We’ve had many stories where our furry companions – particularly dogs – have helped save human lives. Sometimes, the pups have an instinct to help those in danger, but with specialized training, the dogs can really hone their abilities to their finest and help more effectively and efficiently.
There are many types of specialized training programs for dogs. This could be from tracking dogs to disaster dogs, or avalanche dogs, among many more. However, this story centers around water-search dogs, wherein an exceptional program is helping some precious pups to learn to swim out into deep waters and drag someone in trouble back to safety and unto the shore.
With 25 years of involvement as a paramedic in the United Kingdom, Pete Lewin comprehends how stress and injury can impact individuals. That knowledge, combined with his own horrible experience, drove Lewin to find a one-of-a-kind method for reaching out to individuals and assisting them with managing their internal struggles: Newfoundlands.
In 1981, while traveling to South Africa, Lewin almost drowned while swimming to a boat only a short distance away from the shoreline. It was an occasion that impacted him profoundly, and Lewin would refuse to swim for the next 15 years. That was until his first Newfoundland – Gruff – re-established his confidence in the water.
Belying their colossal size, accommodating demeanor, and thick multi-coats, Newfoundlands are impressively proficient swimmers. Outfitted with webbed feet that assist them with rowing through the water effortlessly, they’re adequately strong to haul vast amounts of weight with them as they advance to shore. This natural capacity initially got Lewin contemplating how his Newfoundlands could help others.
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“I’m not a counselor, I’m not a therapist,” Lewin tells Daily Paws. “But what I am is a paramedic that listens, and I fully understand what they’re going through.”
Newfoundland, while it may sound like something a pirate might say, or perhaps a place (and it is.) It’s also the name of a special dog. As mentioned before, they excel at water rescue and lifesaving due to their muscular build. They have large bones, and that paired with their large size gives them immense power to handle sloshy or rough ocean waves and strong tides efficiently. Nicknamed Newfs, they additionally have an enormous lung capacity, which allows them to swim for long distances.
The water treatment Lewin and his current team of 5 Newfs practice is beguilingly simple: Lewin has clients wear wetsuits, and then they swim with them a couple of meters seaward. When they arrive, he instructs the clients to unwind and drift on their backs until one of the canines swims out to them. Next, the person will clutch a handle at the top of the Newfs’ harness and allow the canine to pull them back to shore tenderly.
“All he does is swim back,” Lewin says. “Nobody’s calling him, nobody’s shouting. He just takes them back to shore.”
Lewin, a paramedic with the East Midlands Ambulance Service for quite a while, wanted to have his dogs serve as water rescue canines. However, the plan fell through, so he began trying to find another way to employ his canines while talking with his colleague. She told him that she’d been considering imperiling her own life – yet she chose not to because she was scheduled to assist Lewin and his dogs at an event. Lewin recalled that a huge weight was taken off her shoulders when she entered the water with the dogs.
One of his pups, Boris, swam to her and gazed at her with no judgment.
“That was very special,” Lewin says.
Over the last few years, he knows of at least four people who are still alive today due to the training and the newfs. Presently, he’s training two more newfs to join his team of five. He cherishes the delicate giants and their laid-back nature and the calming impacts they can have on individuals who are dealing with intense stress and trauma.