In 2004, I spent seven glorious months on “de island of Antigua, Mon!” (And that is an-TEE-gah, for those who have not visited the place, as its history is British and not Spanish.) It’s about 300 miles east of Puerto Rico in the West Indies, the “Windies,” they call them.
I was investigating a massive construction fraud in which a billionaire had 15 active job sites: hotel, resort, five-star restaurant, athletic club, a reef-ball project (for creating an artificial reef), and many fine houses.
Following each weekend, managers and workers returned to construction sites to find that large amounts of building materials had disappeared. When the investigation was completed, we had located 28 houses and an eight-unit apartment building, all built with stolen material, and by workers paid on company time. It was a great case!
But no matter how hard you work, and how many long hours you put in so far away—and you do miss the creature comforts of home—you should still find time to entertain yourself.
Those involved in the investigation stayed at a most splendiferous place called the Blue Waters Resort and Spa. It is everything a Caribbean resort should be—on the water, acres of lush vegetation, and amenities galore—pools, ponds, a long horizontal palm tree out over the beach, (which everyone took a photo of), sailing, scuba, and such a magnificent presentation of cuisine it made you feel guilty if you hadn’t jogged before breakfast.
Monster Dogs Make Their Presence Known
A winding backroad—almost all roads in Antigua are backroads—out of the Blue Waters takes you up a hill, bends left, and overlooks an incline to the sea. On the right, houses far up a slope, perhaps 50 yards (OK, meters, in Antigua), are not quite Frank Lloyd Wright designs, but close. The most magnificent had a broad, covered patio, dotted with almost too many chaise lounges.
My plan was to jog each day in a circuit on this road, then return for a scrumptious, made-to-order omelet, to replenish my energy. A quarter-of-a-mile down the narrow blacktop, while gazing left through the morning mist at the surf, a horrendous sound of snarling and growling, such as I had never heard, struck me from my right.
Just beyond the shoulder of the road, an eight-foot-high chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire, held two, large, angry, vicious, barking, how-dare-you-jog-on-this-road, mongrels. I couldn’t help but veer left, knowing they were staking their claim off to the right, even if behind a sturdy fence. Slow-moving cars would swerve away, the noise was so frightful!
Worse still, they had made their charge from two large doghouses up near the patio, gathered momentum, and their volume amplified as they approached.
This was not completely unexpected, as Antigua is similar to most places in the world where dogs are not house pets and they have no names, unlike our beloved pets in America. Still, their ferocity was frightful.
It may sound harsh to call them “mongrels,” but that’s what they were. The male had German shepherd markings, but longer hair and its ears flopped over, not in a cute way. The strength in his shoulders was impressive.
The female had some black lab ancestry, but was not the right body shape, and her ears pointed out to the sides. She kept her feet braced and shoulders low, following me with her watchful eyes so I knew I was her quarry. Whatever the backgrounds of these two creatures, nature had taken the mean and ornery genes from their family trees and they were rooted right into these four-footed monsters. They were Antigua’s Hounds of the Baskervilles.
The fence was not keeping passersby out as much as keeping the dogs in. I could see several spots in the diamond shapes of the chain-link distorted into circles. Through these larger openings they pressed their snouts, adding snorting sounds to their raucous threats. Bending the heavy steel wire took its toll on their flesh. Up closer, trying to ignore their continuous cacophony, I saw the sides of their snouts were rubbed raw from this frustrating exercise every time someone passed by.
After several days of my jogging regimen, there was no letting up by these would-be pursuers, no matter that their efforts were stifled every day. They seemed to have no learning curve at all.
One day, a group of cute island schoolchildren, in their little plaid uniforms, were walking on the side of the road ahead of me when the snarling began and increased as the monsters descended the hill. The children were nearly frozen with fear and fled to the other side of the road, ignoring the danger of oncoming cars.
That was enough for me, so I devised a plan.
My Plan Is Put Into Action
The next day, I jogged right up to the fence and waited as the momentum of the growls reached its crescendo. Their snouts smashed into the rounded openings. I stood, seemingly unaffected which, by then, I was.
Back in San Diego, my family had raised AKC golden retrievers, the most gentle, kind, caring, and kid-loving dogs on the planet. The parents of our few litters were Cirrus, a giant blond Golden, and Haley, a smaller, reddish foxy lady. Together they made perfect puppies.
