On April 2nd, 1998, my best friend, my partner, my wife, Maribeth, died suddenly in a car accident. This was the person who got into Newfs in 1975 and into dog carting in 1976. Since 1979 when I started writing this column, she has been my main support and best (harshest) critic and supplied much of the technical and anecdotal material for my writings. She helped me set up the NDCC’s Working Dog Committee in 1981 and for the past 12 years has chaired the committee with a passion.
How to say goodbye to such a person? On April 4th, the members of the South Eastern Ontario Region found a way. Their first reaction was to cancel the dog cart rides at the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival out of respect for Maribeth. This I asked them not to do because I knew it would be the last thing she would have wanted. So, they carried on with the event but started it with the most appropriate ceremony; the club members formed a circle with an empty dog cart in the centre and then had a minute of silence in remembrance.
Then there was Maribeth’s last wish. For as long as I could remember, she stated that when she passed on, she wanted her remains hauled by Newfoundland dogs to the burial site. For just as long I had planned to build a special wagon for this purpose. However, this project was put on a back burner since I assumed that I had several more decades. But now I was faced with the challenge with only three days to go before the funeral. It seemed impossible. When my son, Allan, and I were discussing the arrangements with the funeral director, I lamented on the fact that we would not be able to carry out my wife’s last wish. He didn’t see this as a ridiculous request, in fact, he offered a dog sled that he was storing in the funeral home’s garage. From that moment on Allan was determined that he would carry out his Mom’s last wish. We looked at the sled with the idea that we could put castors on it; however, it proved to be totally unsuitable for the purpose. But Allan now had the bug.
Next, he thought of using a plywood platform with pneumatic castors. There wasn’t much time to secure the materials and test it out, but Allan was determined. As people came to visit, we discussed the problem. Everyone took this seriously and many offered suggestions. One idea that we initially rejected was to use one of our dog carts. If there ever was a load that a sulky-style passenger cart was not designed to carry, it was a casket.
Then Carol Bodnieks suggested that we could put the casket sideways. Well this was the break through idea that we needed. Up to this point we were restricted by the tradition of transporting the casket feet first. Within minutes I suggested that two carts could be strapped together side by side. Allan took it from there. He bought strapping material and borrowed some two by fours to make a platform. Then he trained two dogs to work with this contraption. To te4st it for weight, he put four bags of hay salt (352 lbs.) on it to ensure that it could be pulled over a wet grass field. Finally, my sister-in-law, Susan Crowley, brought some fancy red material to cover the rough wooden platform. WE now had a working canine powered hearse.
At the cemetery, the motorized hearse stopped eighty yards short of the grave site. At this point the pallbearers transferred the casket to the dog cart ensemble. Then Allan got between the two Newfs to car them to his mother’s final resting place and in so doing, carried out her last wish.
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.
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