Even within the realm of cryptozoology and Forteana, there are creatures that seem to defy easy classification. To me there is absolutely a distinct line between the field of cryptozoology, which by definition deals with undiscovered organisms which are real, flesh and blood animals, that of paranormal phenomena, and that of folklore. While they may at times cross paths or briefly converge, typically these fields are as different as night and day, and deal with entirely different sets of phenomena with different areas of study, classifications, methods, aims and goals. Yet there are times when the gulf between them is not clear cut, when something that on the surface appears to be an uncategorized animal evades such a simple identification. One such enigmatic beast has surely got to be the infamous black Hellhounds, a unique category of creature so bizarre that it transcends any attempts to safely label it.
Hellhounds in one form or another have been recorded throughout human history, from a variety of far flung cultures, and although their appearance varies depending on the area and the local traditions, they are typically described as a very large black hound which can range anywhere in size from that of a large Great Dane, all the way up to the size of a cow or horse. They are usually described as truly frightening beasts, being totally black, with shaggy or matted fur and large, saucer sized eyes that are typically described as burning with a malevolent red, yellow, or green glow, although some accounts say they have only a single luminous eye. Usually they are described as having formidable claws, vicious looking fangs, and as being supernaturally agile, fast, and strong. The hounds can be reported as either tangible and real, or conversely purely spectral creatures, with any attempt to touch them proving to pass through them as if they aren’t there. Folklore usually suggests that they have a horrific wail or howl which can invoke sheer terror in those who hear it, and they are known to even have a sinister, human sounding laugh, but that their foot falls are typically completely silent.
The British Isles in particular have long had tales of such entities, with countless tales of phantom hounds which prowl the lonely roads, crypts, cemeteries, and wilds here, and stories of these hellhounds go back centuries. The hounds have been known as the Gurt Dog, Padfoot, Barguest, the Hairy Hound, the Yeth, and Old Shock, Old Snarleyow, and Old Scarfe, among many others. In Ireland they are known as Pooka, on the Isla of Man they are Moddey Dhoo, in Wales the Gwyligi, and in Scotland the beastly hounds are called Cù Sìth. The most popular and widely used term for these bizarre entities in the United Kingdom is the Black Shuck, a term which originated with the name the hounds were given in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, with the name deriving from the Old English word scucca meaning “demon,” or possibly the word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy.”
These frightening creatures were said to be anything from the ghosts of dead travelers, to the spirits of dead hounds awaiting the return of their masters, to inscrutable guardians of forbidden knowledge, to being the Devil himself. The folklore and sightings of these huge, mysterious hounds go back centuries, inspiring a great amount of literature and spooky history in their path. Yet, these creatures are certainly not confined to the old folklore of Britain, and there are many real modern sightings and encounters with apparent Hellhounds across the pond in the United States, and these have come up right into the present.
We start at the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States, which have seen quite a few reports of what seem to be Hellhounds, especially in the states of Kentucky and West Virginia. Reports go back quite some time, with some accounts coming from as early as the late 17th century of great black dogs with glowing eyes terrorizing the region, and such accounts have continued on into more recent times. In Kentucky there have long been reports of massive black dogs measuring about 4 feet high at the shoulder and 7 feet long, and one of these beasts allegedly prowled the area of Pike County throughout the 1930s and 40s, purportedly massacring cattle and sometimes even humans, as well as frightening locals.
In modern times such reports drew the interest of paranormal and cryptid investigators for the TV show Mountain Monsters, who went to the area for an investigation. The excursion would turn out to be pretty bizarre, if inconclusive. The investigators spoke with farmers in the area who showed them torn apart carcasses of livestock and gave spooky accounts of something large and dark prowling through the wilderness. They were also shown an alleged video of the beast, as well as paw prints measuring 7-1/2 – 8 inches long, very big for a dog. During the investigation, the team built a bamboo drop cage and baited it with hog shoulders in an effort to lure it out, and although they don’t catch it they can hear something crashing around in the brush growling, and can see a large shadow. It is all very dramatic, and whether the episode has any truth to it or not, Kentucky and other areas of Appalachia have still produced many reports of Hellhounds.
Also on the East Coast is an account from Connecticut, where a witness on the site Real Unexplained Mysteries claims to have lived in an apartment that was haunted by shadow people and the apparition of some sort of massive spectral hound. The thing would first appear one night looming over their bed, and she would describe the terrifying experience thus:
I woke with it over my then boyfriend. It is very immense. Stands like a human. Has red eyes. Long pointy nails. The hands are not like ours but not paws. It has a very unique snout- more pronounced than a canine. It is no dog but a beast. I warded it off. I had so much fear ( I guess I had nothing to lose) and hovered over my boyfriend almost like a dog. Told myself show no fear and I can’t even explain the immense anger I felt. It does not speak like us but more in mind. Almost perception. I growled like in my mind and remember thinking stay away. That’s when the anger swept over me. It backed up and vanished in wall. I wish I could say it was a happy ending but wasn’t. I started having night terrors always ending in my death every night.
