Talking about Presa Canario today is not easy. Much can be said not about that dog but about these multiple and diverse dogs. Six or seven years ago, one could refer to the past, talk about the few specimens that remained in the present, and little else. And the future could be discussed. But what is the future? I recently read an interview that Francisco Umbral (Spanish writer) did with a veteran film and theater actor (Escobar), who said that the future is the only possible reality, the only thing we have left. This actor is no fool at all. The past no longer exists except in our memories. The present is nothing more than a concept. The future is another matter. We all have a future, the one we live for, the one that motivates us. The future is our raison d’être. In the future we may be great, poor or miserable, lucky, rich, happy or not. In short, the future, our longing.
Six or seven years ago, several enthusiasts of the Perro de Presa Canario, in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, excitedly talked, each one on our own side, with our acquaintances and friends, about our dogs, those of the present and those of the future. And we projected, of course. However, the Gran Canaria fans’ approaches were not the same or similar to those of Tenerife. The Grancanarians bred their dogs with fighting in mind, among other things, which is to say, hunters bred their dogs for hunting. The best dog, therefore, is the one that hunts best, the one that finds the most game. The best dog of prey is the bravest, the most powerful, the one that has no rival. In Tenerife, the projects, with a few rare exceptions, were based on other ideas. It was (is) thought of as a prey dog but not for prey. That is, like saying a dairy cow will not have to give milk. In short, a cash cow in appearance only.
And what has happened, what is going on? I have already said that it is not easy to talk about the Presa Canario today. The people of Gran Canaria, seeing that the Presa dogs were already a thing of the past, because there were no specimens left, decided to breed. The truth is that they started to breed several years ago, but on a very small scale and without fuss. And the truth is that at that time it was possible to think about it without the need for large outlays. Gustavo Rodriguez had English mastiffs, and Neapolitan mastiffs, which he had imported from England and Italy. This breeder soon got tired of these molossers – his thing was the Doberman – and sold them – before Gustavo Rodriguez imported Neapolitan mastiffs José Castellano – and it did not take long to cross them thinking of dog fights. Juan Santana Álamo, associated to the Judge of Instruction Jaime de Lorenzo, was benefited with some acquisition -Fernando de Lorenzo put the money and Juan Santana the farm where the dogs were housed-. In a visit I made to Gran Canaria in those years (I was accompanied by the current secretary of the CEPPC, Manuel Martin Bethencourt, both of us today irreconcilable) I saw in their kennels in the lower part of Arucas dogs of the breeds Great Dane, English Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, English Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and a Majorero Cattle dog with bardino coat. These dogs were kept for crossbreeding, thinking about the pechadas (dog fights).
And also benefiting from this sale by Gustavo Rodriguez was Manuel Aleman, butcher from Arucas, a great fan of the old time fancier dogs and fights. Mr. Alemán had Guanche in his house, who was trained by the elder Pepe Ojeda, from Gáldar. Guanche’s brother was my dog Piba, a dog that no matter how much I insisted he wouldn’t let me photograph.
At Mr. Alemán’s farm I saw a black Neapolitan Mastiff and two German Mastiffs, a Dobermann, two or three almost adult Dobermann crosses, two or three puppies about two months old, offspring of the Neapolitan Mastiff with I don’t know what. In another visit to Gran Canaria I saw crosses of Neapolitan Mastiff at fifty percent, crosses of Bullterrier, of Mastiff, of Perro de Ganado Majorero with Neapolitan Mastiff, of Bulldog with I don’t know what, and several other crosses, without forgetting the Bullmastiff cross products. And these dogs were fighting, that’s common knowledge.
And about a year ago I was invited to witness in Las Palmas a concentration of Presas Canarios – when I say Presas Canarios I don’t mean breed – that were going to measure them with a view to a future breed standard. I have several photographs of this concentration of dams, which if they are of interest now, they will be much more interesting in the future. The specimens that I saw and photographed at that meeting, with the kind permission of their owners, were the product of the aforementioned crosses, and there was no uniformity among them, of course. Some were more Neapolitan Mastiff, others more Bullterrier, others more Mastiff, others more Bullmastiff, and so on. That day I was invited, in a low voice, to witness a “pechada” (Canarian style dog fight) in an unknown place, an invitation that, due to the fact that my plane to Tenerife was leaving at approximately the same time as the dog fight was going to take place, I had to decline -that is the excuse I gave for not attending said illegal event-.
