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In the wake of the Tsunami disaster in Asia, I got an e-mail from Debbie Tor in Israel. She had been explaining the tragedy to her young daughter. Amiya had just been reading and re-reading Thunder From the Sea by Joan Hiatt Harlow, a fictional book which came out in 2004 about a Newf who warns folks in Newfoundland of a tidal wave caused by an earthquake. The eight year old’s reaction was: “Too bad they didn’t have any Newfies there; they could have warned the people.”

While Debbie explained to her daughter the impracticality of her suggestion, my immediate reaction was “Out of the mouth of babes!” Amiya was not far off the mark. Other animals besides Newfoundland dogs can sense imminent danger and that is exactly what happened in Asia just before the tidal waves hit. The news stories were full of stories of human tragedy and mass graves. Important was what was hardly reported at all – there was no mass animal slaughter. The animals detected the danger and fled for their lives; unfortunately the humans didn’t take notice. Actually, some scientists did notice and while their colleagues pursue high tech solutions for an early warning system in areas where the internet is virtually non-existent, they are exploring this simple but effective system.

Newfoundland dogs not only have an ability to detect danger that rates with the best that nature has to offer, but they go one step further, and, as in the story of Thunder, try to warn and help their human friends. In past columns I have recounted some dramatic examples, particularly of Royal Rifles mascot, Gander, who seeing a grenade fall amongst a group of wounded soldiers, did not flee for his life, but gave up his life carrying the explosive away from the scene. Such drama, fortunately is rare; however, with little fanfare, Newfs warn their humans of danger and try to help on a regular basis. Those of us who live with Newfoundlands come to take this quality in our dogs for granted, perhaps because it is so commonplace. I have personally witnessed a Newf finding a Mom whose baby was in distress and getting her to follow him back to the scene and another gentle giant who blocked the path to a staircase, causing a toddler to turn back into the room. Such incidents don’t normally make it into media reports, but amazingly one did in the UK. The British Press carried a story of Gem, who on an early morning walk in the dark with her master, James McBride, stopped on the route they took every day and wouldn’t budge or let him pass. When Mr. McBride shone his “torch” on the path ahead, he saw that the bridge over the river was broken.

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

March 2005