Written by Paolo Consolandi „My trip to Spain”

Written by Paolo Consolandi  „My trip to Spain”

For many months I have been trying to organize a trip to the Spanish peninsula in order to take some holidays, as this year my job left me very little time for anything else – and of course – I also wanted to meet and get to know those in the world of the Presa Canario with whom I had been communicating through the past years.

No, I was not interested in visiting the Dogo Canario kennels, the “beauty champions” wannabes. I have nothing personal against them, but I simply do not agree with their decision to accept the shame of a name change imposed by the FCI,and to accept the changes to the breed Standard. In general terms, I dislike even more the world of the beauty shows and of the breeders who live in its orbit, not only because they are backed by private interests which can end up determining the results, but also because I consider them the major cause of the functional deterioration which many dog breeds are facing, as the incentive is for breeders to focus too much on the look itself, and forgetting the reason for being of many dog breeds – and in particular the Presa Canario – which is, before anything else, to succeed in a functional work.

So, I was interested in getting to know people who believe in a passion, and have dedicated and continue to dedicate the time to preserve a concept,a tradition, the Presa Canario, with his original denomination and breed Standard, even if this means increased difficulties and having to stay outside the officiality. (now it is not the case anymore, being the Presa Canario is recognized as such by the Spanish Government). To come back to the trip , it was clear to me that it would be impossible to dedicate completely the holidays to the dogs, as I was accompained by my wife and my daughter, 14 months old. I also knew it would be difficult to organize all the things in a hurry, but one has to try it and so,in May when I had the opportunity I did not let it go. I bought immediately the airplane tickets and started to plan my trip, and began to contact the persons whom I thought I could visit. I planned to begin my trip by spending 4 days in Madrid and 7 days traveling through  northern Spain, visiting the regions of Vizcaya, Cantabria y Asturias. So I ended up the planning by booking the rooms. The two trips I made in the past years through Tenerife and Gran Canaria taught me that the best accomodation for this type of trip is that of the rural houses. Well, even if in Madrid I had no other alternative than booking a Hotel, in the north I only wanted to stay in rural houses, which always led me to meet sweet people, peace, wonderful sights and a very welcoming atmosphere.

I left from Milan the 24th of May and arrived the same afternoon in Madrid, where the weather was not what I was expecting: it was at least 10 C° colder than in Milan and the sky was plumby (cloudy?). When I arrived at the Hotel – it would not have been so easy without my portable GPS – I switched the television on in order to look for the  forecasts. I cameacross the news, in which a reporter was talking about the floodings which were hitting the region of Madrid. “Well, floodings at the end of May – and exactly in the week I chose – that is a bad start” I thought.

I spent Thursday and Friday visiting the city of Madrid, with very menacing weather but luckily with very little rain. I enjoyed the visit to the Museo del Prado and their artworks keep coming into my mind. There were several rooms entirely dedicated to masters like Goya and Velazquez. I could appreciate the artworks in which are represented iberian dogs of the XVII and XVIII centuries. Between these, realized by Velazquez, the three oils “Don Fernando of Austria, hunter”, “The prince Baltasar Carlos, hunting” and “Felipe IV dressed for hunting” and, above all the amazing “Children with perros de presa” by Francisco Goya, in front of which I could have stayed the rest of the day and the night. This masterpiece of rustic ambientation was realized between 1786 and 1787, and it represents two children with two “perros de presa” (catch dogs), the dogs have black masks, a wonderful brindle coat and, in general, a morphology incredibly close to the one which is ideal for a Presa Canario. The dogs have a muzzle and a strong collar, so that it denotes their seriousness, while the children clearly come from the lower social classes, as they are dressed in a very simple way and one is missing a shoe. It is a wonderful representation of one of the ancestors of the Presa Canario, as these iberian dogs have played undoubtly an important role in the history  of our breed coming from the Canary Islands.