This report fits in well with the lore of Hellhounds being spectral entities rather than physical ones, and also matches some of the stories of them feeding off of fear. What did she see? We'll likely never know. Moving up to Michigan we also have reports of outsized canine monstrosities, and one report posted in Jason Ofutt’s blog From the Shadows comes from the area of Romulus, Michigan. The witness, known as S. Costea, claimed that he had been living with his family at a cabin on a farm there at the time, which was all surrounded by thick woods that was the home of something rather unusual to say the least. According to Costea there was some sort of “dog creature” about the size of a Great Dane and with glowing red eyes that skulked about in the darkness there in the evening hours, and he would say of it:
We had this really strange dog creature that would hang around the property. I say dog creature because this thing was far too big and intelligent to be a stray dog. It had very pronounced red eyes. I’m not saying it was a werewolf or a dog-man but it was very werewolf-like. The dog would frequently stalk the edge of the woods on our property in the day. It seemed to have no fear. My uncle would yell at it or throw things towards it to try to scare it off but it would simply rear up on its hind legs like a ram and charge at (him) for a short distance.
We would frequently find dead chickens or rabbits after thunderstorms. We knew it was that dog thing because it would leave huge paw prints in the mud and claw marks on the window ledges. Sometimes we would find the screens ripped from our screen doors and windows. It would never outright attack us, but it did seem to enjoy taunting us and harassing us.
This was all frightening enough, but it got even weirder when it demonstrated an ability to walk about on two feet for short durations, and even more bizarrely began to speak, seeming to call people outside for some insidious purpose. Costea claims that his mother found him one night sitting by the window talking to the creature, and would describe the surreal scene thus:
One summer night my mom had left the window open in my bedroom to cool the room off so I could sleep. She was on her way to the bathroom and went by my room and heard me talking to someone. When she opened the door she saw me standing in my bed and I had apparently wet my pajamas. I was talking towards the window. I wasn’t screaming or freaking out but seemed to be transfixed and talking in a low voice towards the window. When she looked towards the window the dog had its two front paws pushed through the screen and was looking through the window at us and making a low growl.Its eyes glared red. I always recall its eyes. You could see its eyes out in the woods sometimes at night. I have bad dreams about it from time to time.
The boy’s mother then threw a beer bottle at the thing to chase it off, but for the next few weeks Costea allegedly displayed odd behavior and the house pets would not go near him. He would also blurt out cryptic messages such as “we don’t want you here,” “our ghosts are food,” or “God thinks you’re bad,” and would sometimes intentionally prick himself with sharp objects until he drew blood. It almost seemed as if the thing at the window had crawled into his head somehow and that this was kind of like a demonic possession to an extent. The frightening ordeal would finally come to an end when his uncle hit it with a rifle, and Costea would say of this:
My uncle was out back working on his truck when he saw the dog at the edge of the woods making its way in towards the rabbit pen. At this point he was tired of dealing with it and went into the house to get his .22. Apparently he fired at it and hit it in the rear. The dog turned and ran into the woods. We didn’t see it anymore after that and everything cleared up.
Also from Michigan is a report from the unlikely locale of Detroit, where a witness living in one of the city’s suburbs claims he had an encounter with a Hellhound 2012. He claims that one evening he was driving through his neighborhood after leaving his girlfriend’s house at around midnight when he saw some streak of movement coming from someone’s backyard, and he described it as being “a very large and well-built creature.” He immediately stopped his car in order to get a view of the thing, and was first impressed with how incredibly fast it moved for its size, estimated as around 40 to 50 mph. He observed it for a moment before it streaked out of view and would describe it thus:
The creature was very large. If I had to compare the size to another animal, I’d say it was about the size of an adult lion. The body type appeared to be that of a dog, although I’ve never seen any breed of dog this size (and there are absolutely no wild/stray dogs in the area). It had a pitch black coat and while I could slightly make out the shape of its head from the side, I never saw its eyes or mouth. When it ran past my headlights initially, it never acknowledged my presence. It did not turn and look at me, slow down, or do anything that was directed toward me. I feel confident that if this was a hellhound, it was not looking for me, but I don’t know that for sure.
In nearby Wisconsin we have reports emanating from a place called Meridean Island, on the Chippewa River, which according to a few witness accounts seems to be prowled by some sort of canine beast. One report comes from a young couple by the names of Shelly Touchstone and Chris Wiener, who were at the island’s boat landing looking for a secluded spot when a thick fog or mist began to form out of nowhere, and which seemed to instill an inexplicable dread in them. They then heard something moving about and growling in a menacing fashion just out of the periphery of their vision, as well as a large shadow “as big as a bear,” with two pinpoints of glowing red eyes.