The breeders had called the male puppy, “Star.” It didn’t sound right in a long callout, so he became the Dog Star, which is Sirius. But strict naming conventions don’t apply to dogs, so he lost a syllable, and gained an “r, due to kid-spelling, to become Cirrus. Oldest son, Thomas, was his keeper.
Third son, Gavin, took a shine to our female canine. On his own, he came up with another astronomy-related name, Haley, after the comet, again, with kid-spelling.
These two Goldens were loved by all and made our family of seven whole. They were front-and-center on Christmas photos, with a puppy in each child’s lap! With this endearing recollection of those great times, and those wonderful dogs, I took my next step.
After a few minutes of unabated snarling, I said, in my most pleasant voice, “Cirrus, Haley—Cirrus, Haley,” and then gave out a three-tweet whistle, not unlike something a cardinal might sing, but louder and shriller. It wasn’t a fingers-in-your-mouth, knock-your-eardrums-out whistle, but a pucker-your-lips and call-your-dogs, pleasant sound. It is how I used to call our Goldens from far away when they were bouncing in the surf in Solana Beach. As for my audience here in Antigua—”Nutin’, Mon!” Didn’t faze them a bit.
The next morning, I jogged with a packed napkin in one hand. When confronted with the brazen bullies of the backroad, I stopped and knelt down. This was something I hadn’t done before and it elevated their frenzy, jabbing their snouts even harder through the fence.
I pulled out several slices of ham from the napkin and held them aloft. No change.
I stood and stuffed a few folded-over pieces of meat through one of the diamond openings, higher than they could jump.
At first, they ignored it on the ground nearby, but the aroma wafting through the air got their attention.
They stopped snarling and consumed the treats. I delivered the rest of my bounty in the same fashion. Each dog finished off its own small pile of ham in an instant and then—back to growling and barking. “OK, nice try.”
The next day it was the same, but with a bit more ham. As I approached the chain-link fence, I slowed and began the three-tweet whistle. No need, really, as they were already growling and kicking up the dust on the attack. But, whistle I did, ignoring their efforts to inspire fear.
As they snarled, I called out the names, “Cirrus! Haley!—Ciiiir-rus! Haaaa-ley!” again, so pleasantly, you’d think they were our old Goldens down the beach. Then the three-tweet whistle, again, and still snarls. I waved the meat slowly, right in front of their angry snouts, my hand inches from their gnashing teeth. I stood and pushed it through the fence, up high, some for each one, and waited.
They instantly found the meat, again.
When they seemed ready to return to their guard-dog assignment, I sent more meat through the fence. Again, they followed the smell and devoured a few more slices.
This time when their heads popped up, there was hesitation. They were looking around for more meat before they went back to their snarls. That’s when I knew I had them.
The next successive days I whistled as I approached, called out the names I had given them, and put the meat through the fence just as they arrived.
It became comical. Their angry charge had morphed into a charge-for-ham. If you didn’t know the difference, you wouldn’t see it, but a psychological transformation was taking place.
Each day as I knelt, I put meat through the fence at snout-level, said their names, and continued my intermittent whistling.
“There’s a good dog, Cirrus. Good girl, Haley, yes you are, such a good girl,” as they took the meat and came back for more. Now they rubbed up against the fence and I scratched behind their ears, always calling their names and giving them a whistle or two.
One day I forgot the meat. When I reached the fence, I was somewhat fearful, but realized it would be a good test to see how far the pooches had come.
I did the normal tweet, and down the slope they dashed. Now, it would have been obvious to anyone this was not a guard-dog mission, but something quite different. I continued to call their names and do my tweets. When they reached me, I was kneeling. I put my hand flat against the fence and Haley rubbed up against it, then so did Cirrus on my other hand.
This was the crucial moment, like when Pavlov’s dog no longer needed food to salivate when hearing the bell. Here, my dogs were glad at my mere presence, showing them attention, and any treat would have been secondary.
I rubbed their ears and necks, one hand for each through the fence, and kept speaking softly of how wonderful they were. And, intermittently, the whistling.
The next day I was back to the normal jogging route with meat in hand to reinforce their friendly responses.
As I began to jog away, a couple approached, walking from the other direction. We nodded and said our island, “Good morning!” as we passed.
Seconds later, I heard the raucous barking and growling I hadn’t heard for weeks. I turned to see the couple swerve out onto the road to give the guard-beasts some distance.
Another week of normal friendliness passed with what I now saw as my pets, and it was clear that all three of us enjoyed our morning ritual.