When the visit to El Prado ended, I was impatient to see the dogs – the real ones – and to meet the people with whom I had been in contact. On Saturday I agreed to meet with Gabi (Gabriel Gallego Arenas), from the Iron Bull Kennel in Madrid, in order to get to know him and to see his dogs. At the same time I also had contacted the owner of the famous Volcàn de Atlas Asio, Miguel Escobar, as I wanted to meet him and learn more about the dog Volcàn. I arrived after  lunch at the town – at the south of Madrid – where Gabi lives – and we met at a fuel station; from there we went to his house, where he took up three dogs, Tàrtaro, Mandragora and Molecula and we headed towards the training centre of Bocalàn, that is more or less 50 Km. from Gabi’s house and where we were going to wait  for Daniel Arcos and Miguel Escobar.

In the car we spoke about various subjects, Gabi is a man of good conversation and a person who has proven to be very helpful, moreover he has a serious commitment to the breed and gives a lot of importance to the functional aspect of the breed in his selection process. In addition, he also must be credited for doing what he can to give continuity to the Atlas Asio bloodline,the name with which were bred the dogs – some years ago – of Juan Carlos Asensio in Madrid. In the centre of Bocalàn soon arrived also Daniel Arcos, with two Presas, named Bronco and Krom. Daniel is a professional decoy and it is easy to see the goood work he did and  is doing. Gabi and Dani meet from time to time at this training center in order to work with their dogs and they founded a working club which is called “Bocadura”, a initiative which should be applauded, in a world dominated by a cinophily characterized by breeders that in most cases set the esthetics above the functionality.

While we were giving a little walk to the dogs also Miguel Escobar arrived, accompained by a friend (who in turn had once a son of the same Volcàn)  with his Malinois shepherd, with which he is actually doing working competitions. For those who do not know, Miguel is the only person – to the moment – to obtain, with a Presa Canario (Volcàn de Atlas Asio) a Sch. III working title,the highest level possible; and he also participated in the Spanish Cup in 1998 ending up in a good position in the final classification. A result like this  requires an admirable dedication to the work and a perfect relation of understanding and communication with one own’s dog. I conctacted Miguel Escobar some months before my departure, and I asked him for an interview. I wanted other people of the Presa Canario world to know more about this man and his dog, which at the end of the nineties managed to accomplish such impressive results in working competitions. “No problem” said Miguel  and thanks to his collaboration in the next months you will have the chance to read and enjoy this interesting interview. Unfortunately I did not arrive in time to see the old Volcàn, which passed away at the age of 15 years old,a few months before  my arrival in Madrid.

But let’s get back to that Saturday the 26th of May, in the training center of Bocalàn. As all had arrived, they started to work with the dogs. I am not an expert of training, be it sport competition or civil, but the subject is very interesting for me, and I was really satisfied with what I saw: all the dogs demonstrated a good aptitude to the work, including the younger ones. El Tàrtaro, hijo de Farruco de Los Bimbaches and Simba de Iron Bull,  is a dog that does not leave indifferent the ones who see him: his head is impressive – it was the first thing I noticed when I entered  the patio of Gabi’s house – moreover he is a dog of heavy bone and when he approaches the decoy he does it with lots of power, even if he clearly does not seem to have the agility of the lighter dogs. When he is doing a launched attacked, he is a dog that does not hesitate in front of anything: I saw it with my eyes when, trying to get to the decoy – who was on the other end of a metallic wire fence –he made a hole in the fence and he would have easily passed through it if Gabi had not  arrived rapidly. I had already seen in a video Mandragora, daughter of Alicate de Iron Bull and Plata de Iron Bull, and in person the good feeling was confirmed: a brindle bitch with white patches, of agile structure who is developing very well, very distrustful and watchful as to  what is going on around her. From a training point of view, she is a totally civil dog and for this one should give her the proper respect: she is not too  interested in the sleeve. Molécula, son of Mustang de Iron Bull and Electra de Iron Bull, is a puppy of a few months, with a wonderful coat that is similar to that of Mandragora. This puppy is very talented as far as work and temperament are concerned, and is already used to the training field: not only does he attack with decision the sleeve, but he also wants to get out of the training field with the sleeve in his mouth,a thing that positively impressed Miguel. Bronco, owned by Dani, is a morphologically well balanced dog, of brindle coat with a white mark on the chest. On the training field, the thing which impressed me was the way he stands the pressure. He was strongly put under stress, but he did not show the least intention to leave the catch or  change the bite. And then we ended with Krom – a Molécula son of Mustang and Electra – with a rustic fawn and white coat, a little more than one year old, he  already shows the structure of a mature dog. I really liked Krom,  for his appearance (coat and bone) and also for the self assuredness he showed on the training field. After having seen the work with  the Presas, Miguel showed us something with his Malinois, a very active dog  with whom he is doing a very complete work.“They are different dogs” – we said – and we all agreed when someone said that as far as nobleness the Presa Canario is not second to anyone else in the whole world.

