67: Encountering the Beast

67: Encountering the Beast

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Encountering the Beast

Fun fact: Great Danes, Mastiffs, Irish Wolfhounds, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands top most lists of the world’s largest dog breeds.

I had been walking most of the morning through the Spanish countryside, in my third week of a hike to Santiago. Before leaving home, I had attended a talk on the trip I was about to take. The most important warning was about the wild dogs I would encounter on my trip. Being a cat person, I had never really understood dogs, and so I accepted that there would be feral animals lying in wait for unsuspecting hikers like me. I made up my mind that I would avoid contact with them at all costs.

That had not been difficult so far. Most of the dogs I had encountered had displayed the predicted ferocious traits, but all of them were chained up in the front yards of houses and farms. I was able to pass unmolested.

This day, I was in the process of looking for a place to stop for a sandwich and café con leche. The town I saw up ahead looked like it might have a café.

The odd thing about walking into many Spanish villages near midday is that they are often deserted, as everyone is at lunch. This one was no exception.

As I approached, I saw a very large animal standing squarely in the middle of the deserted road, right in my path. In Spain, there has always been a tradition of using very large herd dogs to deal with cow control. The animal I found blocking my way was a prime example of these creatures. It was huge. No wonder they were able to control cows; this dog could have intimidated a rhino. His huge eyes were focused directly on mine as I approached. I looked around, hoping perhaps to see a man in a top hat carrying a chair and whip who could control this beast and allow me to pass! But I was alone, and so I advanced slowly, making myself as large as possible so as not to look like a small, tasty morsel.

The dog’s gaze never faltered, and he stood his ground. I moved off onto the grassy edge of the road, and he positioned himself very purposely to counter my move. There was no alternative for me but to pass closely by his salivating jaws. Carefully, I sidled past him, hoping not to touch him or to make eye contact. To say that I was terrified would have been an understatement. Up close, he was way bigger than from a distance; he came halfway up to my chest. I had never seen such a big dog.

When at last I had slunk past him, I was aware that he had turned and was now following close behind me in my walk into the village. Relieved, I made it to the safety of the café where I ordered up my café and bocadillo sandwich. As I was hoping to eat my lunch at an outdoor table, I looked out the front window and was glad to see that my tormentor was not visible.

Once back outside, I had no sooner sat down at the table when the dog reappeared, looking even more menacing, if that was possible. Just as I was about to retreat back into the café, he sat at my feet and stared up at me with huge, sad-looking eyes. At that point, I realised that it might be my sandwich that had his hungry attention and not me. The drool coming from the side of his mouth was one of the clues. I broke off a piece of my snack and proffered it in his general direction. It disappeared as if by magic. There was not a lot of chewing done as far as I could see; he just seemed to inhale it. In the end, he got more of my sandwich than I did. At least my coffee didn’t hold any attraction for him, so I was allowed to have that for myself. Leaving my backpack in the dog’s care, I went back to the café and bought another two sandwiches — one for him and one for me. We sat together in the sun and enjoyed each other’s company for the short time available.

With a long walk ahead of me, I got to my feet and pulled on my backpack. The giant dog also rose to his feet, stretched and fell in behind me as I made my way out of the village. I was escorted to the village limits where he stopped, sat down and yawned. I came back and stroked his ears. He stood up, rubbed his huge body against me, and licked my hand as if in gratitude. As I climbed a hill leading out of town, I could feel his eyes watching my progress.

Thinking back now, I realise that he had worked out an efficient little scheme. He would sit and wait for hikers passing through town in the hope that they would visit the café and share their snacks with him. Then he would escort them out of town before returning for the next victim/pilgrim. In the short time I spent with him, I could see that he was a smart animal and had a friendly disposition in spite of his huge size. From that day on, I never felt intimidated by any dog I met on my journey. I felt I had been privileged to have interaction with a doggie ambassador. I also came to realise that I should never judge a dog by first impressions.

~James A. Gemmell

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