Dog of the Day
Whizz to the Rescue
by Pam Bonsper
Photos Courtesy of NewFound Friends
Our dog of the day is a really big deal (both figuratively and literally)! He is a world-record holder, a member of the Royal Navy Reservists’ Swansea rescue team, and is considered to be the world’s number one life-dog. In addition, as a Newfound Friends dog, he helps promote water safety through the Royal Life Saving Society. And at a very lavish ceremony at Guildhall in London, he was awarded the very first Dogs Trust Honour, the top canine award in the UK.
He is also REALLY big. An eight-year-old male Newfoundland, weighing 180 pounds, ”Whizz” stands six feet tall when on his hind legs and can drag 12 people from the water at a time.
David Pugh, Whizz’s guardian, who has kept “Newfies” or “Newfs” (as they are affectionately called) for more than 25 years, says, “When you tell people a dog can rescue a dozen people they don’t believe you—that’s why they come and see it.”
The Bristol Harbourside Festival takes place every summer in England’s Bristol Channel, where Whizz trains and rescues people. Because of his history of hundreds of rescues at the yearly festival, Whizz is a crowd favorite. Accompanied by Ellie Bedford, a 17-year-old who has been working with Whizz since she was 11 years old, Whizz leaps from boats, flies through the air, plunges into the water, identifies struggling swimmers, and pulls them to safety—all with a smile on his impressively huge face.
But perhaps for Whizz, he is the dog of the day when he is actually rescuing someone....human or dog!
One of Whizz’s most famous rescues was in 2007. Topper, an Irish Setter, had run off and fallen into a large water-storage tank in the dead of winter. Whizz sensed the danger and found Topper half dead in the middle of the tank. He jumped in, pulled Topper to the side, and David helped both dogs get out. Whizz’s status as a hero was well-established not only because of the rescue, but because he did it without being told. Whizz has been credited with nine real-life rescues, mostly children who ended up in water too deep or were pulled offshore by a strong current.
How and why are Newfoundland dogs so courageous? It’s in the genes, but also in the training.
Their homeland is Newfoundland, Canada, where they were bred to withstand freezing water temperatures and to rescue swimmers off the Atlantic coast. Flaps of skin between their toes turn their feet into webbed paws, enabling them to swim more efficiently. Thick layers of soft oily fur make them not only irresistible to pet, but provide vital insulation and the ability to stay afloat. Their size and astonishing strength are the qualities that round out the recipe for an incredible canine. But perhaps most of all, an endearing personality that wants more than anything to save someone, is the final ingredient that drives a Newfoundland to perform such amazing feats and gives Newfies the nickname, “the Saint Bernards of the sea.”
Training has a lot to do with Whizz’s success. Since he was a pup, rigorous training exercises have been part of his routine. And training with a human partner has been essential. David says that Whizz and Ellie are an amazing team. “In my 25 years in rescue work, I have never come across anything like them,” he remarks. “When Ellie first started working with Whizz, she was not that confident in the water, but my instinct told me that Whizz could inspire her and give her the confidence she badly needed.”
David’s instinct was correct. Ellie is now one of the top lifeguards in the UK.
It’s Whizz’s job to provide the strength and ability to help people in trouble, but as this big “bear” bears down on frantic swimmers, Ellie provides the human touch and is the one who calms them and tells them what to do. “A drowning person has the strength of 10 people, and in a panic would most certainly pull the dog under. The role of the lifeguard is to make sure the drowning person is well and to convey that the dog is there to help. Thereafter, the dog performs the rescue,” David explains.
Whizz is not the first dog to save lives in the Bristol Channel. We must give a paw salute to Swansea Jack, a Labrador who rescued no fewer than 27 people in the 1930s. The yearly festival in Bristol is named after him, as is a Swansea pub.
I have a feeling Whizz will be equally acclaimed, and that we will see his name in many prominent places in the future. For now, Whizz, the giant Newfoundland, the “gentle giant,” is the Whiz K-9 of the sea and Coastal Canine’s big Dog of the Day!
For more information about Whizz and the work of NewFound Friends, visit newfoundfriends.co.uk.