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Halloween hounds: our favourite spooky dog stories!

Halloween Hounds

To get you in the Halloween spirit, author Karen Bush retells two spooky tales of ghostly dogs and phantom hounds.

The Ballechin House dogs

Built in the 19th century, Ballechin House in Perthshire, Scotland, was the home of the Steuart family. Major Robert Steuart was something of a misanthropist, preferring the company of his dogs to that of people. Moreover, he was a firm believer in reincarnation and transmigration of souls, and declared that he would return, by somehow finding a way to transfer his spirit into the body of his favourite black spaniel.

After his death in 1876, the nephew to whom he had left the house nipped his plans in the bud by shooting not just the spaniel, but all 14 of Robert’s dogs immediately after the funeral. Some said it was because he was a pious man, others claimed he didn’t want to run the risk of his uncle returning in any way whatsoever, while others claimed it was because he simply didn’t want either the expense or effort of having to care for the dogs.

Soon after, strange things began to happen around the house; a pungent doggy smell would suddenly appear, and people in the house would feel an unmistakable nudge or push from invisible dogs, or hear them moving around. Some years after this, the nephew was killed in a road accident and the house was rented out. But few stayed for very long, declaring that it was haunted by unseen animals, and they would rather forfeit the fees paid in advance than remain there a moment longer.

In 1897, the members of a paranormal research group rented the house in order to study the hauntings for themselves. They recorded that, as well as the sounds, smells, and pushing and shoving of a number of invisible dogs, a strange black spaniel materialised on a couple of occasions. One of the researchers had brought his own spaniel with him, and when the phantom dog appeared, it raced over and started to play with him. By 1932, the house was no longer inhabited, and following a fire in 1963, most of it was demolished.

The Baskerville hound

‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is probably the most famous of all literary spectral dogs. Written in 1902 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the eponymous hound of the title is associated with a curse which afflicts the Baskerville family. Super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate when it appears to have been responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, descendant of Hugo Baskerville, who two centuries earlier had abducted a young girl.

When she escaped, in his fury, Hugo had supposedly struck a bargain offering his soul to the devil in return for recapturing her; some time later, both their bodies were discovered on the moor. The girl had expired from exhaustion and fear, but Hugo was found with a spectral hound standing over his corpse, which tore out his throat before vanishing.

Conan Doyle was fascinated by the paranormal. His description of the hound is certainly stirring stuff, encompassing all the best traditions of hell hounds: “A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.”

Taking a closer look, Watson places his hand on the glowing muzzle, and discovers that his own fingers appear to smoulder and gleam in the darkness — the hound’s supernatural appearance had been achieved with an application of phosphorus.