Newfoundland dogs are incredibly sensitive to human emotions. Often I hear of a Newf that stopped eating for days just because the owner yelled at the dog. Whether visiting the residents of an institution (hospital, nursing home, orphanage, prison, etc.) or just hanging around home, their sensitivity makes them excellent therapy animals.
When someone I know loses a human member of their family, I usually offer to take care of their Newfs until things settle down for them. Very few people have ever taken me up on this type of offer; this is when they want and need their furry pal more than ever. Over the years I have heard first hand from many Newfie friends how their Newf helped them through their time of crisis. Some have claimed that they couldn’t have made it without their ever loving Newfoundland at their side.
Probably no one has leaned on their Newf more than Carol Bodnieks of Lakefield, Ontario. When her father passed away, Carol told me how Chief was always there for her 24 hours a day offering sympathy and understanding. He patiently put up with her obsessive brushing of him for five and six hours at a stretch. When everyone else thought she was okay, he would put his head in her lap showing he understood. At three or four o’clock in the morning, he would be ever ready to go for a walk and was always on his best behaviour. At some of the critical times, Chief even put a paw on her shoulder.
On April 2nd of this year, after years of advising folks to lean on their Newf in times of crisis, I found myself in a position to take my own advice. My wife, friend and partner, Maribeth, was killed suddenly in a car accident. That night, after being married for 24 and a half years, I couldn’t bear being in my bedroom alone. Down to the kennel I went and brought in Stitches; next night it was Sugar Bear and then Breezy. The genuine love and compassion that they emitted and the sound of their breathing (in Breezy’s case, snoring) got me through those terrible nights.
Every morning, to this day, all my Newfs greet me with a special fervour letting me know that they all care. Thanks to them and all the people around me who share my love for Newfs, I’m going to make it through each day and night.
Out of this tragedy may have come the start of two new traditions that might help comfort the loved ones of other Newf fanciers who pass on in the future, especially those who are owned by working Newfoundlands. These demonstrations of respect for my wife, who was devoted to the Newfoundland breed and died in office as the Chair of the Working Dog Committee of our national club, certainly were of great comfort to me and everyone else who was close to her.
The first display was on Saturday, April 4th. The South Eastern Ontario Region of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada gave cart rides at the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival. Before the event, the members formed a circle around an empty dog cart and held a minute of silence in memory of Maribeth. This gesture brought copious uncontrolled tears to my eyes.
Then our son Allan made it his personal project to make his mother’s last wish come true. With support from family, Newfie friends, the funeral home and cemetery staff, he took his mother’s casket and remains by Newfoundland dog cart to the grave site.
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