Perros de Presa Canarios

The raison d’être of the prey dogs was to fight. To this end, they were crossed, bred and selected. The color was not important, it is true that there was a predilection for the fawn and bardino mantle, but at the moment of choosing a male to cover a bitch, his fighting ability was valued above all his qualities: a good lunge, a firm prey, and endurance. A dog met these conditions when its weight was adequate, no more than 60 kilograms and no less than 45 kilograms. The height was another important condition, and the length, the broad chest, the broad rib cage, the robust and muscular loin, because if this fails the dog gives up, and the strong and firm legs, the large, broad head, with well developed jaws, the nasal cavity not too short. And there is no dog of prey if there is no temperament. The Perro de Presa Canario should be calm, never biting, unless obvious reasons demand it, and able to withstand the mischief of children.

The English -attentive to this part, which we will comment later-, who seem to have brought the dog fighting hobby to the Canary Islands, presumably brought their mastiffs, already famous in combat in the time of Julius Caesar, the rabid bullterriers, capable, before more than now, of fighting with dogs much larger in size and defeating them, the bullmastiffs, the bulldogs, etc.

The Perro de Presa Canario was created based on these dogs and this interest coming from abroad. We are not in a position to say that, with time, a racial group will be formed whose prototype will allow us to speak of another breed, as it is understood nowadays, capable of transmitting to its offspring peculiar and differentiating characteristics with respect to other breeds of dogs of prey. For us a source of information, at the moment of outlining a study on the Perro de Presa Canario, have been the men who owned, bred, selected and trained them for fighting, before they were strictly forbidden. The elders who today no longer breed or train dogs of prey, but who do remember that past and those dogs, of which they even keep photographs of some of their dogs like gold in cloth. Sometimes the best ones were not photographed because photography in those days was not nearly as popular as it is today.

From these elders we have heard stories of how and when this or that dog fought, and who won. Some of these elders were not dog fighters, but when the time came, their dogs put up a fight, or more than one, to prove their courage and their prey, that is, that in addition to obeying their master, guarding their property and fighting with the cattle, they were capable of facing another powerful rival, “and defeating him if it came to it,” says Don Polo Acosta. Because the complete Perro de Presa Canario was the one that in addition to fulfilling the mission entrusted to it, fought, which was what it was initially created for.

Many of the last dogfighters have passed away. Among them we can mention, from Tenerife, the king of the dogs, who was none other than Juan Reyes, or Juan el Marchante, as he was known; and we continue, without establishing an order, with cho Domingo Palma, from Ortigal, Andrés el Camarero, or el Peninsular; Gabino Miranda, guard of Ortigal, cho Luciano el Guarda, from La Esperanza, Domingo Cruz, Antonio Flores, etc. Among the living who enthusiastically remember that past are Pancho Carlos, from La Esperanza, Manuel Caporal, from Los Campitos, Pepe el Guardia, and the champion of the dogs, Don Polo Acosta.

I read somewhere that man is measured by his hobbies. Well, Don Polo Acosta y Acosta was not a man of one hobby. His extraordinary vitality and incomparable imagination made him lose his head for a good/large herd of coarse cows (country cattle). It is very well known among the island’s old cattlemen. The haladas, or dragging of weights with the corsa, were and still are his weakness, and the floats in the pilgrimages, because in them you can see which is the best team of cows or bulls, and which is the best boyero, and Polo Acosta, precisely, was not one of the worst. Keeping the best goats was another of his hobbies. “There would be equal, better… I see it as difficult,” Don Polo Acosta told me. Horses, although in those years they were almost a luxury for the rich, occupied part of his life, “and of course he rode,” Don Polo boasts. And Don Polo played the stick. Today the autochthonous is in fashion, but when in these islands the people were not governed by fashions, when the automobile began to roll around the world, the citizen went everywhere on foot, and sometimes on horseback, today Don Polo Acosta went through life with a stick in his hand, a stick that he carried for its usefulness, and to give it to whoever needed it if the occasion required it. Thus, Polo Acosta y Acosta played palo in his spare time with his friends, and he has been playing palo up to the present day. And Canarian wrestling. Don Polo Acosta was no less in this vernacular sport. He knew about Canarian wrestling because that was part of his life. Don Polo, according to what he told me, created the wrestling team El Tinguaro, which lasted eleven years, and El Calana, which lasted three. From these two teams came great fighters, such as Nino Morales from the South.

