Canary Island Fighting Dog

Pictured above is a specimen of the breed to which Bane and Hera belonged: the Presa Canario Dog, also know as the Canary Island Fighting Dog.

Noel and Knoller during the time they had possession of Bane and Hera never subjected them to any formal obedience training. Both dogs had displayed aggression towards people or other dogs prior to the mauling of Whipple, although this was denied by the defendants. On the other hand, there were numerous occasions away from the location of theor home during which the dogs acted friendly towards strangers.

At the time of the incident, Hera, a reproductively intact female, was about 2.5 years old, weighed about 110 lbs. and had been on the premises for about 9 months prior to the mauling. Three-year old Bane, a reproductively intact male, weighed about 125 pounds and had been with Noel and Knoller in their small San Francisco apartment for about 4 months.

Origin and history | Characteristics | Current Status | Presa Canario Club of America | Click here for story that appeared in the LA Times about the Presa Canario | Dr. Polsky's commentary: "An unfair rap for the Canary dog"

Origin and History: Perro de Presa Canario, better known as the Canary Island fighting dog, was originally developed in the Spanish Canary Islands in the mid- 1800's. The breed was developed from a cross between indigenous herding dogs on that island and the English mastiff and English bulldog. Although an early version of breed may have been present as far back as the 1500's for use by farmers in rural areas for the guarding of livestock , there's no doubt that for the majority of this breed's recent history it has been used exclusively for dog fighting purposes and urban family protection. Dog fighting was banned in the Canary Islands in 1940's and with that the demise of the Canary dog quickly set in. It was near extinction in the 1960's and about that time an American veterinarian, Dr. Carl Semencic, is credited with reviving its numbers.

Characteristics: The well muscled relatively large bone dog who whose weight ranges between 90 and a hundred and twenty pounds. They stand approximately 21 to 25 inches high and have a head as wide as it is long. Temperamental descriptions of the breed include: "requires an experience handler with good authoritarian skills .... excellent watchdogs .... temperament usually very hard and it can be unfriendly towards strangers .... a guard dog par excellence .... reliable family protector .... among the most even tempered and old round working dogs you will find ." Breeder's note that there are two variety of Canary dog: The purebred variety whose origins trace back to the Canary Islands, and a variety that was developed in Spain from a mixture with Fila Brasillero dogs. Fila dogs were used in South America for hunting Jaguars. Some believe that there are definite temperamental differences between the pure variety and the variety consisting of a Presa-Fila cross.

Current Status: Since the killing of Diane Whipple, there has been a surge in interest in this breed. Breeders report people calling specifically stating that they won a dog "like the one that killed the lady in San Francisco." Experts feel that it rapid surge in popularity this breed will result in individuals of poor genetic stock and consequently more prone to serious, unprovoked attacks on people. The breed is currently recognized by the Federation of International Canines. It is not recognized as a breed by the A.K.C. but certified Canary dogs can be listed with the A.K.C. under the A.K.C. stock service program. At present, the actual number of Canary dogs in the United States is unknown, although it's probably less than 500.

New Rep as Killer Drives Up Demand for Presa Canario
Beth Schuster, Los Angeles Times (March 17th, 2002)

As the mauling trial of two San Francisco lawyers nears its conclusion, breeders of the type of vicious dogs that killed lacrosse coach Diane Whipple are caught in a paradox. Business has never been better--but for all the wrong reasons. The massive, boulder-headed Presa Canario is gaining in popularity as a result of the publicity surrounding the gruesome attack. They are the dog of choice for those who want the most explicit symbol of ferocity the pet kingdom has to offer, breeders and trainers say.

As with pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds before them, some say it is a question of whether man's best friend is being bred to be man's worst enemy. "They're looking for that designer weapon that could make them look tougher," said Tracy Hennings, a breeder in Cleveland who is president of the Dogo Canario Club of America. "They want that tough, macho, big dog at the end of the chain, lunging and charging."

As a result, the Whipple case is drawing interest and concern from law enforcement officials, already alarmed by both the growing number of aggressive dogs and dog-bite cases." A gun doesn't have a mind of its own," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Bill Herndon, the city's vicious-dog hearing officer. "With a dog, the owner has to be even more vigilant."

Lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who housed the powerful dogs that killed neighborWhipple, are on trial for involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog. Knoller, who was with the dogs when they attacked Whipple in the hallway outside her apartment in January 2001, also faces a second-degree murder charge. Closing arguments are set to begin Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, where the trial was moved because of a torrent of pretrial publicity in San Francisco. People Are Looking for 'Killer Dogs'

The case has served as a perverse advertisement for Presa Canario dogs, which were first imported to North America a little more than a decade ago. Breeders say they are receiving dozens and dozens of calls, faxes and e-mail messages requesting information about the 120-pound canine titans. Most, they add, are not exactly from people looking for a family pet. "They want those 'killer dogs,' " said Dan Wilson, a Presa Canario breeder in Canada. "As soon as the dog killed that woman, they wanted them."

Wilson says Presa Canarios, which are loyal and not overly aggressive if purebred, are likely to be long stigmatized as a result of the gruesome San Francisco case." These dogs are going to be ruined," said Wilson, owner of Vulcan Kennels near Toronto. "It's going to catch on with lunatics before it gets a good base with serious owners."

Presa Canarios, which have large heads, muscular necks and low-slung bodies, were brought to America from the Canary Islands. Originally, the dogs were bred from English mastiffs and the now-extinct Bardino Majero. Long ago, they were used by butchers to hold down cattle and bulls while they were being slaughtered, and by farmers to pull heavy carts and for other tasks. Since their arrival here, the breed has not been recognized by the American Kennel Club. But some breeders continue to produce only purebreds, saying they have superior coloring, size and temperament. Others, however, are cross-breeding Presa Canarios with such aggressive canines as pit bulls and mastiffs. Those dogs, Hennings and others say, are larger, stronger and more violent. Dogs Can Weigh Up to 140 Pounds

North American breeders are now producing crossbred males that weigh 120 to 130 pounds. In some cases, they weigh as much as 140 pounds and can cost $1,500 and up. Bane, the dog that attacked Whipple, weighed about 123 pounds; the second dog that participated in the mauling, Hera, weighed 112 pounds. Although the killing of Whipple is the only known human death attributed to Presa Canarios, the case is drawing attention from authorities concerned about an increasing number of attacks by ferocious dogs.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health says about 170,000 dog bites a year are reported in the county, 153,000 of those to children under the age of 12. Officials believe, however, that the true numbers are far higher because many bites are never reported. From 1979 to 1996, there were 300 dog bite fatalities across the nation, according to a study by the Humane Society of the United States. Of those, Rottweilers were the most commonly reported breed involved, followed by pit bull-type dogs. Together, those two breeds were responsible for 60% of the deadly attacks.

"When you have dogs like pit bulls who are not trained or not well trained, it's like having a loaded gun," said Jackie David, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. In response, authorities are increasingly turning to force themselves. Last year, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shot 53 dogs.

Bane and Hera, who were eventually destroyed, were crossbred Presa Canarios. Bane's ancestry included mastiffs and Great Danes.

Knoller and Noel cared for the dogs after taking them from a farm where authorities believe they killed livestock and ripped fences. Knoller testified last week that when she first saw the dogs, they were chained outdoors. Hera was barking and Bane, she said, was acting "like a wild animal."

Animal-care experts and others say Presa Canarios require rigorous training well before they turn 1 year old. In that way, they can be controlled and their aggressive tendencies reduced. In the case of Bane and Hera, however, several experts said it was clear they did not receive adequate socialization or training in their early lives. Rather, authorities allege, the dogs were being raised illegally as part of a breeding ring of fighting dogs owned by two inmates in Pelican Bay
State Prison.

"The monsters were created before they ever came into the hands of the defendants," said Richard H. Polsky, a Los Angeles animal behavior specialist who was hired by the defense in the Whipple case but never testified at trial.

Still, even those who say responsible owners will provide their dog with proper training and socialization acknowledge that Presa Canarios are powerful, territorial animals. On one Presa Canario Web site, photos are shown of the dogs with infants. But a cautionary note adds: "The Presa Canario is a very tame dog with the family. . . . However, he may not be a 'baby-sitter dog.' If the Presa is introduced in a family with children, it is necessary to teach the
children how to treat and respect the dog for preventing any unfortunate inconveniences."

Fear, Excitement Said to Incite Dog's Biting

Another breeders' Web site--BraveHeart Kennel in North Carolina--also acknowledges the reputation of the breed. "With the naming of our dogs, we are not implying that our dogs are overly aggressive, loaded guns, lethal weapons or attack dogs. They are just firm guard dogs with Brave Hearts."

Breeders warn that Presa Canarios should not be wrestled with nor allowed to play tug-of-war games in which they grab rags and shake their heads vigorously. Such activities, in the words of breeder Tracy Hennings, can "build up the dog's bite drive."

