When I think back ten years to when the pups were small, my 7 little Newfie babies, I remember how hard it was for me to let them go to their new homes. After setting up appointments for the new owners to swing by and pick up their new pup, I sometimes had to hide in the bedroom and let Peter take over because I could not handle letting them go.
Things have not changed much in ten years. I still have a hard time letting go, especially when letting go means forever.
Steeler was the first pup at six weeks to be picked out by a new owner so he was named weeks before he ever left my basement by the family who wanted him. His name prior to that was Blue because of the color hair scrunchie that sported his neck until he could fit into a collar.
Three years after living with his new family, I got a call that he was headed for the dog pound for his bad behaviors. Thankfully, one of the owners loved him enough to bring him back to me, and for that I am very thankful. Although I must admit that at times the thanks were also mixed with hair pulling dilemmas!
When Steeler was dropped off to me by his owner, I had three of my Newfs, Steeler’s mom Abby, dad Bentley, and sister Emma in their pen for safety sake to introduce them. They went nuts barking at him as I held his lead. Then suddenly, Abby took a whiff of the air and let out two distinctive barks which stopped the other two immediately from barking at him. It was as if Abby recognized Steeler as one of her own. Within minutes Bentley and Emma started barking again with any movement that Steeler made, and once more Abby quieted them with those two distinctive barks. I was amazed and wondered what she was telling everyone and I thought that maybe, just maybe, everything would work out just fine.
I was wrong! Steeler fought or tried to fight with every dog in the house. The only ones who held their own or frightened him off before he had a chance to do harm, were his siblings, Emma and Chance.
Casey, Bentley and Abby avoided Steeler like the plague during those first few weeks, but it all changed one summer day when Steeler had again lashed out at Abby and she let out a wail. Unknown to Steeler, Chance was lying on the deck by my side, and Chance was a mama’s boy! This attack on Abby was the straw that broke the camel's back for Chance. He had seen enough, and so, he ran to Abby’s side, gave her a good sniffing over, then proceeded to run after Steeler, jump onto his back and ride him like a cowboy on a bucking bronco! All four of Chance’s feet were off the ground and his full body weight lay upon Steeler’s back as he gripped Steeler by the neck. Steeler though, was not giving in. As this horrible fight ensued before my eyes, I thought, this will be the day that Steeler dies!
Suddenly Steeler collapsed to the ground with Chance still on his back, still clutching his neck strongly within his mouth.
When such a dog fight ensues, it is human nature to want to break it apart, scream at the dogs, or start hitting the aggressor. But in fact when we do this, the fight lasts longer and is more severe, so I quietly waited for its end.
Steeler lay motionless and I did indeed think he was dead or dying. Chance finally got off of him and came to my side, where I quickly ushered him onto the deck and locked the gate so I could go check on Steeler. Amazingly both Steeler and Chance had not one bite mark on them, although Steeler was missing a bit of hair from the neck, so it was all bravado and challenge.
Chance was not out for a kill, though if he wanted to I suspect he could have. Chance’s intent was to knock Steeler down a few notches. This was certainly accomplished as Steeler would not go near any of the dogs in that manner ever again. In fact for the rest of their time together in this home, Steeler would not go near anyone, dog or human, when Chance was in the vicinity as seen in my video here. Observations of a Newfoundland family.
From that point there was peace in the household, but Steeler's obedience training was still severely lacking, as trying to get Steeler to walk on a lead from the back door to the garage was a nightmare that yielded my body scrapped and black and blue around the wrists, shins, knees and hands. He would start off walking fine and then just bolt pulling me to the ground. It took six months of continuous daily training, and thousands of hot dog slivers just to get him to heel!
Over time I was able to teach Steeler many manners, and he taught me something that I had never had to deal with in my home before which was unruly dog behavior, but even more than that he taught me not to give up. If I had given up on him and just sent him to one of the many people who called wanting to buy him upon his return, I would have passed along a problem that may have had him headed once again to the dog pound. That would not have been fair to him. It was not his fault he was this way.
Steeler and I did not give up on each other and by not giving up he was able to finally succeed at becoming a fine therapy dog, a county mascot alongside Chance in animal response, and he helped to raise money for breast cancer awareness. The bumps along the road only made me more determined not to let him down.
Not all of his silly behaviors were eliminated, but I learned how to keep him safe from himself and I prepared for these little things. Like knowing to check all widow locks before leaving the house as one of his tricks was to open a window and jump out. He did check every window in the house to see if the safety locks were on because every window would be opened an inch when I got home!
The more that I took him out on therapy visits the better behaved and more serene he became at home. The more challenges we met and conquered, the more trusting and attached we became. The more times he went out with Chance on non scheduled Therapy Dog visits, the more they both learned from each other. These visits included taking them Christmas shopping with us and making sure to have them stand for a few minutes alongside the Salvation Bell ringers to aide the general public in seeing their own good qualities which got a little more cash dropped in SALVO donation pot, as well, we visited schools to bring about awareness of preparing one's pets for disasters.
Steeler, like all dogs had his own personality and antics. He loved people, especially children, he liked games such as: let me hide mom’s socks in my slobbery wet jowls and she’ll give me a cookie to drop them. He loved the vacuum and came running when we turned it on, and when he was ready to go out in the morning, he would stick his big head under the bed covers lifting them off of me and then proceeded to poke me with his big nose. If you met Steeler, you would not easily forget him, he would lean into you until your bodies melted together and then raise his head high to get a neck rub. If you could get past the drool you were sure to encounter, he would be your friend for life just for a neck rub.
I am human; therefore I am flawed, so I am thankful that God’s creatures teach me on a daily basis how to be just a little less flawed and a lot more understanding with a twist of patience.
Like Chance’s passing and those before and after him, this will take much time for me to get over. On the morning of Steeler’s death I went to my mom’s apartment to prepare her meds and get things ready for her day and I told her what had happened in the early morning hours as she slept right down the hall from where Steeler took his last breath. She gasped, as Steeler was a daily part of her life, but her gasp was not for Steeler, it was for me, as she said, “Steeler is fine, it is you who is not.” And I could not agree more. I know Steeler is fine, but I am human and therefore I am flawed so my agony comes not from the fact he has gone to a better place, but from my heart that aches and still wants him here with me.
Rest in peace Ste-Ste, you came so far and you accomplished much!Video memory here