There are few who will argue the loyalty and trustworthiness of the domesticated dog. For millions of people, this most devoted of animals is as much a part of the family as any human could ever be. Perhaps this is why they appear in anecdotes as spirit guides tasked with leading souls to their ultimate destiny. These ghostly apparitions can be either a source of comfort at the time of death or the first of many terrors yet to come. The latter are known in the world of urban legends as “Black Dogs.” In Central and South America, El Cadejos are fabled spirits who roam the earth in the guise of dogs. These mystical beings can represent good or evil, depending upon the color of their thick coat of fur. It is a widely held belief that the black El Cadejo is an agent sent to do the devil’s bidding.
These formidable beings are said to stalk the night; always on the prowl for victims. The dogs spends the hours from dusk until sunrise searching the back alleys and isolated roadways for stragglers who have lost their way. Those who have had a bit too much to drink and can’t find their way home are also targeted by the hunters. These otherworldly canines have been gifted the ability to know what exists in the recesses of the human mind. If someone is up to no good or has committed an unforgivable act, the dogs sense the bad blood and will act accordingly. Once an El Cadejo has honed in on its prey, the beast makes no secret of its presence. The intended victim is suddenly aware that they are not alone as something they can’t quite make out begins circling them. The game of cat and mouse continues until the dog has led its target to the brink of panic. It is then that the hunter makes its move.
Using the power of hypnosis, the animal stares deeply into the eyes of its victim. During this process, it is believed that the soul is extracted, leaving behind only a mindless shell. Its mission accomplished, the black dog returns to the shadows where it lies in wait for the next passerby. While under the spell of this devilish creature, one is forced to do its bidding. A lifetime of servitude awaits those whose souls are not extracted outright. Freed from the spell, the party leaves with only a mild recollection of the incident. In the end, the reprieve is only temporary for once one is marked by the El Cadejo, their place in Hell has been reserved. Although this unholy guide usually takes the form of a dog, it can also appear as a half- human/half-canine hybrid that walks upright on its hind legs.
The manifestation of this creature is said to be accompanied by the sickening smell of rotten eggs. This pungent stench is reputed to be a sign that something demonic is nearby. Wanderers who survive confrontations with the dogs claim that they suffer from memory loss and blackouts for the rest of their lives. Their personalities also undergo drastic, and sometimes frightening, transformations. Those who live to tell the tale report that, following the encounters, they have uncontrollable urges to commit acts that they know are wrong. Some, unable to stop themselves, have followed through with their impulses. They only learn the details of their wrongdoing after the fact. For many of these pathetic souls, the fate they are handed is one worse than death. As always, where there is darkness, there is also light. The white dog is the antithesis of its black counterpart. It is also lauded as the more powerful of the two. Created for the greater good, it assumes the role of protector for those who cannot look after themselves. It also thwarts the efforts of its devilish cousin whenever possible.
These loving guardians seek out the most innocent among us to keep out of harm’s way; this usually consists of infants, children, and anyone else who cannot defend themselves. The dog also has a reputation for coming to the aid of weary travelers who are unaware of the sinister things that hide in the shadows. White dogs, knowing that the black El Cadejo can be lurking around every corner, see to it that those passing through make it safely to their destination. That is, of course, if they are pure of heart. Those with less than noble intentions are left to fend for themselves. There is only one scenario in which the white dog is rendered impotent. This occurs when the black dog is seen dragging a heavy chain. In this case, even the symbol of hope sent by God is powerless to intervene. This incarnation is said to be the devil on earth. It comes for only the most unsalvageable of souls and thus cannot be challenged. In some areas of the Americas, the roles of the dogs are reversed.