Don Polo Acosta – in his youth, due to his exuberant enthusiasm, he was called the madman – was the champion of the dogs of prey, and wherever he went he took his hobby, and challenged whoever was needed, and if his dog was inferior to Fulano’s, he managed to buy another one capable of beating him. This is how he bought and sold dogs. Today he had this one and tomorrow a different one, who was training to be a champion. Among the many dogs that belonged to him, it is worth mentioning the Valiente, the Nilo, the Turco, the Cambao, the Chumbo, the Corbato, the Boliche, the Cuidao, which he bought from Máximo Benítez, the Porqué, brought from Las Palmas, the Quebrao, and the Marruecos, the champion of champions. This dog was brought to Tenerife from La Palma by Juan el Marchante as if he was a big deal, but soon Juan el Marchante lost his fondness for him. Twice he fought it and twice he lost the fight. But Polo Acosta, who knew how to distinguish the breed of a dog just by looking at it, bought it for twenty duros and a puppy, a presa, of course.

It is well known that every master has his own book, and Polo Acosta was no exception. He took Morocco home and began to feed him well and train him, and when it seemed to him that the dog was something else, he began the challenges. The fights were preceded by a ritual. The owners of the dogs agreed on whether or not they would remain in complete silence while the dogs fought – this condition, absolute silence, was scrupulously respected when Don Polo fought a dog – and the width of the circle where the dogs fought was respected, and no spectator could touch the dogs in combat, and if the dogs went out of the circle the spectators were obliged to leave the field free. Polo Acosta was in favor of “the dogs getting along with each other, and whoever won, won”. And it was always avoided, as far as possible, that the dogs were damaged excessively, and there were usually no deaths.

In the hands of Polo Acosta, Morocco won fight after fight. He became so popular among dogfighting enthusiasts in the islands and such was his prestige that there came a time when no one wanted to know about fighting with him. This dog did not die fighting, he died of old age tied to the trunk of an old walnut tree on a property that don Polo had on Camino Guillén, in the jurisdiction of La Esperanza. Don Polo’s other dogs “that gave fire” were some of those already mentioned. El Corbato, El Quebrao, El Cuidao, El Porqué, and El Nilo, a black Great Dane mongrel that fought with El Mocho de Cho Domingo Palma in Las Raíces, at the exit of La Esperanza in the direction of Las Cañadas del Teide.

In those dog fighting years there were also breeders of Presa dogs, who sold them to amateurs. One of the most named was Barreto el Viejo, from La Laguna. In La Caseta de Madera, in Santa Cruz, at the foot of the Municipal Slaughterhouse, there was what they called a dog stable where there were dogs of different breeds from different owners (English Bulldog, Bullterrier, Great Dane, Perro de Ganado Majorero, Presa de la Tierra, Spanish Mastiff, etc.) to cross with fighting in mind. The crosses with Great Dane did not give the desired result and the fans ended up discarding him.

Much has been said about betting on dog fights, but, according to Don Polo Acosta and other aficionados I interviewed, these were so sporadic that they cannot even be taken into account. And at no time were there organized fights as if it were just another sporting hobby. “This story was invented after fights were banned,” Don Polo told me, “and there is no doubt that those inventors never witnessed a fight”.

Some described the fights as bloodthirsty, a consequence of the cruelty of the dog owners, others, the most pious, dare to say that “the Perro de Presa Canario is so intelligent, and so gentlemanly, that when he sees his opponent squealing, he immediately lets him go and licks his wounds”.

The Perro de Presa Canario was always a docile and highly intelligent dog, easy to dominate, but as a feared dog of prey with other dogs, and in the fight he did not stop until he was surrendered or defeated.

Don Polo Acosta believes that the love of dog fighting was brought to Tenerife from Gran Canaria some time ago, and that the dogs came from Gran Canaria, but this does not mean that they were not bred in Tenerife. In Gran Canaria, old fanciers told me, several years ago, that the hobby was born there, and that from Tenerife they went to buy, very often, dogs for fighting, something that did not happen in the opposite direction. And the dogs that won fame fighting in Tenerife had been brought from Gran Canaria, with the exception of the Morocco. The Lion was brought by Juan el Marchante from Gran Canaria, the Sultan was brought from there by Juan Hormiga, and the Porqué, which would later belong to Polo Acosta, and the Chumbo, which also ended up in his hands.

