Like so many countries, pet dogs have not always been treated with all the care some dog lovers would demand. Over time, some have escaped or been abandoned. They interbreed and have several generations down the line developed a race of feral dogs which roam around the countryside. Totally opportunistic, the skulk around the waste bins in villages, steal what they can from the humans or live off the smaller residents of the agricultural areas. During the growing season the cane fields make the perfect place for these dogs to hide away. Once off a cane track the monocrop of sugar grows tall, with little undergrowth. Perfect for dogs to skulk around, make a nest, shelter from the rain and shade from the sun.
Meeting one or two of these dogs on the cane tracks was never a problem. They may stare for a moment but they tended to be scared of humans and avoided them at all cost. Maybe the memory of being shouted at or abused made them cowed. But get more than two together and you start to have a pack, and other instincts start taking over. They grow in confidence together and start barking and running at you. Standing your ground can help in some cases, but the strong minded ones with an alpha dog leading will still come on at you. I learnt quickly that only by having a collection of hand sized stones can you deter the pack. They never needed to hit the dogs; I’m not sure my aim was that good anyway, as long as something headed towards then and hit the ground it would be enough to unsettle them. But I always had more than one stone in my pocket in case it didn’t. It became a ritual for me to collect a few as I crossed the coast road in St Francis, and only release the unused ones as I headed back to the gate of my compound.
At first I was fairly cautious where I explored in the cane fields; initially I was not even sure they were public spaces. The plantations were fiercely protective of their property and despite the declining importance of the industry, still influential. But then I saw that I was not alone out in the fields. I would see lycra clad walkers and joggers, couples trying to find a bit of space away from their respective families, sometimes little troops of children playing all sorts of imaginary games.