“Benevolent” is not a word usually associated with our domestic canines and it is certainly not a word that you would expect to find in a Kennel Club breed standard. That is absolutely so with one very important exception – for the Newfoundland dog.
In the Canadian Kennel Club standard we have this sentence: “The Newfoundland’s expression is soft and reflects the character of the breed – benevolent, intelligent, dignified but capable of fun.” The word “benevolence” also appears in the breed standards of the American Kennel Club and the FCI, the international body.
So benevolence is an important and unique character aspect of the Newf and his expression should reflect this. But what is benevolence when applied to a dog?
My Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines benevolent as “Desirous of doing good, charitable.” And when we think of a benevolent person, charitable giving is what usually comes to mind. However something else is needed when applying such a word to an animal. Turning to my Webster’s Dictionary I found a definition that seemed applicable to a Newf – “kindhearted, generous giver”. Now it was making more sense.
Obviously Newfoundlands don’t make monetary donations to charities nor are they involved in benevolent funds. They do however give generously of what they can, usually some form of affection like a lick or a pressing of their body against yours. It sometimes takes a more dramatic form such as when a Newf lays down motionlessly to let a developmentally challenged child feel comfortable enough to approach him just like the other kids. But more than that, because when the chips are down, they will give their all, literally. Two examples immediately pop to mind:
The first is of the World War II hero, Gander, the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada. When a grenade landed amongst a group of wounded soldiers, he gathered it up and took it away, saving the lives his comrades with the sacrifice of his own.
The other incident involves a Newf from a French canine supported lifesaving society named Maui. On July 28th, 1998 he and his master were on vacation in Corsica when three tourists found themselves in trouble in a posted no-swimming area. Maui swam out with a lifeguard’s surfboard and was able to tow the three people close enough for firemen to haul them ashore just before the crashing waves separated the Newf from the group and from his life.
While these dogs have been called courageous and they certainly were, it was more than that. They were examples of a special form of courage – the helping of another without concern for one’s own life – there is no greater kindness!
Now how does an expression convey such benevolence? Well words fail me in this. However I can show you. Pictured below is Remy who lives with Maija Ing in Sugarloaf, California. Even as puppy Remy had a benevolent expression.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.Newf News