In that concentration of prey, I was told about Berry, Tauro’s dog, fifty percent Neapolitan Mastiff, and about Salvador’s, the photographer from San José, whom I already knew, also fifty percent Neapolitan Mastiff. And of course, Demetrio Trujillo, with some of his jet-black dogs, and other old fans that would take too long to list, could not be absent from this concentration of dogs. And one of them told me something else: “In Tenerife they don’t know what a dog is worth, because they don’t catch dogs there”. That is, the cow thing. But the Club is in Tenerife, I told him jokingly. Let them take it to them! What we are interested in is to breed good dogs of prey, the breed will become clearer. We will gradually make our dogs a breed, but that, a breed with a lot of c…”.
And now we are going to dedicate a little space, in order to be complete, to what has been done, and is being done, in Tenerife. There are no dog fights on this island, nor is there a dog fighting hobby; if there were, there would be fights. And, although it started a little later than in Gran Canaria, it has also crossed over. And let’s see with which breeds. And we will allow ourselves to mention some of the Crusader fans, and I hope this does not upset any of those mentioned. Before the foundation of the Club Español del Perro de Presa Canario was already being crossed here, but without vigor, or at least as it is being done since three years ago. And, a curious thing, but which has its explanation, those who crossbreed the most, with the greatest diversity of breeds, are the members of the breed club, who claim that they are recovering “the breed”, that is, the Presa Canario, which they claim goes back centuries (the one they have in their hands is the product of crossbreeding). Of course, from the president to the last member (there are few members, that’s the truth, for the amount of enthusiasts and breeders that there are) nobody has one of those old dams, which I call traditional. The members of the CEPPC have limited themselves to crossbreeding with Bullmastiff (Dr. Mario Montequi, Mr. Martín Bethencourt), with Dogo de Burdeos, Perro de Ganado Majorero, English Bulldog (Mr. Martín Bethencourt), with Staffordshire, Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino (Dr. Mario Montequi, as far as I know). And other members have crossed, before or after the foundation of the club, with Boxer, Great Dane, Majorero Cattle Dog, German Shepherd, Flanders Cattle Dog, English Bulldog, and other breeds.
And the CEPPC keeps confirming that “we are recovering the race”. But what race? We think of a race, they think of a race, but as things stand we cannot speak of such a race. They can now come from the Canine Central of Spain, they can now come judges invited by the Club, they can now present standard projects, because what counts here are the dogs, their diversity and their origin. And the Gran Canarian fans count, which the club ignores.
The prey of Gran Canaria must be taken into account and observed with a magnifying glass; their movements must be followed. What is important is not what is presented at the shows, nor what the judges say (always foreign and disconnected from this canine reality), or what the members of the CEPPC board of directors say or write, throwing smoke cloaks to hide the reality. And another truth that should not be overlooked: in Tenerife, dogs are bred to be tame, without temperament, more often than not. Because what is looked at is not the animal’s temperament, its bravery, its nobility of character, its real physical strength. We look at the pure appearance, the color (or bardinos or fawns).
In Gran Canaria color matters little. Prior to now, and from way back in time, the prey dogs were selected for their aptitudes, not for the color of the coat. White or black, bardino or fawn, spotted or not, it was the least important. A good lunge, a firm prey, and endurance, these were the indispensable qualities for a good Perro de Presa Canario. The dog that met these characteristics could never be tame with strangers, nor cowardly or shy, nor was he hesitant to bite the human intruder. That is therefore the good dog for guarding and defending houses and estates. What about the future? The future is a reality that we walk step by step. El Presa Canario is made minute by minute, day by day, year after year, in Tenerife and Gran Canaria (better in Gran Canaria -we will see if time will prove me right or not-).
But one thing must be clear, and that is that the Perro de Presa Canario is not a breed yet. There are Presas Canarios, a diversity of specimens that have nothing to do with a breed. That the CEPPC believes that by “eating the brains” of the members of the Central Spanish Kennel Club (now! and without wasting time) they will recognize the Presa Canario as a breed, is a matter that does not concern me in particular. Paper holds everything that is written on it, whether it is true or not, but reality is not on paper. Reality is in the hands of all of us who raise dams. And what is the author’s interest in not wanting the Presa Canario to be recognized for the time being? The author is moved by the Presa Canario that has to become: uniform as a whole, of good conformation, of extraordinary temperament, and with all the traditional coats, which are, bardino, fawn, bardino and white, fawn and white, ash, brown, and black. And all with pincer or scissor bite. This is what the Presas Canarios were like before their extinction.
Published by the author in El Mundo del Perro, February 1986.