1856 (pre): A Respectable Lady sees a Black Dog
In 1856, Edwin Sydney Hartland was told of an odd incident that a "respectable intelligent woman" had experienced sometime previous to that year (Hartland didn't give the woman's name).
This woman and her husband were walking to a town called Lyme in Dorsetshire, England, along a road called 'Dog Lane' one night when, somewhere about the middle of the lane's distance, she saw "an animal about the size of a dog" coming to meet them. She asked her husband what the figure was, only to have him state that he saw nothing; the animal was now just two or three yards away from the couple, impossible for her husband to miss... and she grew terrified as it had grown in size to that of a young calf though it still appeared to be a shaggy black dog in all aspects but its fiery eyes. The animal walked pass the woman, and she could feel the air grow cold as it passed. She was frightened, but also curious, so she turned around to look after the strange animal... and it kept growing bigger and bigger as it walked away, until it was as tall as the trees by the roadside, after which the animal seemed to swell into a large cloud as it vanished in the air. When her voice came back, she asked her husband what the time was... it was just five minutes past twelve. Her husband claimed to have seen nothing but a vapor or fog coming up from the nearby sea.
This account was taken from a section on "spectre-dog" legends in a collection of English tales gathered by Edwin Sydney Hartland in 1890. In his introduction to this chapter of his book, Hartland makes two things abundantly clear: that Black Dogs were always associated with evil doings, and that he absolutely didn't believe in them. Oddly enough, while Hartland himself didn't believe any of the tales, some were told to him by people who clearly believed their tales to be true. I have to wonder how friendly they were to Hartland after he published his book! For example, Hartland adds after his summary of the woman's story above the following commentary:
A case of this kind shows how even a sensible person may become the victim of self-delusion; for in all practical matters this woman was remarkably sober-minded, intelligent, and ludicious; and well educated for a person of her calling--that of sick-nurse, the duties of which she discharged in the writer's house for several weeks to his fullest satisfaction, showing no symptoms of nervousness or timidity.
In short, no matter how much he respected this woman, he still didn't believe her.
As with all accounts from older sources such as this, it is entirely up to you to decide if it is true or not; but, in either case, it still evidences the beliefs regarding the Black Dog spirits in the area at the time the tales were collected. You should know, however, the road in question was known as 'Dog Lane' precisely because it was said to be haunted by a Black Dog, a type of ghostly hound, that always appeared at midnight; whether the woman knew of this tale before her odd experience is not noted, but it seems likely as she commented in telling her story how the animal looked just like she'd been told a Black Dog would look. For more on the legend of Dog Lane, click the link below.