The white dog becomes the one to fear while the black guide acts as defender of the lost and downtrodden. Both dogs are described as being larger than any domesticated canine known to man. Rather than bounding along as dogs are prone to do, they move with the elegance and grace of a deer. They also sport cloven hooves instead of paws. This leads many to believe that these beings are not animals at all, but monstrosities that have assumed a form deemed more palatable to the human eye. Stories of mystical creatures that are canine in appearance can be found in nearly every corner of the globe. In the United Kingdom, tales of malevolent black dogs have been around for centuries. These hellhounds are believed to be omens of death and misfortune. With their glowing eyes and imposing stature, it is clear that they do not belong in this world. These ominous messengers tend to show up just before catastrophic events. Mysterious black dogs have reportedly been sighted shortly before violent storms move in to wreak havoc on towns and villages. In centuries gone by, they were spotted milling about the sites where executions were scheduled to take place. Wherever death and destruction waited in the wings, so did the hellhounds. The British black dogs are strictly nocturnal visitors that spend their days in places humans seldom go. Possessing the ability to shapeshift, they can mimic the appearance of any creature of their choosing. In a pack of dogs, they immediately assimilate. If they find themselves surrounded by people; that is the form they assume.
Hellhounds are thought to stay in the vicinity of a crossroads whenever possible. These areas exist on the cusp of this world and the next. They are a space between realms where the walls that separate the living from the dead are at their weakest point. It is at a crossroads that spirits will most likely make contact with those they have left behind. Earthbound souls that are still undecided as to where their loyalties lie lurk near these entryways. Black dogs keep them company, all the while edging them towards a darker plane of existence. In Swaledale, Yorkshire, a headless black dog is rumored to have laid claim to the Ivelet Bridge. For years, travelers to the area have reported hearing phantom barking as they were passing through. The animal sounds as though it is in distress, but no one dares to render aid, well-aware that anyone who sees it in the flesh is doomed to die before the end of the calendar year. For those who lay eyes upon the horribly mutilated dog, it’s all downhill from there. Over time, they lose the function of their limbs. As things progress, their ability to speak is also taken from them.
No medical explanation can be found for the symptoms that effectively end the life they once knew. It is said that to encounter the apparition of a headless dog is to keep company with a bad soul. These anomalies are forced to return to Earth in this hideous form as punishment for sins committed in a past life. This distasteful variety of spirit dog most often runs in packs. Anyone who crosses their path knows instantly that death is near. The idea has been put forth that those who sell their souls to the devil are rewarded with the ability to assume the form of black dogs at sunset. In their new skin, they are free to roam the countryside, claiming victims at will. This notion dates back to the 15th century and continues today. Christian churches had an unknowing hand in binding dogs to demonic forces. In olden days, some of the devout in Europe would bury a live dog under the stone foundation of their place of worship. This practice was intended to keep unsavory spirits and pagans at bay. The belief was that the dog would rise at nightfall and guard the churchyard until morning light.
Known as “Church Grims,” these sacrificial dogs were required to possess only one essential attribute; they had to be black. Some churches that were located near graveyards also let superstition get the better of them. As a way to ensure that no harm came to their parishioners, it was a long-standing tradition that the first man buried on the grounds would be eternally tasked with warding off the devil and his horde of demons each night after the sun went down. Understandably, no one wanted the responsibility of fighting off the instruments of evil every night until the end of time. As a way around the issue, it was decided that a black dog would be interred prior to the first human burial. The dog’s spirit would take on the monumental role of protector of the church and all its attendees. Eager to please, even in death, the animal sacrificed to save man did just that without a whimper of complaint. Or, at least, that is what they believed. Winged black dogs resembling ravens also exist in the annals of lore. These menacing creatures allegedly descend from the night sky and soar over the homes of those who have been marked for death. Legend has it that the flying dogs represented the souls of children who died without having been baptized. The loud cries said to emanate from the night sky when the winged creatures appeared have been likened to the wails of an infant. As terrifying an image as that is, it is now believed that the nocturnal visitors were actually flocks of geese.
