When I first got into Newfoundland dogs in the 1970’s my idols were Vadim and Margaret Booth Chern of Little Bear Kennel fame; after countless hours of archival research, they are even more so. Not only did they produce wonderful Newfs in New Milford, Connecticut with many show wins and championships who will live on in the genes of Newfoundlands forever, but in the greater overview afforded by hindsight it became obvious to me that they were four to five decades ahead of their time when it came to feeding their canines.
At a time when commercial dry feed for dogs was taking over, they went back to making their own dog food. They got a freezer and filled it with meat and, against all thinking at the time, fish. While this doesn’t seem that unusual today, making your own food and using fish would have branded them as eccentric at best in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Their freezer with a 10 ton capacity seemed big but they had over three tons of Newfoundland dogs to feed. Vadim was quoted in a news article “We have 41 adult dogs and 20 puppies. They like to eat and we see that they eat well. The grown dogs get from 2 to 3 pounds of meat a day.”
It wasn’t the conformation show ring that attracted the Cherns to the breed but rather their swimming ability. At 20 years of age, Vadim was the skipper of a commercial schooner with a five man crew. While on the Island of Newfoundland he met another skipper who was non-swimmer and who told him how he had been saved from drowning by a Newfoundland dog from another ship. Vadim stated “Since none of my sailors could swim I bought my first Newf as a lifeguard.”
There is another Canadian connection. When the Cherns set up their kennel, their first acquisition was a Canadian best-in-show Newf, Ch. Midway Black Ledge Sea Raider, who became their foundation stud dog.
One of the biggest ironies about the Little Bear kennels was that despite having bred many champions, their most famous progeny was Little Bear’s Brumis, the mischievous loyal friend to the late Robert Kennedy. Among other things, he was known to treat guests to the Kennedy compound as fire hydrants.
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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