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?

Written By:

Current Rock of Residence:

Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

Island Girl Since:


Originally Hails From:

The Bahamas / California, USA

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, Cadence of the Sea.

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!

Want to read more posts by this writer? Click here.

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