Fairy dogs were often found by unsuspecting individuals, often having become separated from their packs while hunting, since they were hunting dogs first and foremost. In appearance they resembled greyhounds, but just as with the fair folk themselves, they were reported in a variety of guises.
They are a number of tales in north east Wales which describe the consequences of finding a fairy dog and not treating it well or harshly. The Clocaenog farmer who found such a beast would, I am sure, have in retrospect done things somewhat differently upon finding a fairy beast on his farm one evening, cold, wet and whimpering.
He was a miserable man in truth, more likely to snarl than smile, and not well liked in his community. Whether he failed to recognize the beast as belonging to the Tylwyth Teg, or did not care, he saw no signs of ownership and so picked up the animal and carried it back to his farm.
He did not treat the dog well. He fed it only when it whined, and only then with a kick. He left in a cold outhouse, and generally gave it a lack of attention.
After a few days, there came a knock at his door. On answering, the farmer found a small old man at his door, with a smile that seemed a little too wide and not entirely friendly.
‘Did you find my dog?’ he asked through his smile.
‘I found a dog,’ replied the farmer, ‘and what of it?’
‘Is it my dog?’ asked the little old man.
‘How would I know that, you silly old man?’
The old man’s grin widened, ‘Well, did he ask after me?’
This utterly nonplussed the farmer, who simply blinked at the old man.
With that, the old man let out a high pitched whistle through pursed lips, which was immediately returned by a bark and a howl from the buildings beside the farmhouse.
‘Aye, there he is,’ laughed the old man, and wandered over to the building, the confused, frowned faced farmer following. The old man entered the building, found his dog, unhooked the beast from the stall he was tied to and brought him to heel. Bending down to the dog, he turned the side of his head to the animal and seemed to be listening to it as it pushed its nose into his ear. The old man nodded, shrugged and tutted a little, before standing up smartly.
‘Well, I thank you kindly for looking after my dog, farmer, and as a token of thanks, I give you this gift freely’. The old man delved into his shirt and produced a large bag of coins, which he bounced heavily on the palm of his hand a moment, before handing them over to the farmer.
The farmer was, of course, very pleased with this and assured the old man that it was not a problem, that indeed it was his pleasure. With a curt wave, the old man left, the dog at his heels.
Smiling now, the farmer went back into his farmhouse, bouncing the bag of coins on the palm of his hand, but on crossing the threshold to his home, the bag suddenly feel to his hand a lot less heavily. Confused, the farmer pulled open the strings to the bag, to find that instead of money, the bag was full of damp moldering leaves. Such was the farmer’s reward for not caring for the fairy dog to the level expected by the Tylwyth Teg.
E. Owen, Welsh Folk-Lore: A Collection of the Folk-Tales and Legends of North Wales, Woodhall, Minshull & Co., Oswestry & Wrexham (1896)