So we spent all the afternoon and more, as when  people who have a passion for the Presa Canario meet, it is well known, the hours fly away. They had lots of interesting anecdotes to report, about the dogs of the various bloodlines, about what they have seen and lived, and I listened to all that with genuine interest. Very rapidly it was nine o’clock in the evening and we said goodbye to Dani, Miguel and his friend. Gabi and I went back to his house, and even though I was already  late, I stayed to eat dinner. We had a nice time, with the opportunity to talk a little more and I  enjoyed the several pictures he had and we watched some videos. The time flew and before I realized it, it was the time to go. Thanking him for his hospitality I said goodbye and went back to the hotel where I arrived  5 hours late , but it was worth it.

The next day  was Sunday, and I had arranged with Antonio José Martìn Garcìa, of the King Zulu kennel, to have a visit there. After helping me to find his house – the gps is not always as perfect as it is supposed to be – Antonio showed me his dogs. He is a very gentle person and he welcomed me very cordially onto his property – which is situated between Madrid and Toledo – where he lives with his beautiful family.

Between the males I recognized Felipe de King Zulu, who I already had seen in picture and videos. Felipe has a good structure – even if he is not so heavy – and is a very balanced dog: he gets along very well with the son of Antonio, who can make him do anything,including ride him like a horse. Antonio commented to me, more than one visitor had asked if he was for sale, but without success. Felipe is a family member. Tied to a chain, I saw another Male I liked, Nacho. This dog had a very agile structure and at the same time a strong chest and a very alert glance. Next to Nacho there were also a pair of black puppies, one called Horacio and the other one I do not remember.On another part of Antonio’s property  were the bitches, with dedicated spaces for the pregnant bitches in order to give birth to the puppies. We went on talking, about what he does and how he selects the puppies and about some dogs of his clients. Again the time passed rapidly and soon it was the time to go, so  I said goodbye to the cordial Antonio and his family, thanking them for the good time spent there.

I chose to have a little tour through the beautiful and nearby city of Toledo in order to have a lunch in a typical restaurant  in the historical downtown – as in the afternoon I  had another appointment to go to see an aficionado with whom I was in contact, Israel Teruel, who lives at the south of Madrid.

Israel owns a Presa Canario named Coto – coming from King Zulu lines – with whom he has worked in obedience and protection and that has also taken part in famous TV serials of the spanish television, like “Los Serranos” and “Tirando a dar”. I had a talk with Israel at his house and we exchanged our opinions about the Presa Canario; he is an enthusiast with a genuine passion for the breed and who loves to work with dogs. Then also arrived at the house a friend of his, with his two Presas, in this case also coming from King Zulu lines, a male and a bitch. We spent the afternoon talking together and after having taken the dogs for a walk,  it was dinner time  and my family  and I said goodbye to the polite Israel’s family and friends, who welcomed us in an excellent way.

So ended the four days I spent in Madrid, which I surely enjoyed as I had the opportunity to see with my own eyes lots of interesting things.

We had a wonderful time also the next week, traveling through the north of the peninsula. The first two days we stayed in the hills which surround the city of Bilbao and that face the beautiful Vizcaya Gulf, while we spent the next two days next to the mountains Pico de Europa, and precisely in the region of the Penamellera Baja, in a very small town – almost isolated from the world – but in a very warm rural house. After having left Cantabria, we spent the last three days on the green plains that surround the area of Oviedo (Asturias).

Through this week we travelled more or less 2.000 km, I have seen many things and I must say that the north of Spain is a simply amazing region, which I really liked: fine sights, polite people, very good cooking.