In Gran Canaria the champion dog, according to Polo Acosta, was the Cubano. This gentleman had a dog that was clearly invincible, in view of which Andrés el Peninsular – at that time he lived in Las Palmas, later he moved to Tenerife – went to Tenerife to buy the León, from Juan el Marchante, in order to fight with the Cubano’s dog. The Lion was taken to Las Palmas, his homeland, but, for unknown reasons, the two dogs did not come face to face, and the Lion was returned to Tenerife.

In Las Palmas, according to don Polo, other prominent dogfighting aficionados were Paco Santana Santana, Salvadorito, Parrilla, Juan Martín, Zenón, and Patarrasa.

But there was another supporter of the Perro de Presa Canario without being the fighter, and this was the farmer. The Canarian peasant, as well as the peasants of other lands, were always surrounded by dogs, dogs that followed them everywhere, dogs, by the way, more educated and more useful than most of those that are bred today in the cities, less obese and healthier. And needless to say, the most appreciated of the dogs was the country dog, the one that, apart from fighting, responded to the needs of the farmer. Good guardian, good defender, neither nervous nor boisterous, brave, loving the company of the master and those who lived with him, and, something very important for the country man who raises animals, enemy of all dogs fond of plundering. I have been told by owners of Canary Island Presa dogs, among them Don Polo Acosta, that more than one marauding dog has left his life on other people’s property. This reality caused more than one displeasure to owners of hunting dogs, or others, who, for not having them tied up, went out at night, “and went hunting where they shouldn’t have”.

Another of the qualities of the Perro de Presa Canario, a consequence in part of its physical strength, was its ability to fight with coarse cattle in the pastures, or wherever it was. A Perro de Presa Canario did not shy away from the onslaught of a stubborn animal, and it was not difficult for him to get hold of it and bring it to the pen.

Among these many cattle owners, it seems appropriate to bring here Pancho el Rey, “a very well-liked man and a man of his word if ever there was one”, says Don Polo Acosta. Don Pancho de la Paz Hernández, or Pancho el Rey, grew up with the rough cattle, and did not deal with any dogs other than those of the land – in those years no one spoke of the Perro de Presa Canario but of the Perro de Presa del país or of the land -, and if he had a hand with the cattle, he had a hand with the dogs. Teide is one of the dogs he remembers most fondly, a completely white animal, “and of the earth in truth”, according to don Pancho, and the Lion, a uniform chocolate color, and the Santiago, coloradito. Don Pancho de la Paz also taught dogs of prey, and sometimes for free, “just for fun”, he says. I was told that once a lawyer from La Laguna brought him a dog to show him, and to feed him from time to time he brought him a sack of gofio (toasted wheat flour), but when the lawyer saw that the dog was getting skinnier and skinnier, he said, “Look, Don Pancho, the dog is skinny”. Don Pancho looked at the lawyer sardonically and said, “No, man, the dog does eat, it’s just that he has taken the classes too much to heart”. It was in the time of man, and don Pancho had seven children to feed.

Don Pancho de la Paz Hernandez was born in 1895 and has many things to talk about, for example, how a Presa dog is taught, or how he taught them, “the old fashioned way”, as corresponded to the needs of the field, and of each owner. Don Pancho told me that he never took his dog off the leash. The dog, his dogs, always followed his lead, and if he told them to go ahead, they did it, because that is what he had taught them to do, and if he came across a friend or stranger with another dog, his dog never left his side, neither to fight nor to sniff the other dog, and if the other dog, as it happened, jumped on him looking for a fight, his dog backed off, thus, with his behavior, he demonstrated that the well taught dog never takes the initiative, the master takes it.

The Canarian peasant did not think, nor does he think, of dog fights, as might happen in other places, for example, among city people, who are looking for new ways to have fun, new strong impressions to kill the tedium of their gray life. Polo Acosta agrees, although he recognizes that he was the driving force behind dogfighting in Tenerife, “but without falling into excess at any time”.

Thus, after following in the footsteps of the Perro de Presa Canario, we arrive at the prohibition of dog fighting. In 1954 one night Don Polo Acosta was training his dogs, muzzled so they would not get hurt, and apparently the fray was louder than usual, and the director of the Sociedad Protectora de Animales (director says Don Polo Acosta), Mrs. Equis, who lived nearby, sent him a message “not to fight the dogs, that she was sick and they would not let her sleep”, to which, out of tone, Polo Acosta, returned the message in the following terms: “Tell the lady that my dog is also bad and I can’t shut the dogs up”. This was more than enough to make the glass overflow, and a few days later Polo Acosta received a summons from the police. Polo Acosta knew that things were not right, he went to the police station and spoke with Don Enrique the commissioner, who was an acquaintance of his. Don Enrique, after some preamble, made him promise not to fight dogs anymore, and Polo Acosta promised, and kept his word. “I have never fought dogs again”, says Don Polo, and adds, “Don Enrique was right, dog fighting left me no profit, and the day I least thought it would cause me some displeasure, so to this day”.

