While the Newfoundland dog’s history as a water lifeguard is legendary, the modern day use of this breed’s talents in the water has been somewhat limited. For the longest time the only verifiable use of Newfs in this role was in France where a life saving society has been using Newfoundlands for ocean lifeguarding. In the past year, however, the Italian Coast Guard has released videos to the media showing Newfoundland dogs trained to rescue people in the water. These Italian dogs are most impressive as they are shown diving from helicopters from the height of a four story building.
This growing use of Newfoundlands as lifeguards in Europe raises again the oft asked question by many Newf fanciers in this country: What about their use in their country of origin? Is any organization in Canada using this living national treasure in this historic role?
The Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, in conjunction with the Canadian Kennel Club, has developed two levels of tests for canine water rescue, but the use of the dogs is still restricted to private individuals. Training seminars have been held primarily in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec and water rescue tests are held annually in Ontario and B.C. However, to my knowledge, no organization has employed Newfs as lifeguards.
There is hope on the horizon as one agency in Canada is now formally evaluating the Newfoundland dog to assist in water rescue. The Montreal Fire Department has conducted the first trial of the Newfoundland as a water rescue aid in July of this year and the first reports are currently being analysed by the department. More evaluation is planned in the near future. The dog being used in these trials is a Newf named Victor, owned by Yvon Maillet, a member of the Montreal Fire Department. Yvon has promised to update me on their progress, so watch this space for more news on Victor and his possible employment by the Montreal Fire Department.
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.
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