From the haunting Moors of England to the distant forests of the Scottish Highlands and the mysterious Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the legends have been passed down for generations. Stories of malignant, ghastly looking black hounds with glowing red eyes that roam the wastelands and plod through ancient forests in the night, baying and howling and bringing with them a supernatural feeling of ill will and bad omens. Locals are often frightened to the point of staying in doors for days on end and crossing themselves with holy water at the slightest mention of the foul beasts. In the late 1600's hundreds and early 1700's, they were often associated with witches, either accompanying them to black masses or being one in the same as shape-shifting counterparts.
Even Mexico and North America have their versions of these creatures.
They are known by many names - Devil dogs, demon dogs, hounds of Hell, Black Shag, Black Shuck, Faery dogs, Ghost hound, "Ol' Padfoot", Yeth hound, Pooka, and probably the most well known of them all, 'The Hound of Baskervilles'.
The origins are debatable and come from many backgrounds and sources, but their descriptions have a host of things in common. They are often described as abnormally large in stature, black in color, malevolent in nature, and have glaring hypnotic red eyes that mesmerize, yet terrify any poor soul unfortunate enough to cross their path.
Very rarely are they seen running in packs or lumbering down busy streets. They are more likely, and have been reported to be, encountered alone in graveyards, dark forests, on sites where executions or murder have taken place, ancient burial grounds, and vast distant reaches of the Moors where escape is unlikely, but death from fright a distinct possibility.
In Tring, Hertfordshire, a fiersome black beast with glowing red eyes haunts an old road and is said to be the spirit of a local chimney sweep who was brought up on murder charges and promptly executed. It is said that the dog sinks slowly into the ground if approached.
In Jersey, the phantom black dog is known as 'Tchico' and usually makes its prescence known just before a storm rolls in.
Cape Elizabeth, Maine is home to a black dog the size of a St. Bernard but with a wolf-like sillouette. It is described as being a shadowy figure who lurks in the bushes and will block your path if you attempt to walk down the road it haunts.
Though most of these creatures are the stuff nightmares are made of, not all are considered bad luck or evil. In fact some, like the 'Gurt Dog' of Somerset, are considered benevolent and even helpful.
Anubis, the black jackal-headed god of the Underworld who is associated with mummification and judgemnt of the soul, is also known to safeguard the dead on their journey into the afterlife. He is also known as a fierce protector of children.
Now let me introduce you to my friend Tina's canine companion, Max.
Max is a Newfoundland mix-breed dog that weighs over 100 pounds, has a beautiful midnight-black coat, and stands an impressive three feet tall at the shoulder.
He also has an unusual attribute I find particularly intriguing. Max's eyes, when any source of light hits them including sunlight, will blaze crimson-orange like the fires of a freshly stoked hearth. It is definitely not Tapetum lucidum aka "eye shine" that causes Max's to look this way. It is a natural eye coloration he was likely born with. Though medical conditions such as conjunctivitis and entropion can certainly be causes for a dog's eyes to have an odd red color to them, Max is in great condition and has a clean bill of health, eyes and all.
And don't let Max's monstrous size and unique red orbs fool you for one moment. He is neither evil or dangerous.
Max is a gentle giant who Tina rescued some time ago from a shelter where he was passed over and unwanted by others.
Could Max's uncanny resemblence to the hounds of Hell be a reason he couldn't find his forever home for so long? Who knows. But it certainly is possible that Max, and others like him, could be the cause for many a campfire story and tales told on a stormy night.
I would like to think it was fate that brought him and Tina together. They're inseparable and are the center of each other's world. No greater love is there than the love between a person and their dog.
No matter the origins of these legends, they are indelibly etched into our cultures and heritage, and will surely live on well after we ourselves have moved on to the spectral plane.
Have a howling good day, Haven fans!
**Special thanks to my friend Linda Godfrey for her input regarding eye conditions and variations**