On another occasion, two men named Mike Bagozzi and Jeremy Stark were in the very same area when they too felt a sudden onset of dread and witnessed a fog congeal out of nowhere. They then apparently spotted a large, black hound with matted, filthy hair, which gave chase as they ran away. They only apparently managed to evade it when they got to their car and locked the doors, after which it meandered off into the wilderness and vanished. These cases hit a couple of interesting points in that Hellhounds are supposedly fond of areas near water, and also that many supernatural phenomena seem to involve a fog or mist, although whatever this connection may be is misunderstood.
Going down south we have a case from the state of Louisiana, in a report published by the National Cryptid Society. The report comes from the area of Robeline, Louisiana, in 1995, and concerns a witness who claims he was in a graveyard looking for paranormal phenomena, the two of them armed with crosses and an M16, which seems a bit extreme, but here we are. As they pushed forward into the cemetery they allegedly heard strange growling noises, and the witness describes what happened next:
We shined our flashlights all over graveyard. It was small and enclosed by fence. I said it must be a dog tied over at the parsonage. The church and parsonage was about 500 feet away. So I shined around and over in the corner of the graveyard I saw four fresh graves. They were apart from the other graves.
They had no flowers. Just two big graves and two small ones marked by 4 iron crosses. As we went to explore, we heard the growling grow louder. I said Lannie, is that dog loose? I kinda felt a little safe knowing it would be hard for it to jump the fence. But as we got closer to the grave the hair on my neck stood up and I got chills. My friend got the same feeling. The growls had a sound like Rottweiler’s. They chilled you to the bone and you felt something wasn’t right. We heard the snarling as we got a few feet from grave. The growls were not part of a body. They were disembodied. Then I tried to rationalize it in my head. Is it a couple loose mean dogs outside gate? Is it a group of coyotes? But as we shined the light this time we saw them. Two sets of glowing red eyes not attached to [a] body. They were only three feet away and stood guard by those graves.
My friend froze in fright and pushed me in front. He was crying about leaving his gun. I said Lannie, your gun won’t help against this. The dogs were vicious and I said Lannie whatever you do, don’t run. I prayed for guidance. I had not been to church in many a year but I knew what I was dealing with was straight from hell. I looked right at them. I showed my cross and said I know what you are. They snarled louder. My friend was really upset and wanting his Mama. I said Lannie please. I said I demand in the name of Jesus Christ that you allow us to leave as we came in peace and alone. I demand this in the name of the Son of Man and victor over all that is evil. I said that the Son of man ruled over all evil, and I demand you let us leave in peace. We slowly backed up and as we got to the gate we left.
This particular report seems to go overboard a bit, but who knows? All the way over on the other side of the country we come to California, which has a few accounts of Hellhounds of its own. From American Canyon, California, comes an account from a 28-year-old witness known as “Jedidiah,”who claims that one night as he was walking back from a market he heard an ear piercing howl echo out into the night. He soon caught sight of a very large dog, which he at first took to be a stray or someone’s pet, but which seemed to be too large to be such a thing. As he looked more closely, he saw that it seemed to have glowing red eyes, and to be entangled with what looked to be barbed wire. He would say of what happened next:
At this point I was quite scared. I continued on my way home and I found myself dreading each corner, fearing another sighting of this hellish creature. I had almost made it home when the beast appeared again. This time it stood directly in my path. I was frozen with fear, hair standing up on end and I close my eyes fearing an attack. It starts to growl, a deep, rumbling, growl; one that I felt deep in my soul, one that threatens to turn my legs to Jell-O. I don't know what compelled me to do so but, I started praying, to the Lord and Jesus Christ in Heaven, to make this beast leave, but the growling intensified, it seemed as if the growl just pulsated through my mind doing everything in its power to get me to stop praying. I continued to pray, I just prayed, and prayed, and prayed. As I continued to pray, the growl slowly dissipated. When I finally opened my eyes, all that was left was scorch marks where the dog stood. To this day I have yet to see the same dog, or another like it. So this begs the question... What did I see? A hellhound, a spectral creature, some sort of demon? I never will know; but then again I'm not sure I want to.
Also in California is a case that has made the rounds involving what seems like a pack of Hellhounds in Palm Springs, California. In 2013, there were supposedly numerous reports of large, black hounds running amok in the streets, with glowing eyes and sharp fangs. The creatures were described as having the bodies of dogs, but the heads of wolves, and baffled all who saw them. Apparently they tore through people’s yards and even attacked a man’s car to rip up his bumper, before disappearing into the night to vanish. There is very little to corroborate this, but it is a strange case, indeed.
Such creatures surely seem to toe the line between the real and fantasy, where we are not really sure what we shoud be looking at. What are Hellhounds? How can they possibly be? Are these some sort of demonic entity, wandering spirit, or what? Are they misidentifications of large dogs or some wildlife? These reports seem to be beyond explanation, and show that these old legends from across the world have seemed to seep into the realm of the real. Whatever they are, Hellhounds have been spotted all over the world, and the United States is no exception.