With the stories told to me by the old “preseros” grew an obsessive fondness for the Presa Canario dogs. One day Javier Cabrera Perera (a friend of mine and a great aficionado of dogs) went with me to see a presa dog in an old villa, recently abandoned, at the right side of the entrance to Tafira (Gran Canaria). I don’t remember how we knew about it. Javier lived with his girlfriend in Tafira. Perhaps it was he who found out that this presa existed.
It was a rather short presa, wide, with a great head, who when noticing our presence came out from the back of the garden barking at us. His barks were deep and cavernous, his eyes dark, his glance very serious, distrustful, not at all amiable, his color of a dark brown. In that villa there was nobody. The vision of that presa struck me. There must be more presas like this, I said to Javier Cabrera Perera. Another day we went by Arucas, to see Manolito Alemán the Butcher, who had a presa dog, and went to meet him in his house. Manolito Alemán lived in a house by the outskirts of Arucas. It was at dusk. A woman opened the door. In the entrance was a type of long patio with cement floor and a beautiful grape arbor and plenty of green pompano.
“Yes, Manolito is here, Manolito, look, these boys ask to see you.”
Manolito was speaking in a very friendly way with Santiaguito Ojeda, the fighter (of canary fight). Manolito said to us that he no longer had presa dogs.
“A long time ago I bred a litter and one of the puppies I have to a man of…” Manolito Alemán told us where the man lived to whom he had given the presa puppy, several years ago. “I do not know if that dog is still alive”, he told us while saying goodbye. The puppy, which Manolito Alemán gave the name Boby, was alive, and I bought him a short while after speaking with Manolito Alemán, for six thousand pesetas (of that time).
In those days, we found out, Javier Cabrera Perera and I, that a Juan Santana Álamo had some presa dogs, in Bañaderos, (yes, the husband of the teacher), and we went to Bañaderos to ask for him. “He lives in that house”, a man of Bañaderos, “go there, he must be in the house, I saw him enter just a moment ago.”
We arrived at the house that the man had indicated and we knocked at the door. Juan Santana opened it, and I told him that someone had said he had presa dogs. He replied “yes, well, presa, not a presa, they are not like those of the past, those were another thing .. but come on, or better yet, let’s go to the farm so that you can see them, it is near here.” In a few minutes we were at the chicken farm of Juan Santana, a short distance from the sea.
“These are my dogs”, he said, “the one that is tied by base of the hen house is Canario, and the female must be there, Brava, Brava!!”, shouted Juan Santana, and then there appeared a dog of small body and brindle coat that had little to do with the presa dog, or with the idea I had in my head of a presa dog. Canario was fawn with some white spots, short, wide, with a great head, a product of crossing of English Bulldog with .. Great Dane? Surely. Brava and Canario were the only presa dogs belonging to Juan Santana Álamo, he did not have any more. Then I asked him if it had occurred to him to breed them.
“Brava gave birth recently”, he said, “from Canario, and I gave the puppies away; a goatherd from Las Tres Palmas took a female, you know where Las Tres Palmas is? No? Then listen, going towards Santa Maria de Guía, a little before arriving at the Monastery of Valerón at a curve in the road you will see on the left side three great palms, and along a path going up from the highway you will see a house and there lives the goatherd to whom I gave the puppy. Perhaps he sold it, or gave it away, because he took it on committement, it seemed to me that he did not want it, but took it anyway. Tell him I sent you.”
We said goodbye to Juan Santana Álamo and and departed in search of Las Tres Palmas. I said to Javier Cabrera Perera I was contented and hopeful at the thought that we would find the goatherd did not want the puppy and would sell or give it to me.
“I can make a deal”, said Javier, and explained, “I could offer him a Doberman puppy from the next litter I’m going to breed from Yuma” (Yuma was a female Doberman).
When we arrived at Las Tres Palmas we parked the vehicle (a Seat 600, the Spanish version of the Fiat 600) in a small space at the right side of the highway towards Santa Maria de Guía. We got out of the car and ascended along the path indicated to us by Juan Santana. As we approached the goatherd’s house, three mixed German Sheperd dogs who were tied with chains stood up and began to bark at us. At that moment a woman came out of the house, and from behind the trees next to the house the goatherd came towards us, we said hello and told him that we were sent by Juan Santana, of Bañderos.
The goatherd did not know who Juan Santana was, then I said to him that Juan Santana was the one who had given him the presa puppy.
“Ah, yes, man, Juan! I know him, Juan the husband of the teacher, the puppy, yes, ok..” The goatherd seemed disturbed about something. “Look, she’s there behind those bushes, under an empty ‘sereta’ of tomatos” (a sereta is a box of small dimensions made with laminae of wood and metallic staples). “Listen”, calling to his wife, “show the puppy to the boys, and if they want her they can take her.”
“Come this way”, said the woman, “come on, she is there, under the sereta, as we do not want her, because we do not need more dogs, and she does nothing but bother and break everything, we have put her under a sereta with a stone so that…, take out the stone, take it out…”
The poor puppy was famished, dehydrated, decalcified, how long could she live like this? When the puppy was freed from the sereta and stone she exited running like the wind, desperate, in search of something, until arriving at a metallic erthenware bowl with several liters of serum of cheese with goat’s milk whereupon she jumped inside and did not stop drinking until she swelled like a balloon. The small dog was pure nerves, light fawn with white feet, and precious, to me she was precious, I couldn’t believe it, a presa puppy, mine, I already had a male and a female.
“Take it”, said the woman, “I do not want more dogs here, for with the goats. three are enough, three eat too much..”
When we were going to say goodbye (I with the puppy in arms), the goatherd approached to wish us luck with the small dog, then Javier Cabrera told him he had a male and a female Doberman and if he wanted he would give him a puppy when he had a litter. The goatherd said yes, that it would do him much pleasure, because those dogs were very seldom seen.
To the puppy I gave the name Piba. Piba always ate like a desperate thing and great amounts of food, grew without problems, was very smart, very vivacious, very affectionate, and very much a fighter. Boby and Piba, the decision was made, I was going to breed presa dogs; in that time nobody spoke of the Presa Canario, but of presa dogs (dogs of prey). The virus or disease had lodged in my neurons, and the name of the disease was “Presitis”.
Soon, with time I began to realize, as I was told, there were no longer presa dogs, true presas, all that remained were some here and there, impure, products of very recent crossings. But I was not content to settle with accepting that reality, and for that reason I began to breed with Piba and Boby, with much hope and enthusiasm, of course, and with the desire to produce presas of true quality. But how? By crossing with Bulldog, with Great Dane (Alano), with which was necessary, in getting to breed similar dogs to those of the past, like the ones of Salvadorito and the ones of Tafira.
Despite these things, for several years I continued looking throughout the different islands (except in La Palma) for presas that could serve me in my breeding project, but nothing; all was time, and money, lost.
Manuel Curto Gracia
published in UKC Presa Canario