Running with the big dogs

Winning best in show puts Newfoundlands in spotlight

February 12, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

There was a Pekingese named Les, a bulgy-eyed dustmop of a dog; there was Miki the poodle, a prancing piece of well-carved white fluff; there was Coco, the Norfolk terrier, nearly as small and low to the ground as a fuzzy bedroom slipper.

But it was a Newfoundland named Josh, 150 galumphing pounds of barking, drooling fur, that won best in show at the 128th Westminster Kennel Club show Tuesday night - a victory for big dogs everywhere, and a guarantee that his breed will see a surge in popularity.

Next to being in a popular movie - 101 Dalmatians is probably the leading example - winning best in show at Westminster is the best and worst thing that can happen to a breed of dog.

With the attention and status it brings comes an increased popularity that can result in impulse buys - and dog owners who get much more than they bargained for.

That is especially true with Newfoundlands - a sweet and gentle breed, but one with an abundance of girth, fur and drool that isn't truly realized until after puppyhood.

The drool, especially, turns off some potential buyers, though most Newfoundland owners take it in stride. As one of their slogans goes, "Spit Happens."

Breeders of Newfoundlands say they do their best to ensure potential buyers know what they are getting into.

Christine Gorsuch, who, with her husband, Dwight, owns Bear N Mind Newfoundlands in Westminster, says she screens all buyers - and has gone so far as to make home visits before selling a puppy.

"These are my kids, so I'm very, very particular about where they go," said Gorsuch, who says she's now sleeping with her latest litter of five to make sure the mother doesn't roll over and suffocate one.

The breed, she said, "isn't for everyone. They're a high-maintenance dog."

Before selling a Newfoundland, she said, she has to "unsell it" - letting potential owners know how much responsibility is involved, how much drool is involved, and the necessity for obedience training.

Gorsuch, who has 10 adult Newfoundlands, including a niece of the Westminster winner, said Josh - even before winning best in show - was bringing new popularity to the breed.

Last year, he won his group, working dogs, at Westminster, before being defeated during the best-in-show competition by a Kerry Blue terrier.

This year, he won out over the smaller breeds who more commonly capture top honors at the country's most prestigious dog show. He tied the record for the biggest dog ever to win at Westminster, set in 1984, the only other year a Newfoundland has won.

"It's about time one of the bigger dogs won," said Levi Brody, who breeds brown Newfoundlands in Baltimore County. Brody, a small breeder with just two dogs, said he has already received inquiries from people who, after watching the dog show, were interested in buying Newfoundlands.

The breed, known for being loyal and good with children, is also noted for sea rescues, and tales abound about Newfoundlands that have tugged fishermen, and sometimes entire boats, back to shore.

With webbed feet, water-resistant coats and tails that can serve as rudders, Newfoundlands were bred for water rescues and for draft work (pulling carts). The origin of the breed is uncertain, but they were first bred in Newfoundland, as early as the year 1000, according to the American Kennel Club.

The breed almost went extinct in the 1920s, and the ancestry of most modern-day Newfoundlands can be traced back to that decade, to a single stud named Siki.

They stand from 26 inches to 28 inches tall and weigh from 110 pounds to 150 pounds. While they are most commonly black in color, there are also brown, gray and black-and-white varieties, known as "Landseers," named after an artist who featured them in his paintings.

Newfoundlands sell for between $800 and $2,000.

Gorsuch and her husband have been breeding Newfoundlands since the late 1980s at their kennel, on 15 acres in Carroll County, where she has buyers sign a contract stipulating any dog not kept will be returned to her.

"This is going to be like a second baby," she said, adding that she doesn't recommend them in homes where both parents are gone all day. "All of my puppies get placed as house dogs, not a dog you put out in the back yard in a doghouse.

Because Newfoundlands don't drool much as puppies, Gorsuch said, she makes sure potential buyers meet adult dogs so they can grasp just how big - and drooly - they can become.

"You watch the reaction of the whole family. If they are turned off about it, they need to look for another breed."

Still, some Newfoundlands - also called "Newfs" or "Newfies," for short - end up in animal shelters, placed by owners who are overwhelmed by the animal's size, hair and drool. And some breeders fear that will happen more often after the Westminster win as sales increase - just as they did with Dalmatians after 101 Dalmatians, St. Bernards after the Beethoven movies and pugs after Men in Black.

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