A Colleague Gets A Surprise!
One day while investigating, I had lunch with my colleague, Rich, and found I had half a ham-and-cheese sandwich left over. I cut it in half, wrapped it in a paper napkin, and put it in my bag. I got a curious glance from my friend, who knew all our meals were paid for, and there was no need to save any for later.
We drove back to the Blue Waters with Rich at the wheel. As we came down the familiar backroad, I asked him to pull over. He did, but had no idea why.
Our car windows were down, and we were off on the sea-side shoulder. A torrent of barking and snarling came from up the slope on the other side of the road.
Rich knew, as did anyone who had ever walked or jogged down that road, what the noise was. I leaned out my window and did a few three-tweet whistles.
Now, even a not-very-observant person could see a dynamic change in the dogs’ behavior. They went from full-on charge to playful-romp, almost as though there were ocean waves crashing ahead for fun-loving dogs to jump into.
I got out of the car and unwrapped the sandwich as I crossed the road.
“Good girl, Haley. Good boy, Cirrus. Here’s a treat. Do you want a treat?” Three-tweet whistle, three-tweet whistle …
The two sandwich pieces went through the fence and right into their mouths. What had been monster dogs were as playful as pups and lovingly took their neck-and-ear rubbing.
In a few moments, I was back in the car. My colleague had jogged on that road and done his own swerving-off-the-path to put distance between himself and the dogs. Rich sat there in jaw-dropped silence.
When he regained his composure, he asked what that was all about.
As nonchalantly as I could I said, “I was just giving my dogs a treat. Why?”
There were a few more moments of still-stunned silence, and finally he said, “Only you!”
He put the car in gear and we drove away.
A Doctor Is Befuddled
I will have to admit my island Cirrus and Haley did as much to keep me in shape for the months I was there as anything else. Sure, I could have stopped by and fed them as I drove on my route to the office in the morning, but what would have been the fun in that? The daily regimen of the jog, the feeding, the ear-rubbing, and the overall pleasantness of their morning greeting had become fulfilling, especially with such a long hiatus from my home in Florida, and only intermittent visits for a few days at a time.
Our investigation continued to reveal more and more corruption in the higher ranks of site managers and their assistants, and especially, the main construction manager. Most had been building houses from their own job site materials, which they should have been using to build what they were paid to do. One even remodeled his mother’s home with company labor.
The island is only about 13 by 15 miles. In each village where a site manager lived, we could stand back and look for the newest and biggest house. That would be the one built with stolen stuff, by workers paid time-and-a-half on Sundays.
Our leads took us as far and wide as the island had acreage to cover. One trip in my SUV up little more than a dirt path, through what looked like Jurassic Park, rewarded me with a brand new, very big house. It was a half-size version of the athletic club, which was under construction right across from the airport terminal. True to form, it had been built by the athletic club site manager, with stolen plans, cut down by half, copper roof and all.
A forensic accounting showed that three times the amount of material needed to complete the massive construction projects had already been sent to the island—and they were only half finished!
One lead took me to the Chinese-built hospital, the largest on the island, and the need to speak with one of the doctors. He wasn’t in that day, but I was given his address. It was on a street I was not familiar with, but I got directions.
I pulled up to the front of the house and it was impressive.
The doctor was gracious and welcomed me in. We went through to a room with a vista of a hill sloping down toward the sea. Beyond the sliding doors was a broad, covered patio, dotted with chaise lounges. While I had never seen it from this perspective, I knew exactly where I was.
We sat and had a 15-minute conversation about real estate on the island and certain plots of land he was familiar with. He was very helpful and we got along well.
As I rose to leave, looking around at his wonderfully designed home, I asked if I might step out onto the patio for a moment. The view of the sea was spectacular.
“Oh, no,” he said, “it might be dangerous out there.” He went on that he had two vicious guard dogs that earned their keep. He wouldn’t want me to take any chances, even if he was a doctor.
I told him I got along pretty well with animals and thought it would be OK.
As he began to protest, I slid the door open and stepped onto the patio. Halfway across, I heard snarls and two heads popped out of the doghouses on either side of the steps. Before the growling grew in volume I did a three-tweet whistle, once, and then again, as I reached the steps.
The happy-go-lucky romping of two loveable, playful dogs could not have been better demonstrated if they had been drugged with love potion. They were like cats overdosed on catnip.
