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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Newfoundland (2)


WEEKLY DOG BLOG--Sampson, 7 weeks

I have decided to add a new feature to my blog, a weekly entry for fellow dog lovers, puppy breath addicts and those with a high tolerance for the furry and cute. One of the reasons is that, thinking back, my early memories of our original Newf Jonah are pretty cloudy, lost in the haze of the fact that we made the crazy decision to get a puppy and have our first baby at the same time.

Prepare for a weekly feature that will include photos of the famously-hard-to-photograph Newfoundland as he grows (you can almost watch it happen) and a journal entry that chronicles this exciting addition to our family. The other reason? Let's face it: my littlest kid just turned four. It's been too long since I've had something tiny and helpless and endearing to slather with affection and obsess over. 



7 weeks, 16 lbs

In January, a few weeks after our Newf of almost ten years died, I happened to come across a farm near Harrisburg that was known for Newfoundlands, miniature silky goats and dried flowers, whose name was Opening Heavens Doors. I thought it might be a sign. Some of our dearest people and animals had recently gone to the other side, so anything that promised some kind of connection to this seemed auspicious. When I perused the website and found a female looked exactly like Dakota, the Newf I'd had since I was 16, the one who marched in Cornell's graduation alongside me and whose immediate acceptance of my then-casual-boyfieind, now-husband J made me think twice about him, sealed the deal. I contacted the owners, paid our deposit and we began the wait. 


In the past three years, my children have lost their grandmother to cancer, suffered the sudden departure Uncle Matty G, and then the loss of Jonah, their lifetime canine companion, their constant. I have been a little anxious about the idea of loved ones as 'replaceable' and so the waiting period was important. Waiting to hear if the breeding took, if there was a black male in the litter, and finally, driving to Harrisburg to pick out the newest member of the family. 


In the interim, I did exactly what I did when expecting Hayden: I read. Piles of books on dogs and training, though this time around I had the sense to get them from the library. I remember before our first child was born, I had been reading "The Baby Whisperer" and I took a long walk with my aunt, mother of 6 (5 boys and 1 girl) and told her how great things were going to be when the baby arrived, according to this book. There was even an acronym for it! E. A. S. Y.= Eat, Awake, Sleep, You Time! I told her how we would never nurse or feed our baby to sleep so he didn't get used to that as the norm, and how we would not need to change our life for our baby: the nanny whisperer told us to 'invite the baby into our life'. Which, in our appropriately selfish mid-twenties, included lots of job changing, frequent sports-inspired vacations, liquid dinners and constant moving. 

I remember my aunt very politely, gently said something along the lines of 'wait and see when he gets here'. Which, when it happened, turned our lives upside down and created a complete 180 in our parenting views. Invite him into our lives? We had planned a surf trip to the Bahamas for weeks after our due date, reasoning that one of us could hold the newborn in the shade, and then we'd swap. We were so anxious to show everyone that a kid wouldn't slow us down or change us. As the plane ticket came and went, we found ourselves in the NICU at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, praying for the life of our first born, making promises that included never seeing the ocean again if he would just survive. (You can read about this story here.)


The books I checked out this time around, about adding a hairy, four-legged addition to your family or pack, were surprisingly familiar--The Dog Whisperer, and Natural Puppy Rearing. If you subsituted 'baby' for 'puppy' in these texts, the polar messages were exactly the same. I inhaled them, checking in about what resonated and what didn't apply.


J scoffed a smidge at my need to revisit texts from the 'experts'. "We've raised two great dogs and three amazing kids in the last 15 years--why do you think you need to read books again?" But I did, just to reaffirm where I stood. I'd read parts of the text aloud, things that didn't resonate, 'tests' we were meant to put our puppy through, and principles that probably do apply when you are the Dog Whisperer rehabilitating pit bulls, but maybe not so much when you have an underactive, home-raised seven-week-old Newf on your hands, or in your family bed as the case may be. 

"Rust" (future Sampson) on left, Q-tip on right, 6 weeks

Choosing Sampson was easier than I had worried it might be, and we wanted to do it quickly so there was no sadness or second-guessing. Taking both was not an option--whoever didn't come home to us was going to a baker. Both boys were on their stomachs on the cool tile floor, front paws outstretched, back legs pointed behind them, in tiny little Superman position. Both would have made great additions to the family, but we chose the sleeker, 1 lb heavier boy on the left.

The several hour ride home, despite the nail in our tire, Piper clipping her neck in the clasp while trying to don Sampson's collar, and Hayden losing privileges for taunting a cross-legged Max with hissing 'pee' sounds and Sampson snoring away was pretty good too. 

