Salvadorito, as everyone calls him, lives in Valsequillo, in his country house, at the foot of a tremendous ravine.
Salvadorito is of medium height, short, wears a gray mustache and an unpretentious palm hat. He is wearing a gray shirt, beige sweater, blue pants and Chiruca boots. Salvadorito loves his own, which are mostly goats and dogs, and has a soft spot for his grandson, who not long ago suffered an unfortunate car accident with his father in which a little more and leaves his life.
I met Salvadorito about 18 years ago, but I haven’t told him and he doesn’t remember, or at least that’s what I think, because he hasn’t told me. In those years Salvadorito was a night watchman at the New Commercial Warehouses in the Outer Dock of the Port of Las Palmas.
Salvadorito had at that time a canary hound that was more imposing than usual, and he was even-tempered, I believe. Today you don’t see dogs like that anymore. He had him locked up, when I saw him, or half saw him, because the boy had a very bad temper, and I could not get close to the little window with bars through which he could be seen, in a small room built specifically to keep him.
-Don’t get too close or he’ll throw himself at you,” Salvadorito warned me.
And that’s what the dog did. That animal in that room in the presence of a stranger was all movement and teeth.
I, in those days, had bought, in the jurisdiction of Arucas, my first dog of prey, Boby. The man who had it was a drunken bachelor who spent more time cloudy than clear. While the man was drunk, the dog did not eat.
A friend of mine (Javier Cabrera Perera) and I went to Manolito Alemán’s home, because
We were told that he might still have some dogs of prey left, that he had bred them, and that he was very fond of them. That day Santiago Ojeda, the wrestler, was with Manolito Alemán, under the vineyard chatting in the sunset. And Manolito was the one who gave us the north of the dog, which he told us he had given to the bachelor.
-I don’t know if it will live, because the dog must be getting on in years,” he told us.
Evidently, the dog had its age, and I bought it for six thousand pesetas. The man was drunk, I gave him a thousand pesetas on the spot and agreed to pick him up the next day.
The next day the gentleman had sobered up and didn’t want to give me the dog. He wanted more money. He said the dog was worth much more. I put the money in his hand (five thousand pesetas) and told him to do me the favor of giving me the dog.
-Yes, man, I’ll give it to you right now,” he exclaimed.
Of course, the Boby was a tough cookie. There was no one who would go near him. At that time my friend Cabrera told me: “Hey, Manuel, I don’t dare put that dog in the 600 (the car).
Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll tell the man right now if he has a thin rope to muzzle him.
We made a muzzle, and the man, with some difficulty, managed to put it on the dog, who kept growling, resisting and staring at us. Then, very cautiously, and with some fear, we put him in the back seat of the seat 600, and Javier, who was not driving, sat in the back, next to the dog. I, happy as ever, got behind the wheel and headed down the road to Bañaderos. We hadn’t gone two kilometers when my friend told me: Stop, stop, stop…!
I, who hadn’t noticed anything strange, pulled the 600 over to the side of the road, looked at Javier and the dog. What’s going on, I asked him.
-The dog just looked at me in such a way…! A few days before I had bought a ticket to travel to Venezuela, and I didn’t know where I was going to leave the dog, so I went to see Salvadorito and explained my problem.
-Don’t worry,” Salvadorito told me, “you can bring it here. I will keep it for you until you return from Venezuela.
Relieved, I took the dog and went to Salvadorito’s house and tied him up in a small goat pen. Salvadorito then had a beautiful and powerful white Bullterrier that had been given to him by an English lady, and also a Dalmatian.
After a year I returned from Venezuela, and one day I went with a small truck to retrieve my dog, but Salvadorito was not there, his wife was. I had settled in Tenerife and had gone specifically to pick up Boby, and four other dogs that I had left at the Sociedad Protectora de Animales (among those four was Piba, my first Presa dog) and I couldn’t wait. So I told Salvadorito’s wife, loaded Boby in the truck and left, with the idea of returning another day to talk to Salvadorito, thank him, and pay him whatever I could for the dog’s upkeep. Then things got complicated for me, and one day after another time (the years) went by. Until one day Clemente Reyes Santana, a friend of his, and I went to Valsequillo to see him.
Salvadorito talks about dogs of prey without interruption, and he is happy, and shows (if asked) his old photos of dogs of prey to the visitor. He still keeps his photos in a shoebox. “so they don’t get lost,” says salvadorito.
The last acceptable dog of prey that Salvadorito has fed is a grandson of Tinto (Demetrio Trujillo’s), black like his grandfather. “He’s a very bad-tempered dog,” Salvador tells us. And he tells us that the previous owner became afraid of him, because the animal was stronger than he was.
-I brought it to me and tied it there, very carefully, because the dog is not very loving. Then I went to feed him and he threw himself at me like a beast, but I got my hands on that beak handle and gave him one that almost killed him. Since that day the man has respected me and gets along well with me.
