Throughout history, the multi-cultural phenomenon of large, supernatural black dogs have appeared in legends, folklore, and numerous modern eye-witness reports. Characteristically, these phantom canines are larger than most ordinary dogs and are always black in colour with fiery, red eyes. They usually appear for only a few moments, then vanish into thin air. Sometimes they are benevolent, but more often they are sinister and viscious.
Sometimes called "Hellhounds", phantom dogs are usually associated with death or the devil. Some claim these dogs accompany a black robed figure assumed to be the devil, while others believe these animals are shapeshifters, a disguise of the devil.
Large Black Dogs with fiery, red eyes reportedly raided European churches several times during the middle ages. They would enter a church service (usually during a severe storm) and appear to be searching for something or someone; and on August 4, 1577, in Bongay, England, a large black dog ran down the aisle of a church, killed two people in attendance and badly injured another.
Many reports in England and the United States report ghostly canines crossing roads in front of cars, then vanishing into thin air as the car approaches.
Numerous Black Dog sightings occur in cemeteries, and some speculate the phantom creatures patrol and protect the graves of the dead. These sightings appear to be concentrated in New England. Legends of headless or limbless graveyard dogs surround slave cemeteries in the South. While most encounters with these dogs are of a viscous nature, some mourners have claimed to have been comforted by these creatures.
The Black Dog of Hanging Hills
A particularly interesting legend of a supernatural black dog is found in the high-altitude forests of Hanging Hills, Connecticut. A friendly, small dog is blamed for the deaths of several experienced hikers and climbers in the area. Local legend warns:
"If a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die."
Although this sounds like a local legend to add mystery to the already spooky landscape, or to explain the tragedies of those who have died in the hills, documented encounters with the dog suggest there is truth behind the warnings.
In the early 1900ís, a geologist, W.H.C. Pynchon, encountered the little black dog and found it to be good company while hiking. Pynchonís second encounter with the dog was with a friend, who had seen the dog on two occasions. They were climbing to the summit of one peak and was surprised to find the little black dog waiting for them. It soundlessly barked, and Pynchonís friend suddenly lost his footing and plunged to his death. That was his friend's third encounter with the mysterious black dog. Pynchon soon learned of the legend of the black dog and related his story to the Connecticut Quarterly. Surprisingly, Pynchon returned to the Hanging Hills a few years later, and his body was later found near the same place his friend had died. Many speculate that Pynchon encountered the little dog a third and final time.
Banshees are spirits found in Celtic lore which appear to people as an omen of impending death or often are only heard wailing loudly after someone has died. Several reports depict Banshees appearing in the form of an ordinary dog.
One day, a large friendly German Shepard appeared in the backyard of an elderly Massachusetts couple. No one saw it arrive, but the grandchildren began playing with the dog and it seemed happy to stay with them, refusing to leave the property and staying close by the grandfatherís side. Soon after the appearance of the strange dog, the the grandfather suffered a heart attack and, after spending several days in the hospital, was beginning to fully recover. At home, however, the dog grew more and more agitated and moaned loudly, unable to be comforted. Unexpectedly, the grandfather suffered a second heart attack and died. The mysterious dog disappeared while the family was at the funeral and was never seen or heard from again.
Some reports of black dogs, however sketchy, have been associated with big cat sightings in England and, in even fewer cases, UFOs. However, in most reports of phantom dogs, they exhibit supernatural abilities that suggest they are more than a stray animal. Dogs have always played a large role in ancient religions (the jackals of Egypt and Cerberus of Greek/Roman literature) and their image and symbolism is reflected to modern times.
Unexplained! : Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena by Jerome Clark
The Field Guide to North American Monsters by W. Haden Blackman
Passing Strange : True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors by Joseph A. Citro