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