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Newfoundland dogs have long been associated with saving lives in the water but a recent news story reminded me that Newfs do not confine their life saving activities to wet situations. Move over Dalmatians – Newfies may be the next candidate as the firefighter’s dog.

This past October a Newfoundland dog named Jackson was trapped in intense heat and smoke for 40 minutes in a burning house in Farmingville, New York. Firemen found the Newf safe and sound in the bathtub. Now anyone who has lived with a Newfie dog knows that when they go missing in the house, the first place that you check is the bathtub, that cool bed specially designed for our polar bear like friends. What was exceptional in this situation was the fact that the firefighters found Jackson breathing from the drain which is exactly what a professional fireman is taught to do in similar circumstances; the pros were impressed.

More often Newfies are saving human lives rather than their own and this certainly applies to fire situations. The March 8, 1890 issue of a Newfoundland newspaper, the Twillingate Sun, reported that a big Newfoundland dog had recently saved six lives in Allegheny City. The “brute”, as he was described, awoke his master around one o’clock in the morning with loud barking. He refused to be quiet and when his master gave up and looked out the window he saw an apartment building on fire. Members of three families were subsequently rescued.

There are many more examples of Newfies sounding the alarm when humans and their habitats are threatened by fire – this includes me and my family back in 1990. In some of the cases, the Newf is also trapped and their actions might be put down to a desperate act of self preservation, something even a cat would do. However there are examples of a Newfoundland consciously putting himself in danger to save people from fire. One of the most dramatic was on September 17, 1884 when the St. Elmo Hotel in Eldred Borough in Pennsylvania burned. The owner’s Newfoundland dog, Old Heck, made multiple trips into the building to awaken the sleeping guests. Unfortunately on his last rescue trip Old Heck was trapped and burned to death. He was sadly mourned by the townspeople who recognized his heroism.

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.

Dog in Canada

January 2008