Spotlight: Owners bring Newfoundlands to Beltzville Lake to show off their skills in water test
Abigail, owned by Anna Peraza of Middletown, New Jersey, was one of the “gentle giants” on hand at Beltzville for the annual New-Pen-Del trials, however she did not compete. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app to see a video.
Andrea Ottey and her dog Jonah won their category at the annual Newfoundland test.
Dwight Gorsuch directs his dog Cassidy as she prepares to jump off a row boat to retrieve an oar.
Cassidy leaps to retrieve an oar from Beltzville Lake.
Cassidy pulls a ring buoy into shore. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Cassidy performs a ‘rescue’ using a pull buoy during the test.
Elizabeth McCully and
her dog Finbarr traveled from
in the event.
Most are familiar with the tale of Peter Pan and its characters: a restless young boy who refuses to grow up, the rambunctious clan who follow him, a captain with a hook, a fairy and the three Darling children. But what some might have missed is that one of the story’s most iconic figures, Nana, the dog tasked with watching over the Darlings, was a Newfoundland.
To Susan Lonergan, chair of New-Pen-Del Newfoundland Club’s 41st Anniversary Water Test Weekend, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
“They’re very nurturing,” Lonergan, of Doylestown, said.
Starting Sept. 14 and trailing on through the weekend, Newfoundland owners from different parts of the country gathered at the shore of Beltzville Lake to participate in the water test, which varied in difficulty. They began at the junior level; progressed to senior; and ultimately reached excellent status. The trials involved retrieving oars, boats and people from the water.
Newfoundland Club of America President Pam Saunders, who traveled from Oregon to judge the tests, said the challenges require strength and calmness, which are characteristic of the breed. Once, Saunders recalled, she witnessed a Newfoundland pull a 40-foot sailboat while swimming.
“This test is for them to maintain their historical instinct,” Saunders said. “Their instinct has been water rescue. You lost your oars or sails, or even a motor these days, and you send a dog out and they pull the boat back.”
On Sept. 15, the dogs were testing at the WRD level.
Owning and training Newfoundlands can be considered a sort of tradition for some of the test’s entries, many of whom had owned multiple dogs over the decades. This can be said for Karen Doman, who co-chaired this year’s event and will chair it in 2019, and her husband, Bruce, of Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania.
“They are the sweetest, gentlest dogs that I’ve ever met,” Doman said. “Their nickname is gentle giant, and that’s really what they are.”
Through the years, Doman says she and her husband have owned eight “newfies” — an affectionate term often used to refer to the giant, bearlike dogs.
Their shared love for the breed dates back to Bruce’s childhood.
“Back when I was a little boy, there was a famous Newfoundland that I saw at a dog show when I was a kid, and so I decided when I was a kid I wanted to get them when I grew up,” he said.
The pair had two Newfoundlands present last weekend: Ronin, who despite being less than 6 months old is already nearing 85 pounds, and Kumako, who weighs 122 pounds.
Though Ronin was too young to participate in the tests, 3½-year-old Kumako had given her best early Saturday, but “it was not a good day,” for the pup, Doman said.
Yet Doman didn’t seemed worried. After all, Kumako had passed the test in the past.
Elizabeth McCully, another owner present on Saturday, has owned several different breeds of dogs, but said the relationship Newfoundlands have with their owners is unlike any other. Their desire for human contact is something unique, and McCully said that her dog, Finbarr, even gets along well with the cat.
“You have to have temperament with this size of a beast. If this was not a happy dog, you wouldn’t want to have to handle them,” McCully said.
But the day didn’t just belong to the tender Newfoundlands. The trials at Beltzville also made time for other breeds of dogs to put their water rescue skills to the test. Jan Johnston of New Jersey had two of her four American field Labs, 4-year-old Carina and her 18-month-old daughter, Camelo, at Saturday’s trials.
The two breeds — Newfoundlands and Labradors — share a similar ancestry. Newfoundlands were bred alongside Labrador retrievers, and while the smaller-boned Labradors became hunting dogs, Newfoundlands, with their big bones and thick coat, were put to work.
Last weekend was Johnston’s fifth year entering the tests. She’s tested four dogs in total. Like many of the owners present, Johnston said she loves training her dogs, especially because of their high energy and enthusiasm for water rescue.
“They love the work,” Johnston said.