Piper, Hayden and Max take turnsAt home, our first night was surprisingly smooth. We sat out in the late evening air and let Sampson and our cats get a gander of each other, and then he wandered into his little spot in the ktichen and passed out. 

Sampson and "hedgie" acasa


I had these expectations that we would co-sleep with our new puppy--we still have a musical beds schedule with most of our kids, and Jonah certainly enjoyed his years in the 'pile of puppies' style of family bed. But for whatever reason, Sampson was cooler and more comfortable in his own little spot by the a/c vent and an ice cold stainless bowl of water  in the corner of the kitchen. 

So J and I went up to bed, feeling pretty smug. He had gone to the bathroom several times outside, had lolled in the kids' arms the whole car ride home. No accidents, no crying. I remarked that I felt about him like I had when bringing my babies home: I loved them on principle, but didn't feel like I knew them yet, and I lived in quiet fear of The Night and all of the unknowns it might bring. With Hayden, it was months before he came home, and Max was such an easygoing little fellow that I didn't have a dreadful newborn night until I brought home my third, Piper. Piper and Mama, April 2007By your third kid, you're supposed to be seasoned. You're supposed to know better than to feel like a cocky pro on the maternity ward when your little angel (left) sleeps all through her first hours of life and by god, you're supposed to know better than to rush home. But I didn't. I begged to be discharged at less than 24 hours, and took a borderline jaundiced Piper home to meet her brothers and even did some gardening.

But when night fell, and her thready wails began, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I call all my friends who had three or more kids and hold the phone up to her for a diagnostic, not only did I call my Labor and Delivery nurse friend on the West Coast, but I actually called the staff at the hospital that I had campaigned to be discharged from, and suggested I bring her back. Just in case, you know, she was crying because there was seriously something wrong with her. I swear you could see the eye-rolls through the phone. 


So our first night with little Sampson, J and I went to bed with a small amount of terror in the pit of our stomachs. It wasn't long before I noticed he was gone. J slept much of the first half of the night on the kitchen floor beside the puppy because of Sampson's penchant for putting his whole face in his water bowl while sleeping. I'm not kidding, (photo at end,) and upstairs, I fretted about the peaceful silence, the calm before the storm, anticipating the moment that the howling would begin.


3:36 am: you would think harbor seals were being slaughtered downstairs. I took a shift on the floor wondering when was the last time I scrubbed the baseboards, J took a second, I took a third, he took a fourth, and finally at 4:45, little man was up for the day. I carried him outside for the summer dawn chorus of birds and did some halfhearted weeding in my pajamas while he got into some determined grass sniffing. 

Despite the lack of sleep, our first full day has been an early summer delight. Sampson and Piper watered the lima bean garden before she went to her final day of preschool and the heat index got so high that our panting black woolly bear caterpillar had to stay inside with the AC running. Atticus and Sampson face off


Early morning, Sampson and Atticus went Round Two. Atticus is our junior kitten of three cats, 2 years old and full of attitude and machismo--he took a soft paw to Sampson's downy cheek in their first few minutes together, and then has made a point of following us everywhere, and then scampering ahead to flop in our path and flick his tail, just so we're clear that he's really annoyed. Shades of toddler Max's fantastical "Ben 10" rage-transformations when baby sister arrived on the scene. If I'd had more than three hours of sleep last night, I would find the video of one of these and post it. Lordy.  


Midday, 96 degrees in the shade, we took Sampson to the pool for his first swim. You'll have to ignore my Kenny Loggins thrift store sunglasses--it's crazy sunny out and I am in desperate need of a trip to Target for some more cheap UV protective eyewear, but until then, try to take me seriously in these. (My husband can't.)

Sampson was calm and relaxed in the water, and when Hayden took him in, even tried a few tentative paddle strokes. Could it be? We might finally have a Newfoundland, the famous water-rescue breed, who actually swims?!

First day swimming

Cheering squad of three


Aside from swimming, most of the day, Sampson has slept and eaten, gnawed and drooped his little head into the fresh ice cubes in the water bowl. We have done our favorite summer tradition of an evening walk with bikes and it fills my heart to have a dog along again. Piper and all of the kids are getting very good at the art of distraction, (chew a stick instead of the hem of a pretty 3T sundress,) and are taking my suggestion not to use the word "no" with his name seriously. The boys had three mini training sessions and swear he comes when called, can sit on command, and has mastered 'lie down and sleep'. 

