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