogs. They're everywhere. Some have homes, some don't, and even those that do are often free to wander about at will. They're commonly known as "pothounds", and although I have heard them euphemistically referred to as "Caribbean Terriers", in reality they embody the true definition of a mutt, representing what happens when dogs of all shapes and sizes breed indiscriminately. They tend to be medium-sized, slender, short-haired and golden-brown in colour. Sometimes there's one with a longer coat, or more varied markings, or shorter legs, but after a few generations the outcome tends to be a lean, athletic, brown dog.

In Grenada, along Grand Anse Beach, there were several resident pothounds I got to know over the course of the time I spent there. Because they were all quite friendly and in good physical condition (some even wore collars), I believe these lucky dogs had homes to head to at night unlike many I have observed in my travels - those who exist on the fringes of humanity and fend for themselves with varied levels of success. I have seen some pitiful sights, but thankfully the dogs of Grand Anse were not among them.

There was this male who patrolled the beach each day. I called him "Swimmer" because when he got too hot he'd take a dip in the water and paddle around for a while. He'd come to me for an ear scratch and a few words, then head on about the business of his daily patrol. If I happened to be heading in the same direction, he'd amble along with me in a companionable fashion for a while.


Then there were these two little girls, smaller than average, who I believe were mother and daughter. They could often be found frolicking with playful abandon in the sand near one of the beach bars (I think that's where they lived), and were always eager for a visit, particularly the younger of the two who squirmed with puppyish delight. After a minute or two they'd zoom off down the beach to continue their game. However, as sweet as these two girls were, one day I saw them ferociously defending their turf against a stranger dog. They may have been smaller than most of the dogs on the beach but as a team they were a force to be reckoned with!

And then there was this elderly, grey-muzzled sweetheart. Each morning she'd trundle down the beach to hang out in the shade under a large tree. When I'd call to her, her expression would soften, her tail would wag (in fact, her whole bum would wiggle), and she'd come lean against my legs for as long as I'd keep lavishing my attention. She touched my heart and I wish I had a better photo of her.

The life of most dogs in the Caribbean is markedly different from those in my home neighbourhood in Canada where dogs are leashed, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, well fed and generally pampered; where entire parks are dedicated to their enjoyment and doggie spas serve their grooming needs. Thankfully, dogs in Grenada benefit from the presence of a university that hosts a reputable veterinary school so inexpensive medical care is available at the hands of practicum students. Even so, not every family has the will or budget to offer their dogs more than the most basic necessities of food and shelter, and some dogs have no home at all and must get by as best they can. Disease, parasites, malnutrition and injuries take their toll. They can be observed perilously winding their way through traffic on busy streets and often sleeping on or only inches from the road, and as a result they are very car savvy. Even so, I observed many getting by on three good legs, likely as a result of not having moved moved quite quickly enough to avoid being struck by a vehicle.

However, pothounds are resilient creatures. The many generations of breeding that have given them their athletic physical attributes has also made them smart and independent. Observing the canine community on Grand Anse beach I couldn't help but speculate as to whether, if given the option, they would choose to be pampered house pets and give up the freedom of the life they have. I think I know the answer.

From my sketchbook: a sunbathing pothound

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