Piper and Sampson make their way homeIt's dark again, and the kids are settled, J is home from work, and Sampson is showing off his puppy skill of sleeping, eyes closed, chin-deep in the water bowl. 


Stay tuned for more Sampson next week, when 73 members of the extended family arrive for a reunion, two-year-old cousin Quinn moves in next door, and we might try something really rigorous, like walking him with a collar and a leash. 


Monday Musing--Jonah Jones Hoffman, 2001-2011

On Saturday night we received the heartbreaking news that Jonah, our beloved dog of nearly a decade had died. Despite the efforts of our petsitter and dear friend Beth, Jonah suffered canine bloat. This is typical of larger breeds, and the risk factors increase in older dogs. Jonah was a Newfoundland, weighing in at 175 and just a month shy of his tenth birthday, so while we knew that big dogs=big hearts and shorter life spans, this day was not so so far off, we didn't expect it now. The heartbreak is compounded by our not being there to see him out, to love him as he went and thank him for being the perfect family dog. I don't look forward to going home at the end of the week and seeing his footprints in the snow he loved to frolic in, but no slobbery, exuberant Joey greeting. 

Today's musings are photos and words in honor of Jonah. 



Jonah came to us from a farm in South Dakota at eight weeks old, already tipping the scale at a whopping twenty-eight pounds. I remember flying back with him at my feet in an undersized cat carrier, the worst turbulence I've ever experienced in a tiny prop plane. I was five queasy months pregnant with our first son, bent over trying to soothe him as the poor puppy threw up all over himself and my shoes. On a layover in Ohio, I bathed him in the airport restroom sink and fluffed him up with the automatic hand dryer in anticipation of meeting his father and his furry canine brother, Dakota, my Newf of nine years.

Although I have many memories of Joey's puppy months, like our month at the shore where he used his lower jaw as a shovel to ingest as much sand and shells as possible, this blurry photo (LEFT) is the one of the only I have of our early months. This is in part because he was quickly eclipsed by the arrival of our son Hayden and all his medical challenges and long stays at the hospital. Fortunately, Jonah had the distraction of harassing Dakota. The puppy that we thought would bring so much life back to our beloved elderstatesman ended up being a torment and Dakota often rolled his long-suffering eyes at me like, "What have you done with my golden years?" Still, in typical Newfy tolerance and patience, Dakota took Joey under his wing and trained him in the ways of being our family's dog. 


We ended up with three male Newfs during Hayden's first year; my father's Big Dog (aka "Piggy) came to live with us as well. The white satin edges of Hayden's baby bassinet were quickly a dingy brown from where these fellows rested their jowls and gazed in adoringly on their baby. The lone time I tried sleep training, tried to let Hayden 'cry it out', I had three dogs anxiously herding me to the bassinet like, "LADY! You can't hear the baby crying?!"

Hayden adored his dogs. "Guh", accompanied by an emphatic slapping of thigh, the ASL sign for dog, was his first word.

Meanwhile, Jonah was taking his Newfy training seriously, learning about from Dakota about the important sense of entitlement. Dakota had already staked his claim on the leather couches, so for Jonah, this meant leaping up to sleep between us at night. I love the photo, taken after Hayden returned from a surgery (BELOW), because it reminds me of a time when "family bed" had a whole new meaning.

 As he grew, I worried that Jonah's bed-leaping was dangerous. A 175 lb dog landing on a child could be tragic, but Jonah always knew exactly where his baby was and as the years went by, he understood that his human siblings slept up between us now; he took his place stretched out at the foot, warming our feet. 







In 2003, Big Dog moved to Costa Rica with my father and we lost Dakota--big dog, big heart. We also moved out of the house on Alnwick that both boys first called home and prepared to build our future home on a lot with some land and a stream and pond for mucking. Our Christmas card that year (bottom right) was Jonah and Hayden, pictured down by that stream.


We were also expecting a baby, another little brother for them both. Not long after Max was born, we moved into our new house and Jonah stopped climbing stairs, where the master bed is. He quickly found someone to keep him company at night on the main floor:

These were the years when we watched a lot of "Teletubbies", the PBS show with the vacuum- character called the Noo-Noo, who had a long nose hose attachment for cleaning up messes. 

We called Jonah our Noo-Noo for his ability to lie just under the baby chair or kids' table and get a full meal out of whatever fell. I love this photo of Max gleefully spoon-feeding Joey:

Jonah was also clever enough to take advantage of his height--just right to nose up to an outdoor table. In the photo below, you see we are all distracted with the blissful image of GG holding our brand new baby Piper at a Mother's Day brunch. What you might not notice is that behind her, Jonah is making his way toward the spread: plates of bacon and waffles. 


