We fell in love with Newfoundlands when we took in "Katie" (a rescue dog) to replace a pet that passed away. Within a few weeks, it became obvious that she was becoming the focus of our home life and she started us on this continuing adventure.

June 2009 Update

There have been many changes at Laurel Oaks since this was first written. Our beloved Katie "Coconut" passed in May 2009. We think she was around 10 years old - we have no way to know for sure, because we never received the registration papers that were promised. Katie was a loving, loyal Newf to the end and we miss her very much.

Nala retired from breeding and went back north to Sault Ste Marie, MI,  to work as a therapy dog at a home for abused children. Nala has had such success that her son, Nanuck, will be joining her later this month.  We are very proud of Nala! We miss her, but we are so happy that she can help children that need her...and her new mom, Kristina, gives her the personal attention she needs. Nala has been so successful in her new role, that in the future we are planning to place our retired dogs as TDI certified therapy dogs.

Lillie and Maggie have retired from the business of motherhood as well. Maggie stays with us as "My Girl", but Lillie went to live with another family as an only dog. She loves it and her new family loves her. She is now "Ben's Girl". She likes to come and visit but she is happy to go home with Ben.

Willie went to a new home in December 2008. We were contacted by a family whose 15 year old daughter, Lauren, was fighting an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She wanted a puppy, but she fell in love with Willie, our show dog. He loved to prance around the show ring like he owned it. He had 10 points including one 3-point major and was destined to become our first home grown champion. We decided that Lauren needed him more than we needed a champion. With Willie's help, Lauren is continuing her battle against cancer. She recently went in for additional treatments but we haven't received an update from her since then. We wish her the best.

The amazing thing about these dogs is how they intertwine your life with the lives of many wonderful people whom you would otherwise never have met. They are truly a blessing - the dogs, and the people.

How it began

We moved into our historic home in 1988. It is an old homestead farm house that dates back to about 1840. It has been added on to, restored, remodeled and renovated many times over the years.  One of the distinguishing features that attracted us to the home were the many mature trees on the property. One of those trees is the giant oak tree in the front yard. But it is not a normal oak for this area and probably was planted by one of the previous owners. It has a very broad crown with long graceful branches that sweep to the ground. After much research, we identified it as a Laurel Oak, similar to a shingle oak. It is strong, solid and durable yet it is also very beautiful. The same traits are found in our Newfoundland dogs ~ hence the name "Laurel Oaks Kennel".

Living in this setting, it is only natural to have a dog or two and we have been guardians for different pure and mixed breeds. One of the most well known dogs on Baxter road was Sammy, an English Springer Spaniel. About a month after Sammy died, Alyce said that she wanted to get another dog to replace Sam.

 Alyce knew someone who had Great Pyrenese pups. I was not familiar with the breed and looked them up in our "dog book". I read the description, then turned the page and read then about Newfoundlands. I told her that if she wanted another dog that she should get one of these and showed her the Newfie description. That created some interest on her part, so Alyce looked in the paper and (to my surprise) there was an ad.

The "breeder" said that she had one pet quality puppy for $600.00 and an older dog available for $200 if we were interested. Although we didnít know it at the time, we were about to be exposed to what some people refer to as a puppy mill.

The next day, we went to look at the puppy. We noticed upon arrival that there were animals everywhere - in outside kennels, in pens in sheds, and pens in barns. We saw Mastifs, St. Bernards and Nefwies but there may have been more. We were informed that pet quality Newf puppies were usually $800.00 but this one was only $600.00 because he had a hernia on his navel. When we saw him, he was a mess - he appeared to be a "swimmer" in addition to the hernia. We then looked at the rescue dog, "Katie".  She was in a small pen, along with a young male.

The pen next to them had 2 pigs (that were also available). There was a story about how Katie was rescued from a breeder in New England who was going to put her down because she had bad hips.

We looked at the puppy again - he was still a mess and we decided to give Katie a good home. It was a good thing for her that we did because Katie was not getting care that she needed. When we took her in to be spayed, we found out that she had a bad uterine infection that probably would have killed her. To make a long story short, we fell in love with Katie and with the breed.

That fall we took Katie to an obedience class sponsored by a local kennel club. They also had conformation training going on and a lady was there with a beautiful male Newf that she was training, which gave us some idea of what a "good" Newfie was supposed to look like.

We got interested in conformation decided to get a puppy that we could register and show. We looked at the Newfoundland Club of America breeder referrals and sent in a deposit to a breeder on the list. We did not anticipate that it would take over a year to get a puppy.

We were getting impatient, so in the summer of 2003, we contacted another recommended breeder and made arrangements to get a puppy from them. Nature didnít co-operate. There were problems and no puppy was available, however we did ultimately get "Noah" from them. He was 18 months old when we got him and he was trained for the show ring. This turned out to be a good thing because Noah has trained us as much or more than we trained him.