To Hennings and others, Bane and Hera displayed classic aggressive tendencies. Hera appears to have been a fear biter, Hennings said. "They take real weak bites with the front of the mouth. They snap, they bite and they release." Authorities say Hera shredded Whipple's clothes in the attack. Bane, however, appeared to be motivated by excitement, Hennings and others said, and was virtually unstoppable. Authorities say Bane bit Whipple's throat and was responsible for the most serious of the 77 bites on her body.

Breeders across the country, who are closely monitoring the trial, say it appears obvious that Knoller did not know how to properly handle her dogs, a prescription for potential disaster. When Knoller encountered Whipple in the apartment hallway, she acknowledged in court, she "could not stop him [Bane] from doing what he was doing." Said Canadian breeder Wilson: "She walked out with 250 pounds of dog on a leash. The thought of someone walking around like that blows my mind. It's sickening."

Breeders say well-trained Presa Canarios can serve as loyal guard dogs. Richard Kelly, who owns Show Stopper Kennels in Middlesex, N.J., says many of his calls for the breed come from families in which one parent is traveling and the spouse needs protection. Several Presa Canario owners say their dogs are loving and well-behaved with their children. They would not attack unless someone was attempting to hurt them, the owners say.

But police, animal regulation officials and others say such large, aggressive dogs are also often used by gang members, drug dealers and others to protect them as they undertake their illicit. "This breed," said Polsky, the animal-behavior specialist, "is increasing in popularity, and undoubtedly, this breed will fall into the wrong hands."

Dr. Polsky's Commentary

An Unfair Rap for the Canary Dog
Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D.,
Animal Behavior Counseling Services, Inc, Los Angeles

Beth Schuster's article in the March 17th issue of the Times ("New Rep as Killer Drives Up Demand for Presa Canario") conveys a misleading image of the Presa Canario breed. The implicit theme of the article is that this particular breed of dog is aggressive by nature and for this reason exceptionally careful management of individuals within this breed is required. As an animal behaviorist by profession, I express concern for this message because it is grossly inaccurate to characterize any individual belonging to any breed as aggressive by nature simply because they belong to a particular breed. This logic not only holds for the Canary dog but also for the other so-called "dangerous" breeds such as Rottweilers and Pit bulls. One must realize that individuals within any given breed differ tremendously in temperamental features, particularly with reference to their aggressive propensities.

We should not lose sight of the fact that probably only a small percentage of Canary dogs kept as pets - the breed of dog involved in the mauling of Diane Whipple - possess the necessary aggressive motivation needed to enable them to inflicting severe injury or death onto a person. In fact, it is more likely than not that the vast majority of Canary dogs that currently reside in this country (probably about 1000) are docile and non aggressive, and serve their owners as loyal companions. The same probably also holds true for the vast majority of Rottweilers and Pit bulls.

On the other hand, this is not to deny the fact that, generally speaking, these breeds possess a heightened potential for aggressive responding - particularly in regard to territorial / protective behavior - due to years of selective breeding. However, knowing this potential exist should not be taken to mean that sooner or later every dog belonging to the breed will eventually express this potential in the form of unprovoked hostility towards a person. In short, it would be grossly unfair to characterize or imply that all individuals within the Presa Canario breed are aggressive by nature.

In fact, during the trail of the defendants in the Whipple case the general breed characteristics of the Canary dog, and their supposedly inherent aggressive nature, was not made much of an issue by the prosecution. I suspect that this facet of the case was intentionally left out because the prosecution knew that to argue such might be counter-productive. Instead, they chose to focus on the individual characteristics of the two dogs in question, Bane and Hera, and their past aggressive displays to the neighbors of the defendants or to unfamiliar people in and around the San Francisco apartment complex.

The science of animal behavior tells us that both nature and nurture combined interactively to shape the temperament of any dog, regardless of breed. This is an idea that has been around since the time of Aristotle. It is a salient point that Schuster did not mention in her article. In the case of Bane and Hera, it is likely that these dogs became the terrors they were through the neglect they experienced before they even came into the hands of the defendants. Specifically, evidence presented at trial indicated that Bane and Hera were regularly chained and kept away from people during the first year of their life while on the farm of Janet Coumbs.

Such neglect should be a lesson in terms of how not to raise any dog, particularly in a individual from a breed who possesses a heightened potential for aggression. Any dog, regardless of breed, needs to be raised in a caring environment, properly trained and socialized from an early age. Animal behaviorists use the adage "Child is the father to man" to stress the importance of early experience. If this was taken into account with Bane and Hera, it is conceivable the mauling of Diana Whipple would have never happened.