NEWFOUNDLAND INTELLIGENCE AND ADAPTABILITY
(A Short Biography of a Newfoundland)
by Paula Bartak
Reprinted from Newf Tide 1978
As far as we are concerned, Nina has always been special.
Our family's first pure-bred dog was a Saint Bernard female. We began attending matches and shows with her in 1971. We got "hooked" on showing dogs, but we soon realized that our Saint wasn't finishable. We also started getting interested in the Newfoundland. We met Bob and Fran Dibble and their lovely dogs, Storm, Beau and Oscar. That was the breed for us. Then the waiting began. Where and when could we find a well-bred female puppy? Finally Fran called to tell me that she had just learned that a Halirock bitch, Halirock's Eclipse, owned by Robert and Lyn Cummings, had been bred to Ch. Indigo's Fritzacker. We wrote to Joan Foster immediately and then to Mrs. Cummings, at Joan's suggestion, and reserved the first pick bitch from the litter. It was just like being an adoptive family waiting for a baby-we were so anxious and excited. On the eve of Thanksgiving, November 1972, we drove through bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up our darling puppy.
"Skip" (Paul Cobe Jr) and Nina pause on Main Street to talk with some friends
That was just the beginning of our love affair with Newfoundlands, and with Nina in particular. It turned out that Nina was the friendliest "ham" in the ring. She matured slowly, and we waited before showing her at licensed shows. We attended lots of matches and had lots of fun with her. Then, at the age of two, we began showing her in earnest. She took her first point on the first time out. In May, 1975, at 2Y2, she finished.
Now we had a champion bitch and were anxious to breed her. That's when our difficulties began. Nina would not be bred. She fought our efforts, and though we finally succeeded in getting a breeding, it didn't take. On her next season we had the same problems. Finally, we went through the whole hormone treatment and got a normal reaction and it took. In May '76 she whelped 8 puppies; 3 were stillborn and one of the surviving 5 had a cleft palate. Nina collapsed with eclampsia and the pups had to be bottle fed around the clock. We were discouraged, to say the least, and feeling that nature had not intended Nina to have a litter. Soon after, our vet confirmed this by telling us that she would have to be spayed. Her ovaries were literally encrusted with cysts to the point that it was purely miraculous that she had conceived at all.
Meanwhile, I had acquired another Newf bitch. Our Saint had become crippled with hip dysplasia and we had felt it necessary to relieve her suffering by euthanasia, so Nina had been queen of the castle for awhile. We also planned to keep the best bitch out of Nina's litter, so we had to make a very hard decision. Nina was clearly jealous of the attention the other two bitches were receiving. We thought it would be in her best interests to find a home where she would again be
the center of attention.
We found her such a home, or so we thought. There were four children whom she followed everywhere. She rode in the car or truck with the wife on errands. She had an acre of fenced yard to herself. Ideal? We thought so-but who could have foreseen that this perfect family was headed for divorce and consequent upheaval. The wife and children moved to an apartment and the husband took Nina with him. What happened next, I don't know, except that she was found running loose, looking starved, and covered from head-to- toe with ticks and fleas. Who knows what her fate would have been had she not been tattooed and registered with the Canine Bureau of Identification? The people to whom she'd been sold had neglected to change the CBI registration, and so I received a letter from the animal shelter stating that they had my dog. She had been there for 12 days while they traced her tattoo number and notified me! Had anyone seen her then, they would not have believed that she was a champion pure-bred dog.
We brought her home, and gradually nursed her back to health. (I think we counted 72 ticks as we combed and pulled them off her after a flea and tick dip.) It was as if she'd never been gone, this animal who was so dear to us. Yet she was still very jealous and aggressive toward our other bitches. That is when I heard about Skip. When he learned what she had been through, his heart went out to Nina, and he wanted to have her.
It was just before Thanksgiving, 1977 when I took Nina to meet Skip, and it was not without some misgivings. How would Nina react? Would she jump on him, playfully, as she did on me and my husband? Would she lean on him and push him for attention, as she also did? Would she, unintentionally, present a danger to a man who was handicapped, as Skip was? Skip kept reassuring me that dogs know intuitively when a person has an injury, but I still had doubts.
Nina and Skip hit it on from the beginning. Skip was optimistic that it would work out, though I wasn't thoroughly convinced. Skip lives alone in Ventura, with a white cat named Ruffles. His house is small and conveniently located near downtown shopping centers and the beach. He needs to walk for exercise and therapy, and Nina would walk with him. She would be his therapist and companion So I left Nina, with Skip's promise that he would wear his motorcycle helmet for the first few days, to protect his head in case she knocked him down-a promise I don't think he kept.
As it turned out, there was no reason to fear. As Skip had predicted, Nina knew intuitively that she had to be cautious around Skip. Her attitude and behavior have altered strictly according to his needs, which she anticipates. Skip and Nina walk all over the downtown area. They have many stops they must make to say "hello" to friends in hops up and down Main Street. They are good-will ambassadors for the breed, stopping and talking to many strangers who ask Skip the old questions-"Oh, what is it, a black Saint Bernard?" or "What have you got there, a bear?" They enjoy their walks, and enjoy stopping for a burrito on the way home. Almost all downtown stores and shops accept Nina, including the bank where Skip has his account. She accompanies him to the drive-up dairy store and carries home the milk, eggs and orange juice in a backpack Skip bought for her. As they walk through the Buenaventura Mission Plaza, by the water fountain, she gets a drink and, if it is a hot day, cools her feet by walking through the water that runs off in a little channel. She always walks on his left, but at intersections, when they stop, she moves in front of Skip as if to shield him with her body. She wasn't trained to do this, but seems to do it instinctively in an effort to protect Skip. She never jumps up on him, and contrary to her former behavior, instead of dancing around excitedly when she sees her leash and collar, she waits patiently. She has become used to pausing and waiting, and if Skip falls, as he does occasionally, she has learned to come close and act as a support for Skip to lean on as he gets up.
Skip has two fears that Nina has been able to partially relieve. One is the fear of falling, especially in the shower or tub. When Skip is in the shower now, he leaves the bathroom door open, and Nina always lies in the doorway, ready to assist if he needs her. The other fear is that his paralysis will eventually affect his vocal chords and he'll be unable to speak or call for help. Nina is learning to respond o many different hand signals, and often anticipates Skip's needs or wishes.
All-in-all, Nina has become a therapist and companion par-excellence. The native Newfoundland intelligence, adaptability and protectiveness have come to the fore in response to Skip's special needs, in this exceptional partnership.