WARRENTON — A few threatening growls, a bark or two, loud panting and plenty of slobbering. Such was the scene Wednesday at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop.
At least 17 Newfoundland dogs – and their handlers – showed up for the 19th annual Seaman’s Day to commemorate the dog of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, breaking the day’s record for number of “Newfies.”
“I think our highest has been 12 before,” said park ranger Sally Freeman. “Maybe we should shoot for 20 for the 20th anniversary next year.”
More than 200 years ago, the 33 people of the Corps of Discovery wintered at Fort Clatsop. The 34th “member” was Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ dog and the only animal on the expedition to complete the entire trip.
Costing Lewis $20, about a month’s wages for the captain in 1803 terms, Seaman proved his worth during the 2½ year expedition across the country and back. He served as hunter and retriever by bringing down deer and squirrels for meat, as watchdog by warning the camp about a nearby bear and a rampaging buffalo, and as diplomat with curious American Indian tribes.
For Seaman’s Day, dog owners and handlers came from Pacific and Clatsop counties, Portland and farther away to share their love of Newfoundlands. Many of them were members of the Pacific Northwest Newfoundland Club, the Newfoundland Club of Seattle or the Columbia River Newfoundland Club.
“It’s become probably one of our most popular events,” Freeman said. “We’re really a dog-friendly park.”
The day’s activities included morning and afternoon historical talks on Seaman, flintlock rifle demonstrations and panel discussions by handlers about modern Newfoundland dogs. The Netul River Room at the park also provided Kid Corps activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and more than one child walked around the park donned with floppy paper dog ears and a face painted in honor of Seaman.
Newfoundland dogs, a giant breed, are known for their ability to pull carts, so this year the cart-pulling activity was revived. Two dogs pulled participating kids in wagons through the fort replica and around a loop trail through the trees.
“When they have a job to do, they enjoy it,” said dog owner John Meyers of Lacey, Wash.
Meyers owns two Newfoundlands, brothers Teddy and Chasin’, and is part of the Seattle Newfoundland Club. This was his first year at Seaman’s Day, and Teddy helped by carting around kids for short rides.
Chasin’, whom Meyers introduced during the panel discussion, is a rescue dog. He was abandoned by his previous owners, found by his breeder, nursed back to health and self-esteem, and now – in a true rags-to-riches story – is a champion dog show winner. Chasin’ had his first studding last week, and puppies are on the way.
“If I had one word: companionship,” Meyers said to describe Newfies. “They go everywhere with me, outside, inside. They sleep by the bed: One on one side of the bed and one on the other.”
Newfoundlands were bred to be working dogs for fishermen in Canada, so it’s no surprise that they’re also known for their love of – and ability to rescue people from – water.
For instance, Leska Adams of Oregon City takes her Newfoundland dog, Orka, kayaking. At 2½ years old and weighing in at 145 pounds, Orka comes from a line of professional rescue dogs in Europe – his mother and aunt work for the Italian Coast Guard.
“He’s a water rescue dog, so I can go anywhere with him,” Adams said.
Adams, who has autism, adopted Orka as a service dog, and the two engage in all manner of outdoor adventures, including skiing and snow shoeing. It was Orka’s second year at Seaman’s Day, and he also participated in pulling carts of children around. He is still being trained for water rescue, and Adams said she hoped next year’s Seaman’s Day will give him the opportunity to showcase his talent.
“There’s no other dog that even begins to compare to Newfoundland dogs. They’re the most versatile of the working dogs,” Adams said. “I’m never anywhere without him.”
The strength and talent of Newfoundlands was on display, and handlers voiced other reasons to own one as a pet: They’re great with kids and obvious icebreakers for meeting new people. Newfies can be eager to please, loyal, smart and, depending on their personalities, even pranksters.
“They’re just like people. They’ve all got their own personality,” Meyers said.
Sometimes they can even be stubborn.
“They help you develop great upper-body strength,” joked Bob Cantor of Sutherlin, as he strained to keep his two 6-year-old Newfies, 135-pound Princess and 180-pound Tank, from wandering off in curiosity from the new sights and smells to be had from park-goers and other dogs.
The dogs contributed tons of giant, hairy and slobbery fun during the special day. (And the drooling is no exaggeration: One dog even wore a bib.)
“You go through stacks of paper towels,” said Marty Martin of Ocean Park, Wash., as she wiped her dog Bismark’s mouth.
Martin isn’t a stranger to large dogs. Over the years, she has owned three great danes and three mastiffs, and 2-year-old Bismark is her third Newfie. She and her husband recently took Bismark on a trip across the country in their camper, and the dog proudly swam in the same rivers the Corps of Discovery explored on their journey.
“He’s really followed in Seaman’s footsteps,” she said. “He’s a real fireball.”
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.