ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Many knew him as the “Signal Hill dog,” but to his owner he was Chief, or Chieftain, depending on the circumstances.
“It’s like most parents: Chief when he’s good, Chieftain when he’s bad,” Ed Jackman said Wednesday, Aug. 3.
“To most people he was Chief.”
Chief died of cancer this week. He had just turned 8.
Jackman says that’s within the normal lifespan for a Newfoundland dog, although he had one that lived to 14.
“You never know. You just appreciate the time you have with them.”
Jackman said he had no idea how popular the dog was until he noticed all the comments and tributes flowing in on Facebook.
“I didn’t realize how well loved he was by everybody. To me it was just going up on the hill and having a coffee and having a good buddy with me.”
Tourists, in particular, assumed he was some sort of city mascot.
Although he lives in Mount Pearl, Jackman started making regular treks to the famous mount overlooking St. John’s harbour with his previous Newfoundland dog, Schooner.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do, was to promote the Newfoundland dog and bring smiles to people’s faces. Chief was my fourth Newfoundland dog, and I’ve realized over the years how much joy they bring to people.”
But it wasn’t just for other people’s benefit.
“Really, he was just up there for his enjoyment and mine,” he said.
“It’s a great mental-health place to just sit and have a coffee and look out over to see what was going on. To him, it was just a place where he knew he was going to get a lot of attention, and he enjoyed that.”
Bred for rescue
Jackman readily admits Newfoundland dogs aren’t for everyone.
“If you have a Newfoundland dog, if you’re taking them out, you have to carry a cloth with you all the time. They drool,” he said, laughing. “But in your family home, there’s nothing to have slobber over the walls, the pictures, the ceiling, everything, the table — I mean they just shake, and when they shake, that’s it, it’s going everywhere.”
And kids well know the breed is almost impossible to go swimming with.
“Their natural instinct is to try to rescue people who are swimming, or are in the water in general,” he said.
“They try to herd people back to the shore, or push them back with their big snouts. And they also let people hold them. It depends on their training.”
Jackman says Chief, like most Newfoundlands, wasn’t much good for home security.
“The only way he would provide security at my house was if he was lying behind the door and wouldn’t move, so you couldn’t open the door.”
But he fully intends to get another one, even though they’re hard to get a line on because the moms have so few puppies.
Jackman’s daughter, Becky, wrote a tribute to Chief on Facebook: “To a lot of people he was ‘the Signal Hill dog,’ always hanging out at his favourite spot with his best bud, taking hundreds of photos with people from all over the world. But to us he was just Chief, the sweet droolball we got to hug and love every single day.
“Cancer is a horrible, devastating disease and it doesn’t discriminate in its cruelty across species. Chiefy gave us every second he could, he gave us more time than we dreamed we had a few months ago, and we will be grateful for that time forever.”
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter covering Indigenous affairs for The Telegram.