A Brief Survey of Island Doggie Denizens

Island dogs are a breed unto themselves. In the Bahamas, they call the mutts potcakes because you’d feed them the burnt crud at the bottom of the pot. Here in American Samoa, dogs are called maile, but they’re much the same. While they come in all shapes and sizes, there is a particular mutt similarity that’s bred everywhere: usually a lithe, medium-sized, short-haired, brownish pup. Now that I think about it, most of them look a lot like Goofy’s dog, Pluto. (Sidenote: Does anyone else think it’s weird that a dog has a dog as a pet?)

Much as the island dogs come in all shapes and sizes, they also come in a range of temperaments.  Here are the 5 main types I’ve noticed so far on my rock:

1.  The Scaredy-Cat

scaredy cat dog_WWLOR

These are the mostly feral dogs who have never been kept as pets. They don’t bark at you or threaten you, but will eye you warily from a distance. All they really want is for you to just go away and not throw rocks at them, thank you very much. They live their own life off the grid, much like Santa Cruz hippies.

2.  The Grifter

grifter dog_WWLOR

Like every good con man, this mutt has your number. He appears out of nowhere right as you’re opening up your box of take-out, looking adoringly at you, scrawny legs and all. How could you say no to such a face? So you give him a treat, and he trots away to locate the next sucker. This bunch never bite the hand that feeds them.

3.  The Happy-Go-Lucky

beach dog_WWLOR

These dogs are usually nominally “owned” by someone or at least have a collar on. They’ve been socialized well and will often come up to you just to say, “Hey! Let’s roll around together in this dead thing I found!” They’re sweet pups who can be found roaming the streets or beaches outside of their houses and looking for a hand to nibble on and someone to play with. In Pago Pago, there’s a store called Tool Shop (guess what they sell) and there are several Tool Shop dogs always lounging in the shade of the doorway, waiting for a pat on the head. Some will even just come up and hang out with you for a bit on the beach, happy to play in the sand with you if you’re game. These are the best dogs.

4.  The Follower

follower dogs_WWLOR

Part of a pack with a home. Islanders in American Samoa don’t seem to believe in fencing in their dogs, so when you walk down a populated street, these are the ones in the pack that would probably be pretty chill if they didn’t have the Leader of the Pack (see Dog Type #5) leading the show. They kind of hang back, waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. If Boss Dawg barks, they bark. If Boss Dawg rolls over and farts, well, they’ll watch you and wag their tail when the big guy isn’t looking. We’ve found these guys will turn from fiery hell hound to your best friend if you give them a donut or some other Samoan goodies. Thus, in our recent hikes, we’ve taken to bringing along snacks for any territorial dogs we may encounter, as well as a little flask of whiskey for any territorial humans. It never hurts to be prepared.

5.  Leader of the Pack (Vroom Vroom)

defensive dog_WWLOR

These are the ones that will bite your legs off like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They’re the top of the doggie food chain and have the most to prove to their pack, so they tend to be the most ferocious. If you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and you happen to come anywhere near their house – hell, if you look sideways at their house – they’ll rush at you like a Tasmanian Devil and the only thing that will save you is not a treat, not cayenne pepper sprayed in their face, not a good kick to the ribs, but only a “Shhhhh!” from their owner will get them to back off. Unfortunately, the owners aren’t always around or may be a bit lackadaisical in coming to your rescue. Thank Jeebus they don’t have rabies in AmSam.

–   –   –

Though I love island dogs as much as the next gal, I can’t stress the importance of spaying and neutering your pets enough. The aggressive roamers, rampant disease, and car accidents would decrease significantly if each family took care of their animals and stemmed the overbreeding. As a result, all of these adorable mutts would be much healthier and happier, and we wouldn’t have to worry about unexpected nips on the bum. Ok, public service announcement over, back to the cute dog photos!

Happy dog_WWLOR

What dog types do you have on your rock? Have you adopted your own island pup?

