Besides being “ship’s dogs” in the era of sail, Newfoundlands were also “lighthouse dogs”. Many tales, some true, some mythical, abound about these special canines. Lighthouse keepers often had families living with them and the Newfoundland dog provided companionship and protection for the children. This protection usually took the form of saving them from drowning which, for a family living on an isolated island or remote piece of land by the sea, would be a constant threat. Such devotion to children is reflected in children’s fictional literature such as The Lighthouse Dog by Betty Waterton and Dean Griffiths, another must have for the Newfie fancier’s literary collection.
The Newf also helped the lighthouse keeper with sea rescues and many naturally acted as a fog horn. One such Newf was Nemo, owned by Captain Farnham the keeper of Maine’s Heron Neck Lighthouse; he was known by the locals as “the Fog-bark”.
The most famous of all lighthouse dogs was Milo. He belonged to George B. Taylor, the first keeper of the Egg Rock Lighthouse, just north of Boston. Local fishermen would amuse themselves by putting codfish on pieces of wood and then watching this marvellous canine swim out as far as a mile from the island lighthouse and bring the fish back to the Taylor family for dinner.
Milo was a natural fog horn as well. In foggy weather he would bark at the ships as they approached. He did this so effectively that the Keeper claimed Milo was as useful as the lighthouse beacon.
During his tenure at Egg Rock Light Milo became famous for rescuing children and this has been immortalized not only on his behalf but for all the lighthouse Newfs by the 1856 painting of Sir Edwin Landseer entitled “Saved“. In this portrait Milo has Keeper Taylor’s young, son, Fred, nestled between his paws on the seashore and the lad is passed out from exhaustion. Sir Edwin obviously took some artistic licence as both Fred and Milo are completely dry and apparently the significance of the painting is completely lost on some people; in her book This is the Newfoundland Mrs. Maynard Drury quotes one viewer of a print of the famous painting as remarking “Well, no wonder the little kid is exhausted, hauling that great dog out of the water!”
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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