At every party and outdoor BBQ, friends and family learned one of the cardinal rules of the Hoffman house:



Lord Byron said this about his Newfoundland Boatswain:

Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man without his Vices. 




Typical of Newfies, Jonah exhibited endless patience. He put up with kids coming over who thought he was a pony and they could ride him. He didn't mind the goats and their antics, or the kittens and their tail swatting, and he let our babies crawl all over him, mauling him and poke-poking his paws.


But even a Newf's tolerance was put to the test when we brought home Sophie, a kitten who immediately claimed her as "his". The first time I came home and saw them out in the yard, Jonah stretched out with Sophie sprawled across his front paws, I thought he had killed her, worried how I was going to hustle the kids past this brutal scene. But then they both picked up their heads, and went right back to canoodling, Sophie rubbing under his chin gratefully. 

(I worry about Sophie wonder how she is taking the loss of her constant couch companion.)

When Sophie's kittens were born, Jonah became nanny, flicking his tail over the couch for them to attack, all while feigning disinterest. 



With his massive size and manly bark, Jonah could certainly intimidate and there was many a deliveryman who laid on his horn rather than get out and face a dog like Joe. But many friends have stories of coming by to drop off items and being met with nothing more than a snore from the couch or at best a raised eyebrow and tail thumping welcome. What I mean by watchdog is that Jonah took care to watch out for his children, endlessly. Wherever they went, he went also. Out by the trampoline? He'd lie down at the ladder, barking if things got too rough. On walks he was careful to gently herd them away from pond and road.

  It is little wonder that the original Nana in Peter Pan was a Newfoundland, not a St. Bernard as portrayed by Walt Disney.





To Hayden, Max and Piper, Jonah was simply ubiquitous, a constant on walks and swims, fishing trips and sledding, ever-present and watchful of his children. 









(LEFT) Jon and Piper show off the outdoor-on-a-cold-day-in-early-spring version of the Jonah Pillow and (RIGHT) our friend Ben demonstrates the indoor, full-body model.






 With his lion-like head, glossy coat, size and excellent conformation, Jonah exemplified the physical traits of the Newfoundland.

He loved water, especially wading and drinking from the pond or stream. This gave his breath an uncanny, fishy smell. Jon often called it "Seafood Surprise".

It could be so bad that once, one of Piper's sensitive-sniffered playmates caught a whiff and promptly threw up.

 Jonah was also slobbery and sheddy, and tracked in water and mud. In the winter, he loved the snow, would spend hours out rolling in it or just cooling himself on a snowdrift. The photo below is the one I send to people whenever they tell me they want a dog just like ours. 

I remind them that this comes to your door all winter long and asks with soulful brown eyes to be let in. So you get towels and mats, and go to work on him, making sure to get the ice balls out from between his webbed toes, only to have him barking to go out in it again five minutes later. 








 Newfs are truly a labor of love, but nobody can deny their inherent beauty, and Jonah, more than any Newf, exemplified the classic, regal nature of the breed.  




It is true that Jonah was handsome, gentle and warm to cuddle with, that he loved and was ever vigilant of his children and his beloved feline Sophie, that he was tolerant of the goats and the other cats and children, but there has never been any question about whose Jonah was:


Just as Dakota was my dog, the dog who went to college and Spain and the Caribbean with me, whose spoiled baby status and naughtiness was unparalleled, Jonah has been Jonathan's from the beginning. Jonah loved us all, but Jonathan was his person.

He waited every day for Jon to come home and then was never farther than a few feet from him, often lolling his head lovingly in his favorite human's lap. He loved hanging out around the table or grill for spoiling and treats, and following Jon around the property and flopping at his feet, exposing his belly for a good rubbing.

I think sometimes about how Jonah cared for us during the workdays, the way he was so vigilant with the children, keeping them in line and safe, how he always kept me company on walks and gardening. I wonder if this was him trying to be a stand-in for Jon, taking care of his family, to make his master proud. 





This final photo is one of my favorites, taken last month by our friend Beth. It was dawn, one of Jonah's many walkabouts up through the fields to visit her dog, his best canine friend, Heike. Beth was the one who tried to revive Jonah, to keep him with us a little longer, and when she couldn't do that, she wrapped him in a blanket, and stroked his head and said goodbye with five kisses, one for each of us. 

Jonah, you are missed by many. 



"The average dog has one request to all humankind. Love me." --Helen Exley