May 23, 2012  | 0 comments
Two characters—who happen to be dogs—needed for my WIP. Attested by naturalist Pliny the Elder to be “… of very large size.” Brought from a chain of islands in the Atlantic to the North African mainland by expeditionary forces of Juba II, Berber king of Roman Morocco, around 2,000 years ago. Possibly a hybrid of the islands’ indigenous dogs and escaped hunting dogs of ancient Phoenician mariners who first landed on the islands around the sixth century BC.
As I imagine the composite canid Juba’s men found, what exactly might I have to work with?
One: Wild dogs. Generally weighing around 40 pounds (18kg) Stand-up ears. Rangy. Short fur with thick undercoat during colder months. Omnivorous. Really good teeth from gnawing bones clean. Distrustful of man. Self-sufficient. And verrry, verrry shrewd.
Two: The manmade dogs. Bred to hunt side-by-side with humans, yet possessing an independent streak. Possiblities: sight hounds from the ancient Near East immortalized on the walls of pharaohs’ tombs. Dogs so lithe and fast they could be dropped from a galloping horse for a head start on the game. Exactly the kind of canid you’d want at your side if you were sailing away for parts unknown. My guess? The courageous and elegant Saluki.
So, let’s say one of these Phoenician Salukis gallops up from the beach, and gets lost chasing … hmmm…a hare — which I’ve seen happen, with my own sight hound. The dog’s owner calls and calls but the dog, caught up in its pursuit of hare, does not return and the owner must board ship RIGHT NOW. So, sadly, he sails away without his dog.
The dog, on the other hand, has made a few new friends, the cutest, friskiest “bee-otches” he’s ever seen. And presto — 63 days later a new, bigger wild dog appears, so superior to its predecessor that this accidental hybrid supplants the indigenous dogs.
I imagine this dog about 30 in. (76 cm) at the shoulder, about 80 lbs (36.5 kg), a bit rangy, thick-coated with tall, but well-furred ears, a plume-like tail, and long legs. Tough enough to survive on its own. And memorable enough to have made, however sketchily, the history books.
This is the best description I can put together based on the “pure” breeds of today and the all-too-brief mention by Pliny. And you know what? The descendants of the hybrid dog I’ve assembled for my story might just still be around. I think I know just where to look: the very place named for them by Juba’s explorers. The Canary Islands.
*Image: Salukis of the Chinese Emperor Xuande, c. 1420AD