For much of April and May, I spent my mornings looking for a dog in Prospect Park. The dog wasn’t mine and I had never seen him before. I’d heard the rumors though: That he’s large as a horse, that he’s sweet, no aggressive, no sweet, that he guards the Nethermead—our park’s own spirit animal—that he has a laidback if not negligent owner in Lefferts Garden, and perhaps, most importantly, most factually, that he lives in the park full-time.
And that’s the truth. Up until a few weeks ago, “Ghost Dog,” as he’s called by Sean Casey Animal Rescue (and as I’ll refer to him here), “Prospero” by Brooklynian forum members, and “Brooklyn” by others, was a full-fledged resident of Prospect Park. He was feral but only in a certain sense for he wasn’t raised in the wild; the wild adopted him, and he the wild, four years ago. Before then, he had a home. Those that have seen or befriended him recognize the most obvious sign, his clipped ears and docked tail. Clipping and docking, surgical practices once designed to promote the health and safety of fighting, hunting, and working dogs (ears and tails are easy targets for opposing animals), are now widely used for aesthetic reasons. It’s the canine equivalent of breast augmentation or rhinoplasty. Although banned in many parts of Europe, ear clipping and tail docking, as well as declawing, are recognized by the American Kennel Club as “acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character.” Preserving Ghost Dog’s breed character came first—his ears are razored short and sit tightly against his head, his tail is a bluntly cut nub, the epilogue to a taut, dense body—but what happened to his owner next is lost in the annals of Ghost Dog’s short history. Perhaps the dog was abandoned, perhaps he escaped, perhaps he simply got lost; perhaps it doesn’t even matter.
Ghost Dog is six or seven years old now, five at the very youngest. He is a large, muscular, and well-groomed brindle Cane Corso Mastiff. The Cane Corso is an Italian breed, a descendant of the Roman canes pugnaces, or literally “war dog.” Roman war dogs were Molossers, a category of large, sturdy dogs with short muzzles. Two Italian breeds—the bulky Neapolitan Mastiff and the lighter Cane Corso—splintered from the original cane pugnace. The lighter and more versatile of the two, the Cane Corso was used to herd stock, protect game, and occasionally to fight as an auxiliary soldier. There is some uncertainty about the etymology of the name “Corso.” It may derive from the Latin, cohors, for protector, making the dog quite literally a guard-dog. More likely, the word comes from the Greek, kortos meaning court, and in reference to our dear Ghost Dog, “dog who watches the court”.