Putting rescue dogs to the test

A woman was saved from the waters of Pymatuning Reservoir on Saturday by a specially trained Newfoundland water rescue dog. And then she was rescued again. And again, and about 12 more times after that. All in a day's work for this special breed of canine that some say can trace its lineage all the way back to Viking times.
This weekend these big black dogs were put through their paces in the water at the 14th Annual Penn-Ohio Newfoundland Club Water Test at Pymatuning State Park in Jamestown, Pa.
Junior division
The dogs were tested in the junior division Saturday. The testing included retrieving from the water, towing a boat to shore, swimming with a handler and taking a line in the water.
Some of the exercises involved a "designated drowning victim," Ginny Mack of Cooks Forest, Pa., swimming out about 15 to 20 feet and then being "saved" by one of the dogs. Mack made sure the dogs knew she was there by yelling and getting their attention. The majority of the animals performed admirably.
The powerful and muscular dogs made their exercises look easy, pulling in a medium-sized rowboat containing two people -- about 400 to 500 pounds -- as if it were a balsa-wood model sailboat.
The club has about 130 members, said Debbie Zigo of Volant, Pa., the club's test secretary. "Anybody can come and test their Newfie," she said. And indeed they do.
Bethany Karger of Allison Park, Pa., the test chairperson, said participants come from as far away as Illinois, Indiana and even Canada.
In the test, dogs are awarded certificates for a successful completion. At the park today, dogs in the senior division will be tested in retrieving off a boat, underwater retrieving, towing a boat, rescue and other exercises.
Canine's origin
The animals come by their love of water naturally. Some Newfie enthusiasts insist the animals can be traced back to 1000 A.D. when the Viking Leif Erikson discovered North America.
The dog is described on the Newfoundland Club of America Web site as "a large, strong, heavy-coated, active dog equally at home in the water and on land. He is a multipurpose dog, capable of heavy work. His unique gentleness, even temper and devotion make him an ideal companion for child or adult."
From all observations, this is absolutely the truth. Walking onto the beach area at the park, there was nary a bark, yelp or growl to be heard.
Club information also says the dog's sweet disposition has made the Newfie an excellent dog for activities such as pulling carts, helping on fishing boats, accompanying explorations as well as being a great family pet.
"My dogs have been certified as therapy dogs as well," Karger said. In this use, the dogs go to nursing homes and similar environments and are used to put patients and others at ease.
The gentle giants have also been used in rescues for many years. Sam Butler of Aliquippa, Pa., the club president, has trained his dogs with a special Newfoundland unit, the Black Paws Search & amp; Rescue, and has been involved in local S & amp;R activities.
Today's events begin at about 8 a.m. on the west end of the dam by the beach.

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