It’s not just the dog, it’s the longing.
First published in the Central Ontario Newfoundland Dog Club in August 2020.
I grew up in Soviet Russia in the 1980’s and remember the kinds of dogs the neighbours in my apartment complex would cherish. There was Lemon, an Airedale terrier down the hall, and our friends on the floor below us had a Riesenschnauzer (a giant black dog that was shaved every summer). Soviet people seemed to adore giant dogs. One giant dog I did not meet in our apartment complex but knew about none-the-less was the Newfoundland. My mother had a friend with a Newfoundland dog that once broke through her bathroom door during her bath. Needless to say, after that incident she bathed with the door open, allowing her dog to keep careful watch every time she took a bath. I really wanted my own dog. When I was 7, my parents bought Jerry, a Collie puppy from the market because they are supposed to be smart. Unfortunately, I was never able to find this out for myself, as a year later, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and Jerry had to go. Shortly after, my father passed away when I was 9, my mother and I moved to Canada.
Like many refugee families just starting out, after leaving our sponsor’s home we went on social assistance and got our own apartment while my mother looked for work. My mother was busy with work and I was busy learning English and adjusting to Canada. Dog ownership was not a priority.
In high school, I had to move out and lived in low-income housing with a guardian who had an incredible Boxer dog. I could not afford my own dog, but I immensely enjoyed spending time with the Boxer and learning how my guardian trained her to be so well behaved and respectful. My guardian ran a foster home for dogs, and I met a Rottweiler, a Golden Retriever and an English Bulldog while I lived there. During this time, I would read many books on dog breeds and no matter which book I read, I knew that the Newfoundland dog was the right choice for me. I noticed the way authors wrote about the Newfie. Other dogs were described as dogs, but Newfies were described as something more. They need their humans to be emotionally and physically available, and in return will be their companion for life.
While at the University of Guelph I happened to visit Guelph Lake one summer day and was treated to seeing more Newfies in one place than I could handle! I was told they were doing water training and I came back to watch every summer. I wanted a Newfoundland companion more than anything! I was still a student and it wasn’t the time. I knew to have a Newfoundland is to dedicate your life to it wholly. They deserve it and I wasn’t ready.
Over a decade passed from those sunny days at Guelph Lake, with more school, a marriage and a child. We took our eight-year-old son on a cross-country trip out west last year and on the way home at Lake Superior’s Neys Provincial Park, we were treated to a Newfie and his dog owner. I burst with excitement and proudly showed off this Newf to my family. It’s one thing to see them in photos, but it’s a whole other experience to see one in real life. My husband and I work from home, which is a great environment for a people-dog to grow up in. I knew it was time.
In December of 2019 we picked up our Newfie girl Fiona. She is magical and I still tear up when I realize I finally get to share the next phase of my life with a Newfoundland. It feels like a dream and I consider it a great position of privilege and feel incredibly lucky. She is still only 10 months old but has won our hearts over completely. She is a classic Newfie and very much a “Velcro Dog”, which I adore. She passed puppy school with flying colours, loves swimming and time by the lake and adores wearing her training harness as I teach her to be a good companion in public spaces. When the world opens up a bit more, I intend to train her as a therapy dog, but what I look forward to most is water rescue training at Guelph Lake. It will be one emotional day for me when, years later, I get to bring my Newfie girl to the very same spot where I dreamed of Newfies.
I can’t imagine my day without her. If you are lucky enough to share your life with a Newfoundland dog, give them a big hug for me. I patiently waited years for a chance to hug mine.