Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Sweetness of Temperament Is The Hallmark"

Gentle Giants In Town
(The Providence Journal, May 1, 2008)

"WARWICK — Long before Peter Pan swooped through their nursery window, the Darling children had a faithful friend in Nana, the patient and protective Newfoundland dog cast as a nursemaid in M.M. Barrie’s classic tale.

In real life, the giant teddy bear of a dog known for its gentle nature and brawny work ability, lives up to its beneficent reputation. And any doubters can check out the breed’s attributes at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where roughly 700 of the guests over the past couple of days have been 'Newfies'.

The dogs and their owners have converged on the city for the Newfoundland Club of America’s National Specialty Show –– the capstone event for Newfoundlands on the show circuit. The breed-specific show started on Tuesday and will run through Saturday, with competition in a number of categories from breeding to cart-pulling.

According to Aura Dean, a spokeswoman for the Newfound Club of America, the entrants and their owners come from all over the world, although the majority hail from the United States and Canada.

There’s no doubt it’s a serious dog show, as the fur flying around the grooming tent would indicate. But Dean said it’s also a great opportunity for Newfie lovers to get together and swap stories and tips about the gentle giants that share their homes.

Although the American Kennel Club recognizes Newfoundlands that are black-and-white (Landseer), brown and gray, the majority of them are coal-black. With their impressive size, softly feathered fur and soulful eyes, they have proved to be a bit of a tourist attraction with people stopping on the hotel’s grassy grounds to snap pictures and small children running up to try to wrap their arms around the mountainous dogs that are so much like jumbo stuffed animals.

'They’re just big mushes', said Synthia Ross, of Exeter, N.H., as she strolled through a maze of white tents with Ace, her 175-pound Newfoundland, and his much smaller buddy –– a 14-month-old Bassett hound named Kahuna. 'When Ace lies down, this one just climbs all over him', she said, pointing to Kahuna who was sanding comfortably in the Newfie’s shadow.

Newfoundlands are probably best known for their sweet dispositions, said Dean, adding that the dogs are also legendary for water rescues and their strong swimming abilities. They have webbed feet and Cathy Derench of Coventry, Conn., said that if she wants a free ride in the water, all she has to do is hold onto the tail of two-year-old Whitney.

Whitney, a female, is on the petite side, weighing in at about 115 pounds. According to breed statistics, the dogs can range from 100 to 220 pounds and stand nearly three feet tall.

The breed can trace its lineage back to Newfoundland, where it was a working dog that helped haul in fishing nets and pulled small carts carrying milk, mail and other necessities. Its water-resistant coat allows it to remain impervious to icy ocean water and its natural affinity for humans made it a natural when it comes to sea rescues. (There are many historical tales.)

Derench said Newfies are also ideal for therapy work, from nursing homes to literacy programs.

To say that Newfoundlands are calm is sort of like saying that fish swim. Yesterday they strolled around nonchalantly with their tails gently wagging and their tongues lolling. Ozzy, a champion from Cobourg, Ontario, kept dozing off while owner Jill Francis had him on a high table for brushing and trimming.

'He just loves to be pampered', she said as Ozzy lazily opened one eye. 'He loves to be told how good-looking he is.'

Dean likes to call the breed benevolent but said they also have a sixth sense that can make them protective of their families when necessary. 'Their hallmark is sweetness of temperament, but they can tell if someone has something up their sleeve', she said.

She recounted a recent incident when she was working in her garden when one of dogs got up to position himself between her and a stranger who was approaching. “He asked me what my dog had in mind,” Dean said. “And I told him, ‘That’s up to you.’ ”

Drooling is another Newfoundland trait and aficionados of the breed are unapologetic about it. 'You get it at no extra charge', Kathy Queen, of Cheshire, Conn. said.

Derench and Dean said that most breeders make sure potential owners are accepting of the drool factor before they’ll sell a pup.

'If you’re a neat freak these dogs are not for you', Dean said.

According to Dean and others at the show yesterday, famous Newfoundlands include Seaman, who accompanied early 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark; and Brumus, Robert F. Kennedy’s dog.

Nana is the literary star of the Newfoundland world but is also a bit of a sore subject since Walt Disney and other movie-makers have chosen to depict her as looking more like a St. Bernard.

The record, however, is clear. In Chapter One of The Adventures of Peter Pan, Barrie writes, 'as they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana …' He went on to say 'she proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse.'

Most of the guests at the Crowne Plaza this week would wholeheartedly agree."

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