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Jessi Johnson

About Jessi Johnson

Lo these many years ago, Jessi Johnson (née Hall) was born unto a Californian mother and a Bahamian father, thus beginning the on-again off-again life of an island girl. She had a wonderfully wild barefoot childhood in the Bahamas, then moved to a landlocked farm town in California, where she pretty much stayed until she met her next island man, Dane. Dane reeled (pun absolutely intended) Jessi into the sailing life after a weekend trip to Catalina Island from Southern California. Hooked, Jessi soon met Dane in French Polynesia, where she adjusted to life on a slender sailboat with no shower (that’s what the clear blue ocean is for!) or refrigeration (just makes you drink the beer faster). It doesn’t take long to adjust to cramped quarters when one is looking at a sky full of more stars than you’d ever see on land, swimming with manta rays, and gorging on cheap fresh baguettes with brie and a non-breakable glass of wine. You can read more about their adventures on their blog, www.cadenceofthesea.com.

After a brief hiatus back on the mainland for work and to get lawfully wedded, Jessi went back to the boat and her new husband, this time parked off a different rock, American Samoa. With the original intent of taking a belated honeymoon and traveling on to other islands in the South Pacific, island time soon set in like a thick Mai Tai haze, and several months later, Jessi remains in what one guidebook has described as “fjordlike” and she likes to describe as “stinky” Pago Pago harbor. While waiting for the next puddle jump, Jessi delights at the arrival of the container ships with fresh foods from the US, snorkeling among some of the most amazing reefs she’s ever seen, and tasty sundowners while watching the daily mynah bird commute to the giant banyan tree by her boat. Stay tuned for more rocky adventures from the Friendly Islands of the Pacific!

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17 thoughts on “A Brief Survey of Island Doggie Denizens

  1. Island dogs here called “dung-bin” dogs as they are left to forage in garbage cans. Treated poorly at best ignored, they wander and breed like crazy. Many are kept by farmers tied to trees to keep the monkeys away from gardens. Most expats own a rescued Island dog or two and find them wonderful pets. Mine can jump a tall fence like a gazelle and escape which is a problem as poisoning dogs is commonplace (some dogs will eat sheep and goats)
    Many local dogs seem to be a mix of Pit bull, or thin like a Doberman. Dog fighting still going on here even though outlawed.
    When I brought my little Cain Terrier here 14 years ago some would actually cross the road thinking it was some kind of Jumbie…but now there had been a sudden and short lived interest here in tiny dogs. They call them Chihuahuas..but they are not- and they are breeding them to sell for $500. They have long fur which gets matted easily here and the poor critters are now wandering the roads with the others. Our active humane societies work hard to change a mindset about spaying and neutering and though offering the service free, find little interest. It’s a hard life here for dogs.

  2. Most of the dogs on my rock look related. We call them Potlickers. We currently have 4, all different personalities and stories but we love them all!

  3. Our Dogs are also called PotCakes in the Turks and Caicos. There is a non-profit organization called PotCake Place, who takes in all the found puppies on the Island and they adopt them out to tourists who fall in love with them. Also our local TCASPCA does the same along with a spay/neuter program. They are good dogs

  4. Here in the USVI we often call the mixed breed dogs Coconut Retrievers – for many years they commonly bore the ancient lineage of the original breeds brought by the Danish plantation owners but more recently the Pit Bull gene is more visible. Our Humane Society does a great job but is overwhelmed by the volume of abandoned pets, it does encourage the Neuter and Spaying program with reduced costs for adopted animals.
    Sadly the practice of dog fighting still exists. There are few fenced yards so many pets roam free in the neighborhoods but chained dogs are still kept sometimes with no shade or shelter.
    Overall the attitude towards keeping dogs is improving but is still a shock sometimes to visitors and residents alike.
    On a trip down island years ago I mentioned to some folks that I lived in the USVI and they said ” Oh those people in St Thomas is so rich they have a place you could take a dog to get a haircut!” and one gasped ” Whaaa – you pay money to cut a dog hair – dat is rich mehson!”

