So what was the deep philosophical thinking that prompted Bob Regina, an associate director in Technology, to pursue the humanitarian endeavor of training dogs to rescue endangered recreational swimmers and boaters?
“What do you do when your kids grow up and you and your wife are staring at each other across the table? We got dogs!” he says with a chuckle.
Not just any dogs, but 300 pounds of Newfoundlands: Benjamin Lang (Ben) and Port of Call (Porter).
“Newfoundlands are considered Working Dogs, and if you don’t train them, it would be like having an out of control 100-plus pound teenager loose in your house,” Bob says.
The need to max their Newf’s potential led the Reginas to The Newfoundland Club of New England (NCNE), which promotes the natural abilities of the Newfoundland dog, described as having “a large stature and powerful muscles, a waterproof coat and webbed toes enabling it to stroke through the water with the speed and endurance to rescue a drowning man.”
Embarking (no pun intended) on this praiseworthy puppy pastime was not a reach for Bob, a volunteer firefighter since 1975 who had already been doing search-and-rescue work with his German Shepherd, Hailey.
“I decided it was time to branch out in to something different,” he says. “We always had a liking to the Newfoundland breed, and after the passing of my Dalmatian, we knew we wanted a companion for the Shepherd. We reached out to Tempest Newfoundlands (a breeder in Ashford, Conn.) and fell in love with the puppies they had available.”
That led to Ben and an introduction to NCNE, a family and group Porter would join shortly thereafter from Sunvalley Newfoundlands in Penn. Regina leads the pair through intense training Sundays from Memorial Day through September at a pond in Ashford owned by Jane Thibault — Nashau Auke Newfoundlands – who has been breeding and showing dogs since 1960.
Contrary to how many spend their summer Sundays at a pond, NCNE members simulate drowning victims, toss floatable objects like life jackets to be retrieved, and man canoes and kayaks to help train their Newfs to safely get the owners to shore and return the items to their boats .
“Our club does water rescue demonstrations – we’ve done them at Mystic, Boston Harbor and other events when requested,” Regina says. “It’s not unusual to see one of these dogs pulling in a rowboat with two people in it, and beaching the boat. It’s part of their test we practice for both in the water and on land.”
And although being outweighed, he says, “I walk both dogs together four to five nights a week, and during show seasons I run them on grass like golf courses to condition them for competition.”
Despite the exhaustive time and energy dedicated almost daily to their water rescue efforts, Regina sincerely concludes, “Training them to this level is really fantastic, but I hope my dogs never have to use their skills.”