To come back to the subject – the dogs, which is what we are interested in – it was Saturday morning, in the province of Oviedo, and I had just woken up; I phoned  Eduardo Garcìa (also known as Guimaràn), with whom I had been in contact through e-mails and the internet forum. Eduardo lives in Gijon and he has owned Presas since the early nineties, and his commitment and passion for the breed is beyond doubt. He also helped me to contact other people of the Presa Canario and I thank him for all he did.

Well, that morning Eduardo told me on the phone that Victor Manuel Vicente Rodriguez, one of the most expert preseros from Asturias – that I would have been happy to meet – was going to Santander, in order to visit Alfredo Lorenzo Zurdo, breeder with the kennel name Presa Can. “They are going there and they will work the dogs” told me Eduardo – “it would be nice if you could go there and see them”. He also said me that I would also meet another enthusiast, Alfredo Gonzalo Reig from Albacete, but that he – Eduardo – could not go with me. In five minutes I was in the car and I drove  the highway between Oviedo and Santader very rapidly in order not to arrive late: in an hour and a half I arrived at the town where Alberto lives, and where he went to search for me in order to guide me till his property, where the others were waiting to start the tests with the dogs. I recognized Victor, who I had already seen in a picture, and I presented myself – “pleased to meet you” – and I arranged at the same time an appointment in order to go to visit him the next day. Also Alfredo was there and it was a pleasure to meet him, a real enthusiast of the Presa Canario, with lots of experience and that from time to time visits Alberto to work the dogs. Both of them – Alberto and Victor – were accompained by their families.

Alfredo wore the suit and the sleeve and in a minute they started to test Alberto’s dogs, which went to the sleeve (and to the man) without fear and with decision. Neròn, BombaII, Dama (who had a litter some weeks before), Valiente, Bruno and Mora were the dogs which were worked. Alberto does not have the opportunity to work his dogs very much, but it is clear that they know what to do: between them stood out Valiente – who was not illuded by the sleeve and tried to get the man – and Mora, who as Alfredo commented confirming mine impressions, caught the sleeve with lots of strength. Well, seeing dogs working is always very interesting.

When the tests ended we went on talking a little more, but Victor had to return to Oviedo and so we said goodbye to him – having agreed to meet the next day – while myself, Alfredo and Alberto stayed there a half a hour more to go on talking about dogs – “who is the sire of that dog, from which lines comes the other…how was that dog you owned..” – things which can take entire days between aficionados of the Presa Canario.

The first Presas of Alfredo came from the Atlas Asio kennel in Madrid; in the next years he had a bitch coming from the kennel of Herminio Mulet, called Bomba d’Els Pechados – who was daughter of the famous Volcàn de Atlas Asio and Yuma d’Els Pechados. Bomba has been the basis of much of the breedings made by Alfredo and also the mother of a good part of the dogs  now owned by Alberto, between them also Valiente and Mora.

As it always happens in these cases, soon it was time to go. I said goodbye to them, thanking Alberto for his cordial hospitality. “Do not go too fast” he told me , probably understanding that I had wrung out the car through the 200 km I made to get there. After having left I realized I did not take a picture with Alfredo and Alberto, but at that moment I was already too far: I will do it the next time. With a little more  calm I came back to the surroundings of Oviedo, in the small town of Valdesoto, where the rural house was located. I was already thinking about the next day, during which I would be able to see more dogs and to meet more people.

So it arrived Sunday morning, when I met Carlos Javier Gutierrez (breeder with the kennel name “Presastur”, who from now on I will call simply “Javi”) in a small town next to Oviedo, and with whom I was in contact before coming to Spain and who has owned Presas for a number of years. Javi and I agreed to go  together to the house of Victor Manuel Vicente Rodriguez – whom I had just met the day before at Alberto’s house – and in a few minutes we arrived at his beautiful property which dominates the hills which surround Oviedo.

