I have often spoke about my grandfather and all the dogs he had on his farm and how privileged I was to have had that much exposure to so many great working dog breeds growing up but it’s not very often I speak about the rest of my family and their history with different working dog breeds.
I was going through some boxes in the attic recently and came across an old picture of my great grandparents from my mothers side. My great grandfather and great grandmother were well known in the area of Portugal where I’m from. They were like local celebrities and even to this day, there is many stories about them that are still remembered by many friends and family that have been passed on from one generation to the next.
I am not a religious person in anyway but over the years any time I’ve ever needed any help or guidance I have always turned to my ancestors to give me the strength, determination and clear mind to tackle what ever task was ahead. To say that I am very proud of my family and where I come from would be an understatment.
Anyway, as I stood there in my attic looking at this picture of my great grandparents, a ton of stories and different bits of information that I have been told about them over the years came rushing back to me. I thought I would share with you a little about my great grandparents as it’s clear that they heavily influenced my grandfather and his involvement with workings dogs, who in turn, heavily influenced me. I have my grandfather to blame for my interest in working dogs.
My great grandfather is always described as a small but strong, wiry old school farmer who did not suffer fools gladly. He was renown for being a no-nonsense type of man who demanded respect and his word meant everything to him. He loved his dogs, he loved his horses, he loved his wife, he loved his kids and he absolutely adored a shot of home made Firewater on a cold and rainy winters day. The weather in central Portugal in the summer can reach up to 45 degrees celsius but in the winter it can be extremely cold and rain from morning to night. In his younger days he was in the army and fought for his country during his military service. His army number was “seventy” which became his nickname for his entire life, it later passed onto my grandfather, then it passed onto my godfather (my grandfathers eldest son) and most recently onto me as I am the oldest great grandson. I am the 4th generation of men in my family to be known as “seventy”, this is something I have great pride in and lives with me every day of my life. I enjoy going back home and seeing all of the older ladies and gents who remember my great grandparents and grandparents and being known to descend from people that are held in such high regard. It’s a great honour when people call me “seventy”. I have a young son who is the oldest great great grandson of my great grandfather and I hope that when he grows up that he will be the 5th generation of men known as “seventy”. If that is not history then I do not know what is!
There is a famous old saying that behind every great man, there is great woman and my great grandmother epitomises that. She was a strong independent woman, who lived for her husband and her children. She was a well known baker in the area who made bread for many of the locals. Due to the high demand for her bread, she had to do multiple rounds of bread and deliver them during the early hours of the morning every day in darkness. My great grandmother was known to carry a gun in her sock for protection just incase anyone tried to steal her earnings. It’s said that she carried the same gun throughout her whole life until her dying days. She, like my great grandfather, did not suffer fools gladly and was well loved by everyone in the area. I’m very proud to say that my great grandmother could read and write which was a rare thing in the late 1800’s in a small rural community in central Portugal. It just shows the type of woman she was that she self taught herself to read and write whilst being a hard working wife and mother. Later, when she was older and her daughters were living and working away in cities like Lisbon and Paris, she put her writing skills to good use and would regularly keep in contact with them via letter through out the year until they visited again.
If there was ever a law abiding version of Bonnie & Clyde, my great grandparents were it.
My family, as far back as I can trace them, have always been involved with farming, livestock, horses and of course dogs. Its something that’s been passed onto from one generation to the next. In order to keep the many animals they owned on the farm in check and to help them when they were out hunting, they had a number of breeds that assisted them come rain or sun.
The dog that over the years has been mentioned the most from my great grandparents era was the Portuguese Alão who was the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Alano. I’m talking about the original Spanish Alano and not the modern recreated version from the 70’s and 80’s. My great aunt who sadly passed away 6 years ago at the grand old age of 103 told me that these dogs were also known as “Cão do campo” in my local area which means “country dog”. They were a multi functional farm dog, capable of dealing with the livestock and hunt large game without any issues but yet we’re docile and caring with their owners. These types of dogs used to be in abundance all over the Iberian Peninsula but slowly began to disappear as times changed and many people moved away from the country lifestyle. The Portuguese Alão is now extinct but many stories are still told today about them by the older folk who remember them as young children. I am sure that some of them ended up going to Spain as I recall my grandfather in the 80’s and 90’s exchanging dogs with many of the Spanish hunters and farmers. I think the best hunters and farmers over the years have all known each other in Portugal and Spain and regularly exchanged dogs and worked together, especially in areas like Alentejo, Portugal and Extremadura and Andalusia, Spain.
Another breed that my great grandparents owned was the “Rafeiro” which means “mongrel” in Portuguese and was the name given to any large livestock dog from the Alentejo region. These working livestock guardians went on to become the breed we know today as Rafeiro do Alentejo. I think back then, any large livestock guardian was called a Rafeiro and I doubt there would have been as many differences as there are today between the Rafeiro do Alentejo and the other large livestock breeds of Portugal like the Cão da Serra da Estrela and Cão de Gado Transmontano as there is today. These livestock guardian breeds were not only entrusted to look after the livestock but were considered highly intelligent dogs by farmers as they would live out in the pastures all year around with the sheep and would barely ever be fed, as they would live off any sheep that passed away and would also hunt anything that they came across. The Rafeiros also doubled up as cart pullers when the horses, mules and donkeys were elsewhere or had already been worked. They pulled carts of milk churns on a regular basis and depending on the time of year they would also pull carts full of olives or olive oil in autumn and early winter and then in Spring and early summer they would pull stacks of cork that had just been extracted.
They also always had “hairy” dogs as they were called, that would work on the farm as well as along side the livestock guardians in the field. These hairy dogs did the leg work for the larger dogs but they weren’t a specific breed but more of a local type probably made up of a variety of different working types. If I was to have a guess they were probably crosses between the ancestors of the Portuguese Water Dog and the Cão Serra da Aires or local types of them. These dogs were used the most out of all of the breeds on the farm due to their temperament, size, speed and being extremely multi functional.
The fourth and final breed that I was often told about that my great grandparents always owned was a good Portuguese Pointer or should I say the ancestor of todays Portuguese Pointer. A breed heavily associated with the Alentejo region and considered by many as one of the oldest Pointers in Europe. It was originally bred to hunt red partridges, but today its a highly rated HPR breed used on a variety of game and terrains. The breed back then hadn’t been officially recognised by the Portuguese KC yet and therefore still came in a variety of coat colours but the most widely seen was fawn and white pied which is the colour that I’m told that my great grandfather owned the most. If I could go back in time and get one of these fawn and white Portuguese Pointers owned by my great grandfather I would. Them fawn and white pointers are still spoken about in high regard by many of the older fanciers even today. Unfortunately, they are mainly all fawn today due to silly show standards and less and less are being worked in the field but I’m happy to say that many hunters in the Alentejo region still work them.
I know that times have changed and peoples expectations have changed but let’s not forget how hard our ancestors worked to scrape a living and give us the many great working breeds that we have today. As you can see It was a very busy life all year around for my great grandparents and anyone that was a hunter and farmer during them times but I know they loved it and wouldn’t have had it any other way. I hope that both are resting in peace alongside my grandparents who have also passed away and they are living the good life on the farm together in heaven. Sharing stories around the fire and drinking some good old firewater.