And that was, believe it or not, the death of the Canary Island Presa de Presa dog, the prohibition of fights. It is true that some specimens remained lost and unappreciated in Gran Canaria and Tenerife; but how is it possible that the breed was lost in so few years? Don Polo told me that the cause was, in addition to the prohibition of fights, the German shepherds, which became famous after the Second World War. “Before, in any house, you would see a prey dog lying at the door, and watch out, no one would think of going in! Then came the German shepherds and nobody took care of the prey dogs anymore.” This reason may be the most accurate. A dog breed can be lost in less than twenty years if it is no longer of interest. That happened to the Perro de Presa Canario.

With the above I do not want to sow pessimism among the hobby, but, to be honest, I must say that ten years from the date I write these notes we will not be able to say: the Perro de Presa Canario is there, sufficient in number, well selected, faithful to its qualities that gave it fame, lying, as before, at almost every door of the houses in the countryside, and beware, that no one thinks of entering!

Commentary to Perros de Presa Canarios

Perros de Presa Canarios was published in its entirety on May 13, 1982 in the newspaper El Día, of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and in February 1983 it appeared, somewhat summarized, in the magazine El Mundo del Perro (Madrid), under the title: Un producto de las peleas: Perro de Presa Canario (A product of the fights: Perro de Presa Canario).

At that time there were few, very few, enthusiasts of Canary Island Presa dogs, and practically nothing was known about them and their origin. And there were hardly any canary dogs worthy of the name, that is the truth and no other. The vast majority of today’s fanciers do not even remember what those dogs looked like, and a good part of them have never seen them in their lives. Many had not even been born. I am talking about the real canary hound, which did exist. To tell the truth – let’s stop playing games – nobody knows when this dog, the old one, of Spanish origin, became extinct. Did it disappear in the late 19th or early 20th century? No one knows.

In 1982-3 the canary dog fancier knew nothing of the Agreements of the Cabildos de Betancuria, or of Tenerife, nothing of the Ordinances of Tenerife. And if anyone knew about them, they were of little use to him, and whoever made use of these documents in order to study their origin, distorted them in such a way that rather than shedding light on a subject so little researched, he confused it greatly with his eagerness to prove the unprovable, that is, that the Majorero cattle dogs, the Presa dogs and the Canarian Podencos descend from the dogs bred by the aborigines before the conquest and colonization of these islands.

In those years of reference, 1982-3, I was also unaware of the existence of these agreements and ordinances, I must confess, and I had not read Le Canarien, etc. If I had known about those texts I would not have written Los Perros de Presa Canarios, or I would have written something different, with more historical basis, and I would not have referred to the English and their fighting dogs, that is clear. I certainly did not claim anything in my work, which was only intended to be informative, to awaken the hobby. I limited myself to write that the English “seem to have been the ones who brought the love of dog fighting to the Canary Islands, presumably bringing their mastiffs, already famous in fights in the times of Julius Caesar, the rabid bulterriers, capable of fighting dogs much larger in size and defeating them, the bullmatiffs, the bulldogs, etc.”.

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Propietario del criadero de Presas Canarios "Irema Curtó" desde 1975. Además de ser el criador de esta raza más antiguo del mundo, y de que sus perros sean la base de gran parte de las líneas de Presa Canario, también es autor del libro "El perro de Presa Canario ,su verdadero origen", del libro "El Presa", colaborador en periódicos, revistas especializadas, documentales, debates, programas de radio, televisión, etc.

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Manuel Curtó Gracia

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Propietario del criadero de Presas Canarios "Irema Curtó" desde 1975. Además de ser el criador de esta raza más antiguo del mundo, y de que sus perros sean la base de gran parte de las líneas de Presa Canario, también es autor del libro "El perro de Presa Canario ,su verdadero origen", del libro "El Presa", colaborador en periódicos, revistas especializadas, documentales, debates, programas de radio, televisión, etc.

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