In the fall of 2003 I took a crash course in conformation showing. I took Noah to shows in South Dakota and visited family. It was a good trip as I met some good people who helped us a lot. One person in particular helped me with grooming and gave some show advice. I asked him what it takes to get a puppy with show potential. He provided some contacts and I made tentative arrangements for a puppy from a kennel that he recommended. There was no promise of a pup though because deposits had already been taken for 6 puppies and they were not sure how many there would be or if there would be an additional show quality puppy available.

In late November 2003, 8 puppies are were born and they had one for us pending grading, health checks, etc. At 8 weeks, about half of the litter cleared their heart checks. No guarantee that that the others would pass so we didnít know if we would get one or not.

In the meantime, I was bugging the original breeder who we had the deposit with. She said if you want a puppy now, I know someone who has one available. In early November 2003, we brought "Molly" home. She was a delight - our first puppy. We thought that she was beautiful! Now it really gets crazy. Then, during a visit to our vet, the office manager mentioned that she had Newf puppies and invited us over to look at them. You know how cute they are, so you shouldnít be surprised to hear that we brought one home. In retrospect, this was not the smartest thing that we could have done, but who would have known how it would all turn out.

About a week later, I get a call, "Your puppy passed her heart check and you can come and pick her up". I drive to Kansas City and pick her up. About a week later, I get a call from the breeder with our deposit, "Your puppy is here, when can you come and pick her up?" I drive to Ontario and pick her up.... that is our lovely "Lillie".

At that point, we have 4 puppies in the house at the same time. The only thing that kept us going crazy is the belief that at least one of them will be a show dog. Having 4 puppies ranging from 2 to 9 months in your home at the same time is not for the weak hearted.

When we found out that, due to a divorce, the breeder in Ontario was discontinuing operations, we inquired about available adults and a few weeks later, we brought "Nala" home. Nala turned out to be a sweetheart in addition to her incredible good looks.

A year later, Nala gave us our first litter. We only kept three of the pups (Honey, Willie and Rosie) although we wanted to keep them all. Call us Newfaholics!!

We now have 10 Newfies living in the house with us. I work out of the house so I am here most of the time to monitor their activities. They have a fenced in portion of the yard that they use for exercise and play. If we are not here to watch them, they are kept inside where they are safe. We use crates for control when we need to be away for a few hours.

My son Jesse assists us so there is someone here almost all of the time. Eventually we may build a kennel to make life a little easier for everyone and to make sure that the dogs have a safe place when we are away. But for now, we are happy to share our home with these wonderful creatures.

Lessons Learned

The Newf experience has been very educational for us although I donít recommend that everyone learn the basics the way that we did. We arenít youngsters so we (unintentionally) made as many mistakes as possible so that we could learn as quickly as possible. And we did learn a lot the hard way. We still learn something new every day so I donít think that there will ever be an end to the learning process.

Katie, the original rescue dog, has probably taught us the most. We knew that she had bad hips when we brought her home. X rays revealed just how bad the dysplasia really was. In spite of having dysplastic hips, she had been used as a brood bitch by a breeder that undoubtedly knew better. It makes you wonder how many additional dysplastic dogs are out there now because someone valued money over health of the dogs. In spite of it all, Katie is doing well and we appreciate the first hand exposure to what a breeder should not do.

Noah, along with a lot of good people, helped us learn about conformation showing. Iím sure that we embarrassed him more than just a few times but he didnít give up on us. He now has his championship, thanks to the help of a professional handler, without whom (Nina Fetter), we might still be trying to finish him. While we were learning to show, we made the mistake of taking him into the ring before he was ready. Also, it would have been easier, and maybe more economical, to use an experienced handler from the beginning. But we would not have learned as much that way. We have also learned the value of patience.

If you just want "any" puppy, there are ads in the paper but you might not be happy with the long-term results. If you want a "special" puppy, it will probably take some time. Work with a reputable breeder to get a healthy dog that meets your needs - be it companion or show, however it will likely take some time.

Once you have your puppy, you will need patience helping your puppy learn the "social skills" needed to make you happy. Newfies are slow maturing dogs and it takes time, tender loving care and a lot of training for that cute fuzzy to develop into a beautiful show dog or companion dog. There will be some problems along the way but donít give up on them.

We also learned that the initial purchase price is not the most important factor when you bring a Newfie into you life. Ultimately, the most expensive dog that we have will be the one we got for free. If surgery is needed correct Katieís hips, that cost alone will dwarf the initial cost of a healthy puppy. There are no guarantees in life, but the extra few hundred dollars needed to buy from a reputable breeder is probably a good investment.


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