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Although I expect that the Newfoundland dog will be around as long as there are humans for them to care for, the heyday of the breed was definitely the 19th century. Not only was the Newf a most popular family pet but also the subject and/or muse of many artists and authors of the day. The obvious examples are Sir Edwin Landseer and Lord Byron.

However I am most fascinated by Emily Dickinson who had Carlo, a brown Newfoundland as her muse. He was a gift from her father in 1849 and they spent the next 16 years together. This is a coupling that has been studied and cited for the potential in an interspecies relationship. Carlo’s quiet presence helped Emily transform inner turmoil into poetry.

This “mute confederate” was first mentioned in writing in a valentine published in 1850 by the Amherst College student magazine. He was subsequently referred to in many letters and some of her poems, always with affection and respect and often with humour.

When asked in a letter “Who are your companions?”, Emily wrote back “Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog as large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than human beings, because they know but do not tell.”

While Emily’s life seemed to have a dark tinge, focusing on death, there was at least one light moment in her life; she jokingly sent a lock of her Newf’s hair to a friend purporting it to be her own. Perhaps she was inspired by Byron who regularly sent his Newf’s hair to female admirers in place of his own.

After Carlo died at about age 17 in 1866, Emily became more reclusive and paid him this tribute:

Time is a test of trouble
But not a remedy –
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.

Emily never had another dog but did say “…do you know that I believe that the first to come and greet me when I go to heaven will be this dear, faithful old friend Carlo?”

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

May 2010