Victor is a very pleasant person, and  knows a lot about dogs. He always had Presas from Cantadiello (José Manuel Rivas Paneda) bloodlines – the first one to breed Presas in Asturias – and he has a lots of interesting stories to tell. Victor bred two famous dogs, which were quite well known in their time: one being Gando, son of the famous Rocky de Cantadiello, and the other being Cujo, both of them with a nice brindle coat and white markings. Gando was the older one,  Cujo his direct son.

Victor owns now more or less five dogs, one of them is Bruno, the oldest, at eleven years and that is a direct son of Gando. I had already seen a picture of Bruno in which he showed a very strong structure; now he is older and he is getting a bit lighter but he is still an impressive specimen, considering his age. Victor is really satisfied with Bruno as from him he has obtained a good genealogy, like Drago that is owned by another aficionado del Presa Canario: José Antonio Molina – friend of Victor – that unfortunately was not in Asturias when I was there. And like Ronnie, who was tied to a chain in the backyard and is more or less three years old. Ronnie, son of Bruno, has  a nice structure and is a dog of good size.

“Yet I do not have the time I had once to work the dogs, you know..the family and the job..” said Victor. There are many anecdotes that Victor shared about those dogs, their life and training. Victor with a group of enthusiats used to meet every weekend some years ago. And there, in the woods that surround Oviedo, they used to work their dogs. They did it with commitment and expertise. I had clear in my mind, that morning, a picture I saw published in the forum, with two offspring of Gando and Jara – Cujo and Troll – facing them in the woods. Victor invited Javi and I into  his house – his living room is dominated by an oil which represents a closeup of Gando – and here we stayed in front of the television in order to see some videos of the past years. It was amazing to see that already fifteen years ago there were people that worked Presas with so much skill: Victor and his workgroup invented several real life scenarios and there they tested the dogs. In those videos I saw attacks on the roof of vehicles, with the decoy in a tree, on men riding bicycles, several launched attacks, tests of real life guarding at  night (with the invasion of the territory by a stranger). These dogs used to do it all.

“Now is different” – commented Victor – “yet there are not so much dogs like once, and let aside the few time available, it is not possible to train them in the woods as the rural police suddenly shows up and quickly ends the fun”.

The Presa Canario is a great passion for Victor, and it is easy to see it when he speaks about it –something which he does with real knowledge. Javi and I stayed there to see those videos till it was time to go and so we said goodbye to Victor, who I thank for having welcomed me and having showed me all with much cordiality.

As we left Victor’s house, we went to meet Eduardo Garcia Garcia (Guimaran), who I finally had the pleasure to meet – and then we went to have lunch together in a typical asturian restaurant, where we had the opportunity to talk a bit more – why not – about dogs. Eduardo is a very noble man and with a serious commitment about the breed. He had Presas coming from the Cantadiello and Herminio Mulet bloodlines and he has got very clear ideas about what he is searching for in a dog.

After having ended the lunch – and tried the sidra, the only thing from Asturias I did not like – we directed ourselves toward the property of Javi, where we saw two young bitches – a brindle and a fawn one , who were so active that it was almost impossible to take a picture of them, and another bitch – an older one – that lives with Javi. Javi bred a good number of dogs in the past years and as he says “yet there are not so much dogs like in  the past years” – but his passion goes on being the same.

The last part of the day we visited Eduardo’s house, in Gijon, where also lives his dog Sadam (Burno d’Els Pechados), bred by Herminio Mulet. The father of Sadam is Ali Baba Mencey de Atlas Asio, owned by Francisco Cutillas. The mother is Calì d’Els Pechados, owned by Hermino Mulet and daughter of the quite famous “Tigre de Las Palmas”. I liked Sadam when I saw him in picture and the good impressions were confirmed when I saw him live, be it for his strong but yet equilibrated structure, deep chest, cuboid head with little stop. The noble glance and aptitude that he shows to his owner Eduardo are worth more than a thousand words and are typical of the genuine Presa Canario.

So  ended  this last day of vacation, talking about dogs and meeting more people of the Presa Canario world, people who share a passion which a day might be weaker, another one may be stronger, but that aways accompains us and will go on doing that forever.

Monday night, after having crossed half of Spain by highway and then taking a plane to Milan, I already was at my house, with my memories and a certainty: someday I will be back.