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If there ever was a breed of dog meant for sharing, it has to be the Newfoundland. People will suddenly jam on their brakes when they see a Newf being walked. One time a rear end collision was caused when I was out strolling with two of my babies; then both carloads came over to see the Newfs before tending to the business of reporting the accident. Of course the breed excels in therapy work, both with seniors and with children. After therapy visits, what next? The next level is crisis response.

While Newfoundland dogs are over represented in therapy work, they are even more so in crisis response. The stories that I read about in the media and on the net suggest 14 to 40% of the responding dogs in such tragedies as the California Wildfires and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were Newfies and the demand for the Newfs seems never ending.

The Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) program was started in 1998 by Cindy Ehlers after she was asked to take her therapy dog to the site of a school shooting in Springfield, Oregon. There is a multi-level certification process starting with a four day, 40 hour intensive training for both dog and handler. The basis for this is that people in stressful situations such as disasters or traumatic events often reach out to dogs more easily than they might with other resources including stress management counsellors and peers.

The dogs help both victims and rescuers in their time of special emotional needs. The accounts of the two Newf teams (Nicky Gundersen & Quincy from Kansas and Char Nash & Emma from Michigan) that were called to Houston, Texas after Hurricane Rita hit, were both entertaining and inspiring. These women with their valiant Newfs went down at their own expense, worked 18 hour days in extreme heat and mosquitoes and did this until they ran out of vacation time. Their reward was the feedback from stressed out rescue workers and refugees, including children smiling for the first time since the tragedy.

Children would play ball with Quincy until he tired out and then they would groom him as he lay plastered to the floor while another would read to the gentle giant. Children who had lost control of their lives jumped at the chance to play host and care for the Newfs, including wiping up the drool and giving them treats.

Some of the rescue workers, overwhelmed with grief from their day, needed a shoulder to cry on and a few administrators sought out a Newf because they needed an ear to listen to their problems. The Newfs became so crucial that rules went out the window where the furry giants were concerned, rules such as dogs stay outside and as far as eating facilities, everyone wanted them there to share their food. I hear tell that the Newfs didn’t get to eat dog food the whole time they were there.

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

February 2006