Many folks who aren’t familiar with the “Newfie” side of my life might see my Facebook or Allrecipes nickname and wonder to themselves, “What the heck is a ‘flying wizard’ anyway?” The moniker has a history, and it’s a rather simple one. However, there’s a bit of back-story:
I have loved Newfies all my life. Ever since reading about Nana in the classic tale of Peter Pan, I have harbored a secret desire to cuddle up to a huge furry giant of a dog with a loving personality. But, I didn’t get my first Newfie until 2006.
For several years, I had been dealing with anxiety issues stemming from a trauma I experienced in my early 20s. I had some success with a myriad of drugs, but being in crowded places seemed to cause the anxiety to creep through the medication. The doctor who had been treating my anxiety believed that a dog trained to deal with my episodes would help me cope, so I began my search. First, I researched dog breeds. I wanted a Newfie, but I wasn’t sure that it was the best breed for me and my issue. I needed a giant breed dog that had the natural ability to “tune-in” to my anxiety, be able to think for itself to solve a problem and be trained to react in a predictable way to those queues. I went through the list: Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Mastiff, Irish Wolfhound—each one having many of the characteristics that I needed, though not all. I needed an all-in-one dog. My heart still wanted the Newfie, and after talking with breed experts, I discovered that they were very devoted to their person, sensitive enough to pick up on moods and can think their way out of a problem—in some interesting ways, according to some.
At first, I started with the shelters, hoping that I could find a young Newfie or Newf mix that fit my purpose. The rescue org I contacted tried their best to help, but was unable to get a pup young enough for me that could fit the bill. They also could not assure me that any Newf I got could perform what I needed or would grow to be healthy enough (most of their rescues are from bad breeding situations). The rescue coordinator suggested I try to find a pup from a reputable breeder.
Reputable breeders study pedigrees, test for inheritable diseases, ensure that the puppies they produce are as healthy as possible and work hard to place them in appropriate homes. They maintain contact with every puppy buyer and assist each one with knowledge in training, behavior and health issues. Buying a puppy from a breeder is a relationship spanning the life of the dog. Breeders and fanciers often compete in conformation shows (dog shows) and those who have breeds that were created for a purpose are often involved in competitions dedicated to showcasing the original purpose of the dog. Newfies are a working breed. Without going into a lot of detail, they have been bred to pull carts, carry heavy weights and rescue people who have fallen in the water. These dogs are bred to work alongside humans, and so have developed a utility and unique temperament that was perfect for what I needed.
I called breeders within two states of my area (Seattle, WA). While many of them were nice enough to talk to, most did not have pups on the ground at the time. At least two that I spoke to tended to insult other breeders (not a good sign). In expressing my frustration to the local rescue chair, she referred me to a local breeder who just happened to have pups on the ground just a few weeks old. After speaking with her on the phone (she answered one after another of my silly questions), I filled out the application and waited to see if she thought I would be a good match for one of her pups. Several days later, I was invited to come and meet her and the pups.
On my arrival, we sat down over some coffee while I explained my need. She listened intently, giving her opinion in her no-nonsense, practical way. I wanted a boy, as I felt I needed a dog with mass to be able to push its way through crowds. I also wanted a very confident dog—one that would not shy away from anything. I can’t say that the breeder and I hit it off as buddies right away, but I think we developed a kind of respect for one another—her for her knowledge of the breed and me for my knowledge of what I needed. She would watch as the puppies developed and would try to find one that had the personality and ability I required. I decided that this breeder would help me with what I needed, so wrote a check for a deposit and waited.
The breeder continued to answer whatever questions came up in my head (I’m sure she was thinking that I was a certifiable nut) via email over the weeks, and when the pups became old enough to undergo their heart checks (nine weeks), I eagerly awaited the breeder’s invitation to pick up my puppy. During this time, I went on name databases to find the perfect name. I didn’t really care about any registry—as long as I got a healthy, sound dog that I could train, that was good enough for me. I had it narrowed down to about a half-dozen names by the time I went to pick up my puppy.
The breeder told me that she had two boys that she felt were a good match for what I needed: Purple Boy and Banana Boy (named for the colors on their collars). I had my heart set on Banana Boy, because he was really sweet and I wanted to give him the nickname “Nanner.” I hadn’t thought much about Purple boy until I heard the breeder tell me that she thought he would be a better match. Both were outgoing, but Purple Boy was more confident and less startled by unfamiliar things. That was exactly what I needed. The breeder also informed me that she thought that this boy might be suitable for the show ring, and that if I decided to show him that she would handle him at no cost. That is another story for another time (How the Dog Show Bug Bit My Butt and Never Let Go).
I left with Purple Boy—equally enamored of him as I would have been with his yellow-collared littermate (actually, they were from different litters, about three days apart). As he sat on my lap on the way home, we gazed intently in each other’s eyes. At that moment, I felt that what I was experiencing was pure magic. The name “Merlin” came to me, and I never even considered the other names I so carefully plotted out for one second after that.
Weeks later, I was laboring over what name to put on his registration, and ran through my mind the story of how those two litters came to be, which I was told when I came to pick up Merlin:
Reputable breeders like Merlin’s, will go to great lengths to ensure that they produce healthy dogs that meet their exacting standards. This includes the shipping of semen. My breeder had two bitches (girl dogs) that were in season, and they had planned on shipping semen from two different males from a breeder on the East Coast. This semen is shipped fresh but cooled, which seems to be a popular way to do these long-distance breedings. Having said that, the semen must be shipped quickly—it has a very short lifespan and sperm cells will begin to die within 24 to 72 hours. For this reason, most breeders ship right away for overnight express delivery (by air). This time was no different. Problem was, the package containing the chilled fresh semen didn’t show up the next morning. A phone call determined that it had shipped to the wrong place. The package was reshipped, and again, it didn’t show up. Another wrong destination and now it was in the air again. By that time, the semen had been flying all over the country and was reaching the critical age of 72 hours, where massive die-off would occur. The next morning, the semen arrived, well past the 72-hour mark. Merlin’s breeder decided to give it a try anyway, and rushing her two girls to the vet, they did the artificial insemination. Amazingly enough, two litters of nine puppies each was produced, one of which was Merlin, my little Flying Wizard.
My life since that day has changed irrevocably. All because of a little black fluff ball with magic in his eyes.