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Newfies tested at Beltzville

Published September 26. 2012 08:26AM

Andi Ottey of Plymouth Meeting was flailing in the water at Beltzville Lake, about five feet from a boat, and screaming for help. She pretended to be drowning.

What came next was testament of dog being man's or in her case, woman's best friend.

Her 7-year-old, 124 pound Newfoundland named Thor quickly leaped into the water and "saved" her. She was one of two people Thor rescued at Beltzville Lake on Sunday. The first one wasn't Thor's master, but a stranger who also was "in trouble" while in deep water.

The victims weren't actually in trouble but Thor didn't know that. He was one of nearly 20 Newfoundland dogs and three Labrador Retrievers to participate in water rescue testing during the 36th annual testing event by the New-Pen-Del Newfoundland Club.

For Thor, who already is a water rescue dog (WRD), it was a requalification.

Not all the dogs which were tested passed. The exam was tough. Among the scrutiny the "gentle giants" endured included saving people who were in the water and screaming for help, retrieving a paddle that a boater dropped, and pulling to shore a boat that was stranded.

Bernard Latronico, age 80, of Wantaugh, Long Island, N.Y., has attended every testing event of the club at Beltzville. He travels the 100-plus mile distance even though he no longer has a Newfoundland, although he has raised and tested nine in the past. He said he also always had mutts. He helps with the testing because of his fondness to the breed and because he enjoys watching them work.

"I haven't had a dog in 10 years," he said. "It's not fair to have a dog at my age. If something happens to me, who's going to take care of them."

"They work all year," he said in explaining his admiration of Newfies. "They do water in the summer. They do carting in the fall and spring. They're very versatile."

He said Newfoundlands used to work on ships.

"These tests are to preserve their instincts," he said, adding that there were numerous breeds of dogs on the ships and each breed had a different job.

Latronico said his wife, Ann, who died six years ago, got him interested in working with dogs. She was into show dogs "but I didn't like the show ring," he said. As a result, he began training Newfoundlands for rescue work.

Adam Bystol of Fanwood, N.J. put his dog Atlas through the test. Atlas, who is only 1 1/2 years old and weighs 130 pounds, is one of two Newfies he owns. He said he likes the breed because, "They are really gentle giants and they're great with children."

He said he once witnessed an impromptu rescue by a Newfoundland dog on a lake a Pennsylvania.

"It was not life threatening," he said. "An elderly couple lost their oars and the dog went to help."

Dawn Hochman of Saylorsburg has had Newfoundlands for 35 years. Besides training them for water rescue, she also did Newfoundland rescues for the past 15 years.

She is a certified water test judge and a draft judge.

What's so special about a Newfoundland?

"Their temperament is phenomenal," she remarked. "Their water instinct; that's what I fell in love with 35 years ago. They're gentle. They're good with people. They're good with other dogs."

Rose Miller of Manassas, Va. brought her dog Bruce, a 9-year-old Newfie, for recertification. She said that the 140-pound, bearlike pet wasn't behaving very well on the day of testing. He came just short of passing, so she said she will take him to the next certification event which will be held in South Carolina.

She didn't seem to mind that he was antsy during the testing. He already is an AKC champion show dog, has his draft dog title, has his junior rescue dog title, is certified as an obedience companion dog, and is certified as a therapy dog.

Of Newfoundlands, Miller avowed, "They are the sweetest dogs on earth. They have the sweetest personality."

John O'Neill of Denver, Lancaster County, said this is the 15th year since 1998 that the trials were held at Beltzville Lake.

"This is a great test site," he said. "It's a beautiful, beautiful place."

He also heaped praise on Newfoundland dogs, stating, "They are what they're labeled to be the gentle giant. They're great with kids. They're a wonderful, wonderful breed."

During one test, in which a female pretended to be drowning and screaming for help, the Newfoundland that was supposed to rescue her apparently didn't take her seriously.

In the background, though, a much smaller black lab apparently heard the commotion. It began pulling at its leash and barking, as though it wanted to make the rescue.

For the rest of the day, though, the show belonged to the gentle giants.

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