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Tales abound of Newfoundland dogs rescuing people at sea. The most renown rescue of an entire ship load of people is the 1919 wreck of the Steam Ship Ethie off the western coast of Newfoundland. The local newspaper had a single sentence in their story of the wreck about the role of a heroic Newf: “A line was fired from the ship but got caught up amongst the boulders, so the people of Martin Point sent out one of their dogs, a very sagacious animal, to bring it ashore.” Almost every book about Newfs has a mention of it. Unfortunately each account differs. One of the big variations is the origin of the life saving dog; some say it was a ship’s dog named Tang, others claim a dog named Wisher was sent from shore.

Many have doubted whether a dog was involved at all in the rescue. This controversy has been re-ignited again with the publication this past October of a fictionalized account of the event entitled The Wreck of the Ethie. While this book is classified as juvenile fiction, it is a book that any Newf lover will enjoy; I certainly did. However there always has to be the spoil sports. One such is Garry Cranford, a freelance writer from St. John’s, Newfoundland. He went on the internet to claim that the only dog present was Wisher owned by Reuben Decker and that Mr. Decker had told a journalist that Wisher did not go into the water. According to Mr. Cranford, the engineer on the Ethie embellished the story by adding a dog and it was this version that got printed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. He concludes that “Many writers have used these newspaper accounts to inflate the status of Newfoundland dogs.”

But for believers there is now new evidence. A woman in Alaska claims to have the dog collar presented to the heroic Newf by Lloyds of London. It has the word “hero” on it and two awards attached. One of the attached medals bears the number “92”, the number of people rescued from the shipwreck.

The exact details are still unclear and that makes the fictionalized version all the more fascinating.

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.

Dogs in Canada

July 2000