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In just the last week I have come across two newspaper articles about working Newfs. This has reminded me that Newfs today, while usually kept as special family members, are still working dogs.

The first one was from The Herald in New Britain, Connecticut and entitled The hairy heroes of search and rescue. Newfoundlands, Tenni and Martha, and their handler, Kathy Queen, are part of an organization called Connecticut Canine Search and Rescue. The CCSAR is a volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a response to all emergency service agency requests for lost, missing or drowned persons. Rescue dogs like Tenni and Martha are trained to search for the nearest human scent. The handler gives them different commands for the various types of search operations, including finding a lost elderly person or child or locating a cadaver.

The other story was from The Patriot-News in North Carolina. It was about a retirement party for a Newf named Rufus. For the past seven years, this 11 year old therapy dog owned by Karen Steinrock, had brought love and laughter every Sunday and holiday to the residents of the Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He was retired because of weakness in his rear end and Karen’s younger Newf, Hannah will be taking over his duties. Rufus gave his special unconditional love to everyone from a 40-year resident to a child with cerebral palsy. Rufus also did special requests. For example, a nurse asked for Rufus to come to her house where her husband was dying of bone cancer. The Newf put his head on the man’s chest, gave him a gentle lick on the chin and stared lovingly at him. Then the gentleman uttered a very weak “good bye” to Rufus and passed away shortly after. At his retirement party, Rufus was presented with a plush pillow with a bone design that a resident had made for him. Then he made the rounds, laying his head on the each person and getting hugged. Next the residents sang “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”. Finally he was presented with a card signed by all the residents and a cake decorated with his photo.

An article was published in the Summer, 2001 issue of the Gentle Giant News about Nicki Gundersen of Kansas and her Newfs who belong to Midwest Underwater Rescue and Recovery. Her dogs are specialized in locating drowning victims. The article follows:

Successful Water Search

Barnabus and Calvin had another successful water search.

Sunday, July 1st at 4:00 p.m., our dive team’s (Midwest Underwater Rescue & Recovery) K9 Unit was put on standby for a drowning on the Thompson River in Crowder State Park in Missouri.

At 5:00 p.m., the dogs were taken off of standby and told to proceed out to the site with a request from the dive team’s captain that Barnabus and Calvin both arrive because there was fear that no other dogs would be arriving. And, our team’s procedure is that more than one dog needs to alert on an area before the divers will be sent into the water.

There was a great deal of discussion on this between the captain and myself because Barnabus retired in December of 2000 at the age of 10. He will soon be 11 years old and he has not been regularly worked since he retired. Finally a decision was made that his previous “finds” and experience on rivers would possibly be necessary.

At 5:45 p.m. the team’s divers were told to proceed to the site immediately.

We arrived on-scene at 7:00 p.m. to the relief of the family and state park authorities. As soon as we entered the park, we were stopped and asked for our ID because a part of the park had been closed due to the drowning. Calvin then stuck his head out of the truck and barked at the man who had stopped us. The startled deputy then called on his radio that the “Newfies had arrived!” and waved us through.

As we got to the command post we knew we were in the right spot because there were tons of vehicles and people. Several ambulances, a fire truck, police cars, lots of pick-ups and 4-wheelers were there.

We started to get out of the truck and people swarmed it. The normal Newfie question and answer session began: What are they? How old? Names? Have they ever found anyone before?

At the command post, we signed in with what our function was, where we were from and who we were with. We then went to the incident commander and he notified the beach patrol that the “Newfies had arrived.”

The authorities had water and hamburgers for the dogs and a couple of the family/friends of the missing man wanted to meet the dogs before we went out to search. They hugged them, loved them and cried a great deal.

Since we were still quite a distance from the actual scene, the dogs, myself and gear were loaded up on the back of a pick-up style ATV and then we were off on a back roads adventure to the beach. (You have not lived a complete life until you’ve ridden like that with two Newfies and gear.)

When we arrived at the actual scene on the beach, divers were set up to one side and boats were ready for the dogs. We then got a briefing of what had happened and what had been done since the actual drowning.

A family had been swimming in the Thompson River off a sandbar. A young male in his mid 30’s had gotten caught in the undertow. Witnesses said that he panicked and screamed once. At that point he went under and was not seen from again.

Around 1:00 p.m., authorities at the park were contacted about the drowning and the search started locally.

Since the accident had occurred local divers had been down and the area had been dragged with no success. At 4:00 p.m., teams from outside the local area were requested to come in.

We were shown the point of entry and the areas that had been worked.

The water was considered to be extremely shallow for the time of year because water depths ranged from two feet to 16 feet depending on where exactly you stepped. Lots of sandbars were easily visible.

I took the dogs off lead and let them get wet before we started working. They rushed out to the water and started telling me immediately that they could smell the missing man. Calvin started barking like a mad man and kept swimming further and further away from shore. Barnabus picked up the short leash hanging from his collar by flipping it into his mouth. So, I knew that the man was in there, we just needed to pinpoint where.

Barnabus and I entered the john boat with a boat driver and the county coroner. We started our sweep approximately 400 yards from the point of entry. Within two minutes, Barn told me that we entered a scent pool by staring at me and doing a low whine. Soon after that, he bent his head down and started biting at the water to tell me that he had found something.

I marked the “alerts” on a GPS unit and two of the divers from our team marked the alerts along the shore with flags.

We continued on through the zone up to the point where the man was last seen. We then went back to shore and I exchanged Barnabus for Calvin.

Calvin barked once we hit the scent pool. He then alerted by barking and pawing at the boat in the same place that Barnabus alerted. We continued through the rest of the zone without any more indications.

Two other dogs (non-Newfs) from our team went out on to the water with the same results.

The divers gathered together and discussed their plan of attack.

As the divers were preparing and we were waiting, the dogs’personalities really came out. Barnabus laid at my feet and watched everything and everybody. Only his head moved back and forth. On the other hand, Calvin was like a live wire – pacing and whining. He hates waiting.

The divers were not down more than 10 minutes before the body was recovered. It was within five feet of where all the dogs had their strongest alert.

Time from arrival to recovery – two hours.

As we packed up our gear, the sheriff’s department brought Barnabus and Calvin more hamburgers and let us know that they had a vehicle for the Newfs so that they did not have to hike the mile back to the command post.

When we got back to the command post, again family members of the missing man were present and wanted to thank the big black bears that aided the divers.

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 2003