Since these large birds often travel by night, they could easily be mistaken for something far more sinister. It is a bit of a stretch since their calls don’t resemble a baby’s cries in the slightest, but it is probably closer to reality than winged dogs. Black dogs often get a bad rap, but there are times when they are assigned the role of saviors. For instance, stories have emerged over the years of hunters, in both Europe and the Americas, who claimed that they were rescued by enigmatic dogs after getting lost in the woods. The accounts are strikingly similar as one after another, experienced outdoorsmen tell of getting turned around in the forest and losing their way. After wandering around aimlessly for hours, they find themselves being guided by a large black dog that appears out of nowhere. Once they reach a path that the hunter recognizes, the animal retreats into the thick brush, never to be seen again. One of the most remarkable accounts of dogs putting themselves between an innocent victim and someone bent on doing them harm occurred in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2013. The horrific ordeal began when a twelve-year old girl set out on her own to visit an aunt who lived nearby. As the child navigated the city streets, a stranger suddenly grabbed her from behind and dragged her, kicking and screaming, into a back alley.
Once he had her alone, the man attempted to sexually assault the terrified youngster. The girl cried out for help, but her frantic pleas fell upon deaf ears. That is, until a pack of dogs barreled into the alley, making a beeline for the assailant. As the canine heroes threw themselves at the man, the girl jumped up and ran for safety. None of the dogs made any attempt to chase the girl. They remained unified in their goal of subduing the man. The girl later stated that the dogs were nowhere to be seen in the minutes leading up to the attack. They had not been present on the street or in the alley. All the same, they showed up just when she needed them most. Police investigating the scene shortly after the events took place could find no trace of the dogs. The man was also gone, leaving behind only droplets of blood. He has never been identified. Buenos Aires, like most metropolitan areas, has an abundance of stray animals roaming its streets. The group of canines that saved the young girl from a violent attack set themselves apart from the rest with their selfless act. Speculation loomed after the incident made national headlines that the dogs were something more than simply four-legged street urchins that happened to be at the right place at exactly the right time.
This band of saviors had appeared out of nowhere with a single purpose: to stand between a child and the adult who wanted to hurt her. It was noted that most street dogs are not treated with kindness by the people they encounter. Because of this, they tend to avoid human contact. This made it all the more remarkable that these vagabonds did not hesitate to put the life of an innocent above their own. Wherever the girl’s protectors came from, it was there that they returned; their duty fulfilled. In yet another instance, this one occurring in the Isle of Man, a mysterious dog may very well have saved the crew of a fishing boat from hazardous conditions that awaited them at sea. It all began when the schooner was preparing to set out from Peel Harbour on a night expedition. The waters were relatively calm as everyone boarded the boat. Everyone that is, except for the captain. The crew paced impatiently throughout the night as they awaited the arrival of their leader.
Left with no other choice, the exasperated fishermen abandoned their plans as daylight approached. They didn’t know why at the time, but their captain had cost them a night’s worth of fishing and thus, a hefty paycheck. Just as dawn was breaking, a freak storm swept through that ravaged everything in its path. Any boat unfortunate enough to be away from port would most assuredly not escape the tempest’s wrath. The crew of the fishing boat, who had been fuming earlier due to the aborted plans, were now grateful that they had escaped the worst of the storm. As a result, they lived to fish another day. When the captain finally showed up, he informed his mates that he had tried several times during the night to join them. He explained that his progress had been impeded by a dog that refused to let him on the dock that led to the vessel. The captain described the animal as having been massive in size and solid black in color. It had also possessed eyes that glowed red in the dim light. He remarked that he had never seen the dog before that evening. Nevertheless, it had stayed with him for hours, blocking any attempts he made to access the area where the boat was docked. Realizing that he could not compete with the remarkably resolute dog, the captain eventually gave up and left the pier. Once the storm had passed, the dog vanished and was never seen again.
The fishermen couldn’t explain the events that had occurred that night. All they knew was that a black dog had saved them from almost certain ruin, and possibly an unplanned burial at sea. It is possible that some of the dogs that witnesses describe are either English Mastiffs or Newfoundlands. Mastiffs can reach upwards of two hundred pounds and stand three feet tall. Likewise, Newfoundlands have roughly the same characteristics, sometimes measuring up to six feet in length from nose to tail. Some accounts of black dogs, whether they are the good or evil variety, have undoubtedly been exaggerated with each telling. Many of them, however, are not easily explained away. The truth lies somewhere in the hazy greyness between the world of certainties and that of possibilities.