By Louis Cahill
A group of uniformed US Customs officials has assembled to inspect the contents of my carry-on luggage before I am allowed to leave the Bahamas for home.
They each peer inquisitively through the zippered opening of the black tote and repeat, “Oh my God! She’s adorable.”
I have known for years that I wanted a Bahamian Potcake for my next dog. These bright eyed, slender dogs, common throughout the Bahamas, stole my heart. The Potcake, only recently recognized as a breed, is a kind of super-mutt made up of the working dogs that colonists brought to the islands to work the plantations. They are wicked smart, hardy and, once bonded to a human, fiercely loyal. They, in many ways, exhibit the traits I admire in the Bahamian people. Not surprisingly, as they, without meaning to be insensitive, share a very similar backstory. Each has carved out a life for themselves under harsh circumstances, maintaining strong family structures, and living by their wits. The Bahamians and the Potcakes, not only exist but thrive, against all odds, and in doing so have developed a strength of character which is both admirable and endearing.
I’ve been fishing at the Andros South Bonefish Lodge for many years. The staff and guides there have become friends and the island of South Andros a place of refuge where I feel an uncommon sense of well being. There is a small family of potcakes there, who I have become attached to, the eldest being a female named Brownie. Although these dogs enjoy the adoration of anglers from around the world, they are not exactly domesticated. They are not exactly feral either but some of them, especially the puppies, are untouchable. Brownie, however, is one of the best natured dogs I have ever known and, from each litter, at least a couple of her pups has her sweet disposition. While all potcakes are great dogs, this family line is truly special to me.
South Andros is a poor island. Its people, for the most part, have big hearts and small wallets. There is no veterinarian on the island and few folks have the money to fly a dog to Nassau for medical care. Certainly not for non-essentials like spay and neuter. As a result, a huge population of feral potcakes fight for limited resources. The name potcake comes from the traditional Bahamian dish of peas and rice, which leaves a burned matt in the bottom of the pot, called the potcake. These are thrown out for the dogs and beyond that their diet is random lizards, bugs and whatever washes up on the beach. Many of them starve, or are killed for hunting livestock.
This year, things lined up for me and I decided it was time for a dog. I could adopt a dog easily at home, but what I wanted was one of the Andros potcakes. There are always fresh puppies and I found myself drawn to one in particular. A little black puppy, the runt of the litter, who the guys at the lodge named Permit because she was impossible to catch. I knew she’d be a challenge, but she would likely not make it if she didn’t get a home.
I spent a week tossing bits of food to this gaunt little potcake, hoping to win her trust. It was a totally unsuccessful campaign. The more I fed her, the more she knew something was up. Permit proved to be a fitting name and after staying up all night Thursday, hoping she would nod off, on Friday morning I gave up and called my wife to tell her I would not be bringing a dog home. As I was delivering the news, I heard explosive cheers outside my door. Jason, part of the Andros South crew, had made a daring leap and grabbed her. I spent the next 20 hours tethered to a feral dog, which was as exciting as it sounds, but the next morning she went pretty calmly into a pet carrier and boarded a plane for Nassau.
I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I’d done my research and I knew that all I needed was a rabies shot and a certificate of health from a Bahamian vet to bring her into the US. It all sounded simple enough, but there I was at the Nassau airport with a scared little dog and no firm plan. I arrived at 9:45 on Saturday morning and was booked on a 12:45 flight to Atlanta. I figured I’d be changing my flight, at the least, and maybe staying in Nassau until Monday. Permit was looking like a very expensive ‘free dog.’ When I got to the Delta ticket counter I discovered something I didn’t expect.
When you tell people in the Bahamas you are rescuing a potcake, they drop what they are doing and help.
Everyone loves these dogs and they know how badly the strays need help. The ticket agent put me on the phone with Happy Pets, a local vet who was open on Saturday.
“Don’t change your ticket,” the vet told me, “come now.”
I jumped into a cab and and headed to Happy Pets. When I walked in the door they were ready for me. With a waiting room full of customers, everyone in the place stopped what they were doing and went to work on my little girl. In ten minutes she had her shots, her certificate of health, and a new leash and harness. The vet gave me his card and said, “If you have any trouble at the airport, call me. I know some people.” Another customer left his wife and dog to drive me to the airport. I was back in time for a sit-down lunch before my flight.
When I presented my paperwork to the customs officials, I expected a problem, but the agent only glanced at it and said, “thank you for taking this dog home.” The whole process was so easy it felt surreal. Everyone involved was so supportive. My little potcake was a US citizen but she was still a wild dog. She never made a sound the whole day. She was remarkably calm but I figured all hell would break loose when I opened that pet carrier.
“Where are you? I’m so excited I can’t sit down!!!” read the text from my wife.
She was standing in the front yard when my Uber car pulled up. The timid little potcake didn’t struggle. Her dirty little face got kissed until it was wet and she spent an hour or two under the coffee table. I expected to spend the next week moving furniture looking for her, but she pretty quickly spotted the leather sofa in front of the TV and made it home. I expected the absolute worst a wild animal could give me, but again I was surprised.
That potcake intelligence is an amazing thing. She matriculated into our family faster than any pet I’ve ever had. It took only two days to housebreak her. She had no separation issues and got along great with our two cats. She slept in the bed with us, and was quiet as a mouse until we opened our eyes, at which point the little dog no one could catch licked our faces with joy. I expected a traumatized, wild animal and I got a loving, grateful companion. She wasn’t a permit any longer. I named her Josie, after my friend Josie Sands who guides at Andros South. Anyone who knows him will appreciate the humor in that.
Josie has been with us for two weeks now. She is growing like a weed, got a clean bill of health and booster shots from our vet and has quickly become a favorite at the local Petco. She loves the drift boat and exploring around the river. She’s a snuggler and a very chill puppy. Yeah, I’m pretty silly for my dog, but I don’t mind telling you, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years. There’s magic in a dog and it will change your life.
If it’s time for a dog in your family, consider a potcake. You don’t have to go out and catch a wild one, although I encourage you to. There are plenty of potcake rescues to help you find one of these awesome dogs. If it’s not the right time, please consider a donation to BAARK, an organization which does catch and spay clinics on the out islands.
Here are some resources to get you started.
Happy Pets– A great pot cake friendly vet in Nassau.
BAARK– Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness.Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!