    • I bought a 75 cent chicken wing for my dog once on St. John. My dog was really old, and I only did that once. The young St. Johnian girl said, “You must REALLY love your dog!”

  5. Ditto Capt Doug’s post – almost in it’s entirety, and thanks for the final paragraph of your post. In Antigua, where local dogs are called NADs (National Antigua Dogs), there is a new group called Dogs & Cats of Antigua and Barbuda, trying to emulate the apparent efficiency of similar titled group of Dominica. Spaying and neutering is the main thing on minds, plus re-educating local thinking here where some are really badly treated, (kept tied to a tree on half an inch of rope with hardly any food). Don’t mean to bring your cuddly post down but it’s so important we all get it.
    All of us are nuts about our Nads (lol), and do what we can, my adopted Nad being the best – ha! 😉

    • Absolutely. Part of the reasoning for the cuddly post was to talk about all the problems islands dogs face. They don’t have an easy life, but as a result, lots of them get real smart like JudyAnn’s below pup below. But no, there’s lots of disease abounding and serious re-education necessary on rocks all over. In Vava’u here, they’re starting up a neutering clinic again and have had at least 10 dogs neutered, which is a really great start. We’ll try and keep it going.

  6. Also called potlickers here in Roatan, Honduras. Again like so many of the other islands..theere are way too many roaming and abused by their “owners”. We are fortunate to have World Vets come down here twice a year and do spay/neuter clinics for donations. Education is so needed to convince the islanders to “fix” their cats and dogs. So yes, I have a houseful..5 to be exact. Two shepards, two pitbulls..and our little island dog Penny..that wondered in our yard one day starving to death. Guess the word was out we were just big suckers and everyone gets to sleep in our bed at night!!

  7. On STX, there are too many for the shelter. Thanks to Sali Gear, we have the Pets from Paradise program. They find volunteers to escort shelter dogs back up to the states to connect with a network of PfP volunteers in various states that either home them thru their own efforts or thru a no-kill shelter. Sali lives near me, so we have several ‘coconut retrievers’ here in Norfolk. They are always looking for volunteers to fly supplies/kennels down and bring pups back up. If you can ever help with one of the legs, search for the Pets from Paradise group or find Sali on FB. I took several kennels down over Christmas -they were all nested inside one another, the cavity filled with supplies and the whole thing plastic-wrapped and tagged for flight. It was the best $35 baggage fee I ever had the honor of paying and Shelter staff met me at baggage claim to cheerfully collect the bundle. Help if you can…you won’t regret it!

  8. The Anguillian dog, as we call the home dog here, is actually very intelligent, Americans come and adopt them and bring them back with them. They train very well. As puppies they are adorable, but when grown, it depends on the life they have. That is when the sad part comes in. a lot of them are kept in very small cages, or tied up with chains. they live off of scraps left over. the idea is that if the dog becomes fierce, then he would be a better guard dog. With my own experience I found that well treated and trained they make the best guard dog one could have, a loving and loyal friend. Living there I would definitely adopt one. right now where I live they don’t allow dogs, but when I am allowed I will get one. But the above descriptions are pretty accurate. Unfortunately their are a great amount of “wild’ dogs still roaming as above mentioned. The AARF is trying to curb that. but it still is an issue.

  9. Our dogs are also called Potlickers…..One of my favorites does have a home but can be found miles away in town…..He’s a big scary looking chow with the demeanor of a tired work horse. One day we stopped at a stop-sign in our golf cart as required and he simply jumped in….He sat on my feet as we headed for home…..About a block away from home he jumped out and headed to his own place. I would call him a smart drifter……. and all the new puppies follow him around like he’s the Lion King…….Love this rock!

    • Smart drifters are my favorite island dogs. You have to get that way, living on the hard rock streets. Glad you found some joy, or he found you!

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