Indeed, you can see that the dog has respect for him, and wags his tail in a conciliatory way.
-Salvadorito points to a dirt track on the other side of the ravine that runs up to the summit of Valsequillo. I go slowly, so you don’t get tired. And it has to pull by the legs, don’t believe it. That’s uphill. And then he also goes down to the trot behind me. This is the best training for the prey dog.
Salvadorito, when he talks about dogs of prey, does not have any breed of dog in mind, the same as Demetrio Trujillo, the same as Panchito Saavedra. For this old fan of dogs of prey what counts is that it is good, whatever the crossbreed. For him the best fighter has been the Bullterrier.
-Like the Bull Terrier I have never known another dog in the fight,” says Salvadorito with conviction. It never lets go of the dam. The dog that loosens the prey is a bad prey dog. And I don’t like pater dogs, nor those who continuously release to make a new prey. They lose the fight for sure, because they are dubious. The dog should go to the first one on the safe side. The thing is that the Bullterrier was always very small, and we didn’t like him because of that. Where there’s a good body scenthound, all others be damned. A bird dog has to be a bird dog, not a snoop.
Having seen the pictures of dogs of prey in the shoebox, I ask Salvadorito the first question of the questionnaire:
-Do you remember the first Presa Canario dog fight you ever witnessed in your life?
-Yes, at the Casino de Armas. Killer and Tiger, two English Bulldog crossbreeds, fought. The owners were Ramón el de Bañaderos and Juan Barriguilla, and the referee was Juan Martín. One died in the fight and the other on the way home.
-What year was it?
I would have been twenty-seven years old. I am now sixty-seven. So it was in nineteen forty-nine.
-What were those dogs like?
The Tiger was very wide, and with a huge head. El Asesino weighed forty-five kilos, and was the best dog I have ever seen in my life.
-What were your best dogs of prey?
-My best dog was Nero. He had crossbreeding with outside dogs. Then the Negrito, who was black. And the Merenes. This one cost me one thousand four hundred pesetas at the time. He was off the charts. At that time, for that money you could buy a herd of cows. I had several more, but nothing, assholes.
-Do you remember the most famous dogs from the time of the fights, up to the time of their prohibition?
-The most named was the Asesino, then the Boy, by Agustín Patarrasa, and two that Luis Barrera had. One was Nauce, black-robed, who fought with the Boy several times. I don’t remember the name of the other one.
-Who organized the fights?
-We, the amateurs, used to organize them, just like we used to organize ram fights, cock fights, etc. Here dogs have always been fought, the tradition has never been lost. They were almost always organized by people from the countryside. I forgot a dog called Oveja, who was a great Spanish Mastiff crossbreed dog. What we call the earth dog was a kind of Spanish Mastiff, although it was somewhat smaller.
-Did fight fans bet money?
-No, we were not betting. We could simply kill a lamb to celebrate, and it was paid for by the owner of the losing dog.
-What crosses with foreign breeds were made in those years?
-Bulldog, Bullterrier, Great Dane. But with these crossovers everything degenerated.
-For what reasons were they crossing?
-To get size with the Great Dane, fierceness with the Bullterrier, and better prey and width with the Bulldog. But it was a mistake.
-Do you remember the last typical Canary Island bird of prey dog?
-Yes, the Molone, son of a bitch of the Count of Vega Grande. It was dark bardino. It would weigh forty-five kilos. With that dog I won three cups in the shows organized by the Cabildo. There were goat and dog shows, and cow shows. That dog had a lot of head and a lot of chest.
-Who used to go to dog fights in the good old days?
-All the dog fighters, which we were many at that time, especially when the fights were to surrender.
-Tell me, what was the difference between a dog of prey from the Canary Islands and a dog of the land in those years?
-Size. The bird of prey dog was different. Headed and very wide in front. The other was as I said, a kind of mastiff.
-What do you think of the dogs of prey that are being bred nowadays?
-Some I like and some I don’t. They are not the real dogs.
-Do they look like the ones you lived through in the past?
-No, no way. Neither for courage nor for size. These dogs have no chest, are narrow in front, no vitality, no intelligence. These dogs today seem to me to be very brutish in their behavior.
-What is your opinion on dog fighting today?
That should not be done. They should not exist. I used to like them, today I don’t, because today’s dog is forced to go. Not before. Dogs in the past were disconsolate for fighting. No
They had to be pushed as they are now.
-I would like you to tell me about the most famous dog fighters of your time.
-The most famous were Ramón del Bañadero, Juan Barriguilla, Pancho Saavedra, Luis Barrera, Juan Martín, Juan el Coronel, Domingo el Perica, Rosendo el Cubano, Juan Alemán, Antonio el Moreno, Demetrio Trujillo, who came out later, Sendo el de Guía, el Pintao, and me.
-What did they live on?
-From the field. We were people of little economy, poor people. Important people hardly ever took care of these things. His hobbies were different.