By Sue Auger, 1982
This is the story of my Water Rescue Newf, Ebunyzar's Sarah of Denali. She is the literate of Ch. Ebunyzar's Bogey D'Wunderland," a Land Rescue Newf" (Fall 1980, Newf Tide ). As a puppy, Sarah taught me about Newf water instincts in the ponds and creeks in upstate New York. Never before had I seen a dog so intent upon "fishing." Scoop, scoop with a paw, staring intently into the water, then pounce, under she would go and come up with a mossy rock, a frog, or something. It didn't seem to matter what she found it was the art of fishing that she was perfecting. One summer when she was eleven months old, we spent our vacation skin-diving off an island in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where Sarah showed me the most amazing water instincts.
We arrived at the beach around ten every morning with our diving equipment ready for the half-mile swim to the island. This was an easy swim with flippers, not a problem for an energetic Newf. The first day out we were halfway to the island when Sarah started crying and circling, staring at the shore, then the island. I grabbed her collar and swam several yards with her before she continued willingly. It wasn't until she did it again the second day that I realized she was noticing that she was at the point of no return between two land masses. The strong instinct to return to the nearest land was upsetting her, as she was exactly halfway between. What an amazing awareness of distance!
When we arrived at the island, Sarah gallumped wildly in circles, happy to have arrived. Immediately, she rushed up and down the white sand beach, "cleaning the shore." She scooped everything out of the water that was floating - seaweed, Coke bottles, all sorts of debris, and dragged it up on shore. Of course, after a few hours the tide came in and she had to do it all over again. After three days, she realized where the high water mark was and to drag everything ALL the way past it. This was her first task every morning when we arrived.
When we went skin-diving, Sarah came with us. I jackknifed to go below, following an eel down to some rocks. I heard a commotion above, and looked up to see Sarah swimming in a circle above me, her face in the water, eyes open, blowing bubbles and squeaking frantically. When I surfaced she escorted me to a rock near shore and threw herself into my lap, sighing and holding me there. It was obvious that although I was having a good time, Sarah was terribly worried about my welfare. Eventually she learned to troll alongside of me by the hour, and tolerated my dives under the surface. However, she wasn't really happy until she had me safe and sound on shore again.
At lunch time we opened the cooler we had floated over and pulled out our sandwiches and drinks. Sarah took off for the rocks above us and returned frequently with various crab and mussel shells the seagulls had dropped. She had collected quite a pile when to my amazement she lay down next to us and proceeded to eat her "lunch." Could this be a normal Newf lunch? It seemed to be for her, as she suffered no ill effects and seemed to relish this every day.
When nothing else was going on, Sarah would stand up high on the rocks and look out to sea for long periods of time, watching the lobster boats intently. She looked like a sentry. Coming back to the mainland was full of surprises too. Sarah waded ashore dripping wet and saw the beach full of people sunbathing. Letting out that all too familiar squeak she dashed ashore and started flipping bodies over and licking faces, obviously "reviving" them. I grabbed her collar before we got into any more trouble, and every day after that I snapped a lead on her and heeled her up the beach, squeaking and worrying about those people lying there.
It was so much fun water training this instinctive puppy for the water test. However, we had trouble with one exercise. It was "Tow A Boat." Sarah had a strong conviction that everything should be beached. Towing a boat parallel to shore made no sense to her. I tried everything, but always she would manage to drag the boat on shore. In desperation I put her on a "sit-stay" on the beach and took the tow line. "Now, Sarah, watch me. I'm the dog and the boat goes this way." Off I went, properly parallel to shore, towing the boat. Sarah watched for an instant, then let out that darned squeak and charged me. She grabbed the line in her mouth. When I wouldn't let go, she bit the line in two and dragged the boat well upon shore. Then she sat down next to the boat facing the other way! There I was standing in the water holding a bumper and a ragged piece of rope in my hand. I knew we were in trouble, but I took her to the 1978 Water Test at the Specialty anyway. Sarah had just turned one year old, and I was
anxious to see what she would do. Sarah was true to her form, and we have pictures of her staunchly dragging the water test boat up onto shore, failing her test with great determination.
Sarah took some time off to have puppies and I thought about how to train her to tow and not to beach the boat. We went to a clinic given by Milo Pearsall, and he managed to get her to tow the boat, but it took fourteen people standing parallel to shore. When I got home I couldn't find people to stand in the water while I trained her. Jack Volhard actually gave me the solution with one of his "Volhardisms." He said IDENTITY problem. ISOLATE it from everything else, and IMPROVE the behavior. The problem was the presence of the shore. The solution was to take Sarah to a tunnel full of water that had no shore. We happened to have one right across the street from us. There we practiced heeling in all directions while towing the boat. After only one week of this Sarah would tow the boat anywhere. In addition to this exercise, I taught her to go right and left, and leave me on command anywhere.
All this led to one of the most exciting days in my life! Sarah and I went to the 1981 Water Test in New England on August 9th. It was Sarah's 4th birthday. She passed the Junior exercises, which I expected, and I post entered her in Senior, hoping she would pass those tests we had practiced. I did not, however, have a boat to practice jumping into water over her head, or a life ring to tow through the water for a rescue. What a thrill it was, even with borrowed equipment, to keep passing one test after another, as Sarah followed those oh-so-useful directions, and paid such close attention to me. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to Sarah, my new Water Rescue Dog, and with that I broke down and cried. I was so happy.
Two weeks after the Water Test Sarah was injured and required surgery. The operation was lengthy and the anesthesia deep. When it was over, the strain had damaged Sarah's heart. She had a terminal illness called cardiomyopathy. She has a year to live at the most, since there are no reprieves from this condition, save a miracle. However, with medication she feels good. This spring, God willing, we're going to get her CD title in obedience. She knows how to do that with her eyes shut, and has never lost her enthusiasm for working.
Sarah taught me more about Newfoundland instincts than any other Newf I've known. She has always been a joy to work with. I'll always remember those great times we had working together as a team. Thank you, my Sarah.