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Many people talk about Newfoundlands working as something from the past but the fact is that they work nowadays in the 21st century more than ever. They are all over the world now and doing more types of work than could ever have been imagined. In the 18th and 19th centuries their work was confined to hauling on land and being ship’s dogs, but they now work in libraries helping kids learn to read, jump out of helicopters in Italy to save lives on the briny, act as crisis intervention dogs after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and everything in between.

Some families concentrate on one type of work while others go all out. Mac and Moe McKinnon in Midland, Ontario are examples of the latter; they must wonder what they did with themselves BN (before Newfs). Their oldest Newf, Polar Bear, started out as the mascot of the local cadet corps. He goes on parade with them, leads the cadet contingent in local events like the Santa Claus Parade and even carries in gifts for visiting dignitaries at mess dinners.

Polar Bear is the Cadet Corp mascot
Polar Bear leading Cadet Corp in parade

Then he got trained with the local Newf Club in dog carting and water rescue. Soon Polar could be seen walking the streets of Midland pulling a wagon and giving rides to kids. This evolved to giving rides to Moe who has difficulty walking because of MS. In winter an ice fishing sled was substituted and Moe rides on this with a boat cushion for lining.

Polar Bear at water rescue seminar
Polar Bear learning to cart
Polar Bear pulling a sled

Moe went even further and trained Polar Bear to be a mobility assistance dog. With the carting harness modified to incorporate a handle, Polar can help his mistress walk on difficult terrain such as sand or ice, in effect becoming a living cane.

Polar Bear in harness
Polar Bear working as mobility assistance dog

Next was getting certified as a therapy dog.  Now Polar is a regular at a local hospital.  In addition he is on call for urgent situations.  This latter started by happenstance.  A patient was refusing his medications and becoming violent.  Fearing that the staff and/or patient could get hurt they called the person who normally brings in dogs but he was unavailable.  Moe was on duty at the time and she was paged and then asked to bring in her Newf.  She quickly drove home and got Polar Bear.  As soon as he entered the patient’s room the gentleman calmed down and all was well again.  He spent 45 minutes there and then went visiting other rooms.

Even by Newf standards Polar Bear is a great therapist.  One gentleman was paralyzed throughout his body and could only wiggle the fingers of one hand.  He instinctively laid his head on that hand so the man could tickle his chin.

There is still more in store for Polar Bear.  Approval has been given for him to make visits to the local correctional centre on an experimental basis.

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

March 2011