The Newfoundland: A Hero in History and Most Loved Companion
by: Joy Cagil
When Joe--at the age of seventeen--neared his last days, I ran away from home. I knew I wouldn't be able to take it. Yes, literally I escaped witnessing my favorite pet's death. Probably that's why he still feels alive to me.
Joe, a Newfoundland mix, was plucked from the town's pound when he was a six week-old puppy. Although a mix, he had all the traits of the breed, starting with loyalty, gentleness, and watching over our children. He loved life and he loved food. Twelve years after his passing, our sons still consider him as their younger brother. As a breed, a Newfoundland is considered a working dog, but Joe was the most wonderful pet one could ever wish for.
The Newfoundland is thought to be a cousin to the now extinct American Black Wolf, which also had the classical white spot on its chest. During the first attempts of the conquistadors to settle the new continent, Newfoundlands roamed the plains in huge, wild packs since they were indigenous to North America.
What Thoreau said in Walden about Newfoundlands does not even begin to do this breed justice. "A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much." Newfoundlands are much more than that. They are not only working dogs but also the most loyal companions one can ever hope for.
For centuries, these dogs were tamed and trained by the Indians, Algonquins and later the Sioux, as load carriers before the Spaniards introduced the horse to the Americas.
Newfoundlands were also the breed who traveled on explorers' ships. As a good watchdog, a Newfoundland was the dog of choice on board. The dog also had swimming, life-saving, and sniffing abilities. A Newfoundland smelled land before it could be seen from the ship and alerted everyone with his excited behavior.
The Newfoundland of today is a big heavy dog with muscular shoulders, strong neck, strong-boned forelegs, long black fur with a white spot on the chest, and a powerful body. The original Newfoundland had a short neck, but in today's dog shows, the breed is expected to have a longer neck to help carry itself with dignity. The average adult dog is 28 inches high and weighs somewhere between 120 to 150 pounds.
Some Newfoundlands have white and black or bronze fur as opposed to the general black with white tuft on chest. The coat of an average Newfoundland is bright black and water resistant. Its outer layer is long and smooth in contrast to the short and dense inner layer. The lesser Newfoundland or St. John's Newfoundland is the smaller version of the original breed.
The temperament of this breed is inimitable. Incredible feats of Newfoundlands abound in the news media, because intelligent and unusually adaptable dogs that they are, they quickly figure out what their owners are up to and start working with him toward the same goal.
A Newfoundland is very loyal, dignified, fun-loving and soft-natured. His gentleness and serenity has made him the star of children's stories, like the Newfoundland in Peter Pan.
The feats of this breed have been etched in history as well. It is said, when Leif Ericson visited Newfoundland in 1001, he carried his dogs with him that mated with the original Newfoundlands, thus producing the forefathers of the present day Newfoundland dogs.
A brave Newfoundland saved a French emperor from drowning. That emperor was Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the Civil War, a Newfoundland named Major fought the confederates by biting them until he was killed with a musket shot to his head in the Battle of Mansfield, Lousiana.
During World War II, Newfoundlands were used as carriers of water, supplies, and ammunition. Canadians claim that they have documented proof that this dog was in existence even during 3000 BC together with the Canadian Indians of Newfoundland who buried their dead together with their dogs.
The Newfoundland has been made the official animal emblem on October 5, 1972, by the government of Newfoundland, Canada. Not only the Newfoundland as breed has his picture on the Canadian stamps now, but also a Newfoundland as pet has carved his love in this owner's heart.