Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (April 2008, No. 17)

Tatra Cave Dogs and Other Cave Dog Myths in Eastern Europe

Tomasz Pietrzak vel Quatl

Cave dogs are mythical creatures reported by Polish (and other eastern European) speleologists. Some people suspect that the mysterious Tatra, Poland, cave dogs are feral dogs that run among the peaks at night, and only stay in caves during the day. This may be the reason why few people see them, and how the legend came into being. The myths refer to spirit animals that attack and bite humans who spend time in the caves. Other legendary dogs, called "cave dachshunds," reportedly exist in Polish caves. These small dogs jerk the overalls of speleologists for scraps, especially while they crawl through tight tunnels. These invisible cave dogs supposedly pester people who explore their cave dens. Reports about cave dogs were figured to be the product of human imagination. However in Bulgaria, in Bezdenen Pczelin cave, a group of Polish speleologists found some half-blind feral dogs that showed little reaction to light. These Bulgarian cave dogs were left by bad people in caves, and have adapted to living in dark caves and lost their sight. Zoologists and zootechnicians also detected some negative morphological changes in body and head structure. Sojourning in a cold and moist environment with a monotonous and poor diet brought further degeneracy.

A. Radomski i K. Grotowski (Polish speleologist) also found strange dogs in Kuczeszka Pasztera cave in the 1960s, and dogs are reported to live in other caves in Bulgaria. Some stories are about dogs that lived in caves long ago. The oldest people heard about them from their fathers and grandfathers. People did not see these dogs but sometimes heard them when they threw dead goats, cows, or other animals over a precipice—cave dogs then fed on these animals.

An expedition from Slovakia left for Tatra in 2001 to search for its mythical cave dog. Unfortunately they did not find anything. It is possible there are some feral dogs living there, apart from normal dogs. In the western part of the Tatra Mountains are found many caves and remainders from karsic activities. Nowadays, caves dogs are considered only legends connected with activities of speleologists.

The true cave dogs are not a distinct wild dog, but a feral breed of domestic dog living in Bulgarian caves and fissures and similar places in the world, adapting to life in cold and dark places. Once other forms of cave dogs existed—the Primitive Cave Dog (Canis lupus [Canis spp.]). These animals were characterized by considerable sizes, strong body structure, and with a developed instinct of defense of their hideouts. This behavioral feature clearly separated it from smaller canids that were rather cowardly, along with their aggressive defense of prey from larger predators. These animals were the ancestors of modern domestic dogs and lived with the first people about 10,000 years ago. The first domestic dogs were similar to dingoes and come from wolves.

There are a few recent reports of cave dogs throughout the mountainous regions in Poland. Some accounts came as recently as 2007, in the southern regions of Stary Sącz, in the Dunajec and Poprad range in the Sądecki Beskid mountains, and Żywiec in the Żywiecki Beskid mountains, from Slovak speleologist, Jano Ducár, who before coming back to Lomnice na vlak, saw a dog leaving a wide hole among the rocks in the cavern. He was told that "čierny pes" is not a problem for speleologists because their caves are spacious and large—the dogs living there have many places to hide. This was, perhaps, the mysterious feral cave dog (Canis lupus familiaris)—a descendant of normal domestic dogs.

Published Sources:

  • Przemysław Burchard. Na dno świata. Cytelnik 1961. Warszawa. Edition 1. Pages: 78-82
  • Praca zbiorowa pod redakcją Władysława Szafera. Tatrzański Park Narodowy. ZOP. Kraków 1955.

Tomasz Pietrzak vel Quatl is an editor at KryptoZoo and founder of NativesCanine, Slavian Cript Project, and is one of the few cryptozoologists in Poland. He blogs at FromZooMy and FromCryptidMy, as "Caniche" or "Thomas Quatl".
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