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The Dogs of Los Roques

The Fly Fish Journal
Summer, 2014

Dogs were everywhere.  They trotted down sandy streets, slept in doorways or stretched out next to walls.  We had come to the Venezuelan island of Los Roques to fish, but it was comforting to be among people who loved dogs. Our posada had a resident dog, some type of cocker mix, who tip-tapped across the tile floor as I called to her in the voice that always brings dogs tail-wagging. But Posada Dog just kept tip-tapping across the floor, tail held high but without a bit of wag, eyes straight ahead.  I called to her again.  She acknowledged my voice with a slight turn of her head, but her squat legs kept moving until she was out the door.

We were eager to fish Venezuela but the directions for our arrival didn’t make us feel all too comfortable.  “Look for the transfer company representative, who should be no further than 30 feet from the main exit door.  Ask him questions to be sure you are dealing with the right person.  By NO means should you leave with another person.”  We found the right person and he ushered us to a van with closed curtains, probably to keep the heat out rather than hide us from potential kidnappers who wanted fresh American organs. 

After a drug dog sniffed half-heartedly at our luggage, we paid our fee at the small wooden booth and entered Los Roques Archipelago National Park where much of the crowd in front of us gathered around the Oscar Souvenir Shop with its plastic swim tubes and signs advertising scuba diving lessons and island tours.  We walked down sandy streets lined with buildings in hues of purple and pink to our posada, a white building with bright green doors and shutters. The staff motioned us into an open-air dining room for breakfast, where we were served eggs and fresh papaya and I was ignored by cheeky little Posada Dog.

As we carried our rods and dry bags to the boats, more dogs ambled past us with the same response.  No slobbered greetings, no wiggling butts, no panting faces stretched back into a smile of unquestioning acceptance.  A black dog sleeping in the street didn’t even open his eyes when I walked a foot from him. A dirty brown dog was curled up three feet away from him.  A small black and white dog strutted down the beach.  Each dog was a mix of watered-down DNA pools, but the one thing they had in common was their indifference.

Our Venezuelan guides, the same swaggering cowboys in any fishing town, took us to pancake flats and white sand beaches to hunt bonefish for the afternoon before returning us to our posada.  After dinner, we walked down the street to the Central Plaza Bolivar, where the locals milled around the street or sat on a low brick wall and kids kicked a soccer ball.  The dogs milled around as well, purposefully weaving in and out of the gathering crowds or dozing in the shade.  A little border collie mix stared down the street, comfortably at ease with one front leg tucked underneath his chest.  Three dogs were stretched out along the sidewalk curb, and a shepherd mix lifted his head and then plopped it down again.  I almost got the attention of a short-legged golden mix, but he decided to chew at his haunch instead.  

The dogs of Los Roques are DWAs: Dogs With Attitude.  They live on an island inhabited by roughly 1,200 permanent residents, most of them owners of posadas, restaurants, gift shops, and fishing boats, supporting themselves and their families largely from the daily planes bussing tourists to their shore.  Most of them also own dogs, though few have ever seen a leash.  These are free-ranging dogs whose days are spent greeting each other with cool peripheral glances and searching for places to nap on streets where the only vehicle is the weekly garbage truck.  Unlike American dogs, who use their expressive eyes to get snacks, belly rubs or a thrown stick, the dogs of Los Roques don’t make eye contact, nor do they need to.  They can root through garbage cans without being scolded, prefer sleeping to chasing, and are immune to an American dog’s love of petting.


American dogs have been finely tuned genetically and behaviorally to accommodate our needs.  We select a dog like we pick out toilet paper, preferring a certain softness or strength or packaging.  An athletic Labrador, a placid golden, a portable terrier.  And if what we need doesn’t exist, we make it ourselves, like a Labradoodle for the allergy-prone, or a Morkie, a Chi-weenie, a schnug (“All the pug, less hair on the rug!”), then we train them to adjust to our world.  River dogs stand at the front of the boat waiting for fish they cannot eat.  Truck dogs sit in an open truck bed in a busy parking lot and will not jump out.  People walk their unleashed dogs on downtown streets and park them next to a meter while they step inside a boutique.  The dogs wait with restrained impatience, their eyes fixed on the door until their owners return and life can resume.   Americans expect ready and eager attention from their dogs.

In past years, we have been to fishing lodges that cater to American anglers.  But as I stalked down a Los Roques beach past a group of suntanning men and women from an anchored yacht, I realized this was a different world. A woman in a thong bikini stared through her black sunglasses at me in my UPF 50 fishing shirt, pants, and sun gloves with a buff pulled up over my face.  I was casting to eight-pound bonefish eating glass minnows along the beach, but to her I looked a little nuts.  The powder-white beaches and turquoise waters attract more tourists seeking maximum sun than tailing fish, so  anglers are not lavished with the same attention they receive from lodges where fishing is the primary focus. This is humbling and refreshing. 

When a rainy morning eliminated our sight-casting opportunities, our guide decided to take advantage of rolling tarpon 60 feet off the beach where local fishing boats were anchored.  We waited as the fishermen in their weathered pangas maneuvered their way through the 50-100 pound tarpon cruising the waters before we could safely cast. Commercial fishing is still an important part of the economy and supplies posadas and restaurants with fresh fish for their guests.  The local fishermen moved their boats past us purposefully, indifferent to our excitement as we managed to jump and land a 60-pound tarpon. 

We fished the last morning before heading to the airstrip.  At the Oscar Souvenir Shop, one of our guides sat on a stack of plastic beach chairs and chatted with us while holding a mastiff by a short leash attached to a studded collar.  The mastiff sat upright, dignified and serene with the row of pink-and-yellow plastic swim tubes dangling above him.  Sometimes he looked around curiously at the crowd waiting to board the plane, wrinkling his broad forehead at the tourists snapping last pictures of the island. A  new type of dog in Los Roques, well-bred, trained and leashed, with heightened awareness of the people around him.  Hopefully, he is not a sign of change.  Los Roques is a community first and a destination second, pleasantly indifferent to the tourists who visit.  And so are the dogs.

The Dogs of Los Roques: Work
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