The Newfoundland dog is a living, breathing symbol of the province and, in terms of an ambassador, we couldn’t do much better — it’s a loyal friend, a hard worker and time-and-time again its proved its heroism.
In this edition of Five I invite you to spend a few minutes considering the Newfoundland dog.
1. In a remarkable display of truth in advertising, the Newfoundland dog actually did arise from the island of Newfoundland. There are many versions of its origin story including the idea that the breed originated from the early dogs of the Vikings… but don’t get your horned-hat out just yet. Most serious researchers think that’s just a tall tale. Their opinion runs more along the lines of the Newfoundland arising from the St. John’s Water Dog and Portuguese Mastiff.
Appropriately enough, this makes it the cousin of the Labrador Retriever whose roots may also be traced to the St. John’s Water Dog.
2. When most people think of the Newfoundland they image a black shaggy beast. But black is only one breed-recognized colour. The Newfoundland may also be brown, grey, and white and black (also called Landseer).
Whatever the colour, the Newfoundland dog is built for the water. It has an oily outer coat and a fleecy undercoat that allows it to function in harsh, wet conditions. It has tight eyelids and drop ears that help to keep water out and, of course, it has its famed webbed feet making it a strong swimmer. It’s history as a rescue dog has earned it the nickname ‘lifeguard dog.’
3. Speaking of lifeguard, the Newfoundland has taken an active role in some famous rescues at sea. In 1828 the Newfoundland ‘Hairyman’ assisted Ann Harvey is saving over 160 people from the wrecked Dispatch off Isle aux Morts.
In 1919, when the SS Ethie ran aground in what is now Gros Morne National Park, a Newfoundland Dog named Tang1 is credited with saving the crew. Tang reportedly jumped into the ocean and swam to shore carrying the ship’s rope in his mouth. Bystanders on the beach tied the line and used it to bring all 92 crewmembers safely to safety. This rescue has been commemorated in the poem Carlo by E.J. Pratt2.
A little further afield Gander, a Newfoundland who spent his early days roaming Gander, Nfld, was adopted as mascot by the Royal Rifles of Canada. In October,1941 the Royal Rifles shipped out for Hong Kong and took Gander with them. While in Hong Kong Gander had the opportunity to prove his loyalty to his new owners. He twice halted the enemy’s advance and protected his wounded soldiers. Finally, in December 1941, Gander was killed in action. During an enemy assault a grenade was fired close to the troops. Gander picked-up the grenade in his teeth and ran away from his regiment. When the grenade exploded, Gander was killed. He was awarded the Dicken Medal — the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
4. Newfoundland dogs were bread to be working dogs. They are well-known for their work in the water hauling nets but they earned their keep on land as well. According to some accounts, they were hitched to carts and, apparently, hauled loads of 900 kg!?!
5. Despite their heroics and service to fisherman, by the early 20th century the number of Newfoundland dogs had drastically declined — so much so their future was in doubt. To protect them from extinction, the Hon. Harold Macpherson established a kennel in St. John’s to preserve the breed.
Today its legacy is safe. The Newfoundland is popular breed worldwide.
1, 2. There’s some debate about the dog’s name… but its name was not Carlo. That was an invention of Pratt.