In hon­our of the New­found­land

Par­sons lat­est work tells the tales of the beloved breed


Danny Wil­liams wrote thou­sands of let­ters dur­ing the years he served as the prov­ince’s premier. One of the pieces of cor­re­spon­dence was a trib­ute-like let­ter about a New­found­land dog named Moose.

Dave and Betty Lou Ledrew of Corner Brook owned Moose. From the time he was a pup, the dog greeted tourists on cruise ships dock­ing in Corner Brook.

Moose gained celebrity sta­tus in 2000 when he be­came the of­fi­cial mas­cot of the New­found­land Flotilla — a group of ves­sels from North Amer­ica’s east­ern seaboard that sailed to this prov­ince to cel­e­brate “Vik­ings! 1000 Years” events.

Moose re­ceived nu­mer­ous let­ters fol­low­ing the cel­e­bra­tions in­clud­ing one from Wil­liams, Grand Bank au­thor Robert Par­sons writes in his book about the New­found­land Dog.

“I was sorry to learn that your well-known and much-loved New­found­land dog Moose has passed away … Here in his home el­e­ment he was a true-blue New­found­lan­der with a wel­com­ing at­ti­tude and in­domitable per­son­al­ity,” Wil­liams wrote.

Par­sons has writ­ten over 20 books about ships, ship­wrecks and the sea over the past two decades but his lat­est com­pi­la­tion will pique the in­ter­est of ma­rine en­thu­si­asts, his­to­ri­ans, pet lovers and peo­ple who like read­ing short sto­ries.

“The New­found­land Dog: True Sto­ries of Courage, Loy­alty and Friend­ship” (Flanker Press 2012) con­tains 50 true sto­ries about a breed of dog of­ten re­ferred to as “the gen­tle gi­ant” — a dog known for its friendly de­meanor and heroic ac­tions in de­tect­ing dan­ger and putting peo­ple’s lives be­fore its own.

Par­sons’ ex­pe­ri­ence as an au­thor al­lows him to tell the story then let his readers draw their own con­clu­sions.

Such is the case in the story about Rigel — a large New­found­land dog that is said to have sur­vived the Ti­tanic dis­as­ter.

Rigel’s story was pub­lished in the “New York Her­ald” less than a week af­ter the ship went down.

The story notes that the dog was owned by one of the Ti­tanic’s of­fi­cers.

Par­sons writes: “Jonas Briggs, a sea­man aboard the res­cue ship SS Carpathia, claimed own­er­ship of Rigel and told the me­dia of the dog’s hero­ism. Only for Rigel, he said, the fourth lifeboat lo­cated, and from which many sur­vivors were taken aboard Carpathia, might have been run over by the res­cue steamer. For three hours Rigel swam in the cold water where Ti­tanic went down, ev­i­dently look­ing for his mas­ter.”

While the story was pub­lished in the rep­utable U.S. news­pa­per, Par­sons says there was no crew­man named Jonas Briggs on the Ti­tanic, leav­ing his readers to won­der if the story is in­deed true. News­pa­pers were so anx­ious to get riv­et­ing hu­man in­ter­est ac­counts about the dis­as­ter, he said, that they paid a fee for such sto­ries. Par­sons sug­gests that a dog hero tale would give the sto­ry­teller some ex­tra cash while in­creas­ing the pa­per’s cir­cu­la­tion.

Whether the reader be­lieves the story or not, it’s still a great yarn and not too far-fetched to be to­tally un­be­liev­able.

Then there is the story of Gan­der, the large Newf that acted as a mas­cot for the Royal Ri­fles, a reg­i­ment of the Cana­dian army dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. When the reg­i­ment was posted to Hong Kong in the fall of 1941, Gan­der went with the sol­diers.

The Bat­tle of Hong Kong, the de­fence of the is­land against the at­tacks of the Ja­panese, be­gan on Dec. 8, 1941.

Gan­der helped fight Ja­panese in­vaders three times, Par­sons writes, and on two oc­ca­sions the dog’s stand or at­tack slowed or stopped en­emy sol­diers from ad­vanc­ing, thus pro­tect­ing groups of in­jured and fallen sol­diers.

Gan­der picked up a hand gre­nade thrown by the Ja­panese at the Cana­dian sol­diers. He rushed with it in his mouth to­ward the en­emy line. Sadly, the dog died in the ex­plo­sion that fol­lowed but, Par­sons writes. Gan­der’s quick re­moval of the ex­plo­sive saved the lives of sev­eral wounded Cana­dian sol­diers.

Gan­der was hon­ored posthu­mously with the Maria Dickin Medal for sav­ing the lives of Cana­dian in­fantry­men dur­ing the war.

As a final hon­our, Par­sons writes, Gan­der’s name and his medal are dis­played with the names of the 1,975 men and two women on the Hong Kong Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Wall in Ot­tawa.

Gan­der’s story is among sev­eral where the dog pays the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice. Par­sons made a con­scious decision to group these sto­ries at the end of the book. In that way, readers can de­cide if they want to read the sad­dest chap­ter in the book.

Par­sons said the idea for a book about the New­found­land dog came about as a re­sult of his re­search over the years into ship­wrecks and by talk­ing to fish­er­men about their jour­neys at sea.

“Quite of­ten they kept dogs aboard their fish­ing ves­sels and nine chances out of 10 they were New­found­land dogs,” Par­sons said of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing the sto­ries.

With enough sto­ries to fill about half the book, Par­sons be­gan to do ex­ten­sive re­search about the breed.

It took al­most two years for him to write the book, he said.

The book’s il­lus­tra­tor, Mel D’souza, is a self-taught artist born in East Africa. His con­crete yet sim­ple draw­ings com­ple­ment Par­sons’ sto­ries and leave the reader lin­ger­ing for a few min­utes on the pages con­tain­ing D’souza’s work.

From Bo­sun to Bobo; Cae­sar to Carlo; Jumbo to Jack; — the dog’s names are as in­di­vid­ual as the sto­ries and those who read Par­sons’ yarns will fin­ish the book more as­sured than ever that dogs in gen­eral — and the New­found­land dog in par­tic­u­lar — re­ally are Man’s Best Friend.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Grand Bank au­thor Robert Par­sons and Flossie (of­fi­cial name Florizel) at the New­found­land Em­po­rium in Corner Brook.

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