I just returned from a vacation in the Dominican Republic where I was fortunate enough to meet my first “Potcake” Dogs.
The Potcake dog is a mixed-breed dog type found on several Caribbean islands. Its name comes from the congealed rice and pea mixture that local residents traditionally fed dogs. Potcake dogs generally have smooth coats, cocked ears, and long faces, but the colour and sizes vary greatly.
These dogs share a common ancestry; terriers protecting supplies from rodents on ships that arrived in the Islands; and dogs from the States arrived with Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War period; it is also likely that the early Spanish settlers may have introduced their own dogs. In addition, many breeds were imported in the 20th century which interbred with the local dogs. DNA studies have shown no residue of early dog DNA in today's potcakes.
The dogs are named for the food they are given. Potcake refers to the congealed rice mixture at the bottom of the family cooking pot that Islanders have traditionally fed dogs. As of February 2011, the Bahamas Kennel Club lists it separately from the mixed-breed dog within Group 9 – Non-Registered.
Although described as having a "shepherd-mix" look the potcake dog's appearance varies by island. It may resemble a typical pariah dog or have hound, mastiff, spaniel, terrier, or retriever characteristics. The ones I saw on the Dominican looked very much like Terrier and Shepherd, smooth coat. They typically have cocked ears, a long face, and a smooth coat without undercoat, or less commonly, a "shaggy" or rough coat. I did see a few with a shaggy coat as well and these were only the larger types. As a result of their mixed heritage, potcakes vary widely in terms of color, with many being brown, white, black, and far more with mixed coats. On average, a potcake dog will stand approximately 24 inches (61 cm) at the withers. Healthy dogs typically weigh from 45 to 50 pounds (20 to 23 kg), while strays may weigh only 25 pounds (11 kg).
The Potcake Dogs are reportedly intelligent, loyal, calm, and resilient. I did have the opportunity to meet a few. One was a lovely little pet; obviously gentle, and calm. Others that I saw were skittish but perhaps that was actually a sign of intelligence. They may not be treated kindly by the locals. There were a group guarding a home that ran towards us but they were not at all angry or dangerous – warning barks only. I was also surprised at how few bugs I saw on the dogs, I expected to see them infested with ticks and/or fleas, mange, etc. They all seemed rather healthy. Unlike many dog breeds, these dogs are able to eat many foods that would be upsetting to most dogs. Their stomachs are incredibly hardy. However, they tend to wander if not properly confined or supervised.
While on a drive through the city we also passed a Veterinarians Office/Store. I don’t read Spanish but it certainly looked like dogs were not a priority of the clinic. It looks like livestock were what were given importance and deference to treatment on the Island. I just found it interesting, perhaps just another cultural difference. We treat our dogs like our children and they treat them like pests.
The number of stray potcake dogs on the Turks and Caicos Islands has apparently increased, despite spay-and-neuter programs designed to minimize their numbers. The territory is dependent on tourism and because of that, officials consider the dogs nuisances and police have shot and poisoned them. Strays have a median age of three years. In the Bahamas, misconceptions about spaying and neutering dissuade residents from altering their pets. According to The Bahamas Advocates for Animal Rights group, there are 11,000 unowned dogs in New Providence. Forty five percent of tourists report seeing roaming dogs, and two percent state they were "scared" by their presence.
In the Dominican there were far less dogs than I was expecting. I probably saw 25 dogs total in 2 days of driving and I do not believe that they were all strays. I think that people may allow their dogs to roam free – reminiscent of “Old Yeller.” I could certainly be wrong and I have made contacts with a rescue organization in Dominican Republic so that Whole Dog Now can learn more and help support these dogs in some way. If you have a Potcake Dog we would love to hear about him or her.