They came to my legs and took my rubbing of their ears, pushed up against me on both sides, one hand on each of them. In low tones, I extolled the wonderfulness of Cirrus and Haley to these marvelous creatures.
I looked back up to the patio and saw the expression on the doctor’s face. First, it was astonishment, but then it mixed with other emotions. He had feared I would be torn apart, but when that didn’t happen, he began to get angry that his dogs were not performing as trained—guarding his house from all strangers! Then his look fell back, simply, to utter confusion.
He was mouthing words like, “What? But how?” and “I don’t under—” Then he was silent.
I had not planned any of this, hadn’t known what the front of the house looked like, way up the hill with its address on a different street. I never thought about who owned it. For me, this was just a great coincidence.
Pets Tell Us More Than Their Owners
In my many investigations in the United States, there were times I had to profile households, entire families, sometimes for child abuse and who was doing it, and other times, just for how they interacted. What you can learn from the actions of a house pet is often more telling than any words someone might say to you.
Do their dogs or cats approach you cautiously when you enter, even let you pet them and rub up against you, or do they run away in fear the moment a stranger, or even a household member, enters? And where do they seek refuge? There is consistency in pet behavior that is simply impossible to fake.
So the behavior of Cirrus and Haley of Antigua made me wonder about the doctor’s personality when he wasn’t congenially answering questions about construction fraud. His watchdogs were not part of my investigation, but they raised my suspicions. Then again, this was Antigua, and not America, and the relationship they had with their dogs was completely different.
Did I tell the doctor why they reacted to me as they had, and how I was able to do that? Not a chance!
I hoped he didn’t punish them for this glitch in their guard-dog duties. They certainly continued their raucous attention to everyone else who ever came to his house, or passed by his fence.
Life went on with both the case and my morning regimen, and I loved every day of it—blue sky, clean air, surf in the distance, and two grown-up puppies to meet me for a treat each day.
When the case was fully solved, the investigation was handed over to the Antiguan Police on a silver platter. They had all the memos and affidavits they would ever need to do whatever served as “justice” in this faraway place. It was time to leave “de island.”
I had made many friends in all levels of their society, from Milton, a little Guyanan, whose family I would bring a large pizza to share for dinners, to Ruth in Hodges Bay, who might have seemed like an island girl, but I learned she had a Masters from Yale in International Development Economics. She finally got a job that, maybe she alone, on Antigua, was qualified to do.
My last conversations were with the wonderful folks at the Blue Waters. They celebrated me as their “Longest Guest of All Time,” and I reveled in it. I spoke with the manager about a reservation a few months hence, and he penciled me in.
A Return to de Island
For the Easter break from school in 2005, three of my five children, Thomas, Natalia, and Ariel, were off and available, as well as my new girlfriend, Cynthia, finally to come and visit the place I had talked about so much.
Of course, the Blue Waters would be our home for five days. My brood would meet friends I had made and see places I had been, in a getaway matched by few others they would ever have.
The first morning after our arrival, I loaded them all into the SUV and told them there was something special down the road. I said, “Cirrus and Haley are here!”
They didn’t understand, and I had to laugh out loud.
When I pulled off to the side of the road, I told everyone to stay put until I called them, and to give me a minute—but to watch.
I got out and crossed the road, letting out bursts of three-tweets. I knew my children were very familiar with this dog-calling whistle. I only hoped the last three months of no whistling, no slices of ham, and no ear-rubbing had not let Cirrus and Haley forget me.
On the third sequence of the whistle, out of their doghouses came two overly happy dogs bounding down the hill. More whistles and, “Ciiiir-rus, Haaaa-ley!” again and again. It was as though I had never left.
I crossed to the SUV and had my family get out and walk back to the fence with me. There was initial reluctance by the dogs, but it didn’t last long. I handed each child some ham to put through the fence, and it was as though they were extensions of me, as far as Cirrus and Haley were concerned. The ear-rubbing commenced.
“Good boy, Cirrus!” I shouted. “Good girl, Haley, that’s a good girl!” over and over.
There was laughter in my children’s voices through it all and, I have to admit, there were tears in my eyes.
If you are living in a faraway land for several months and want to make it feel like a real home, the piece you want to have in place is a dog to welcome you—maybe two!
Wayne A. Barnes was an FBI agent for 29 years working counterintelligence. He had many undercover assignments, including as a member of the Black Panthers. His first spy stories were from debriefing Soviet KGB defectors. He now investigates privately in South Florida.