It has been a quiet house for the past several months since our beloved Dalmatian, Lucy, passed away.
Even with a six year old boy (Adam), a nine year old boy (Austin), and three cats (Figaro, Daniel, and Angel)—you just can’t raise the roof quite as high as you can with a dog in the mix. So just to be certain that the decibel level was redlining, we got a puppy.
Then last night…Angel had kittens.
If you are keeping score, that is two boys, one dog, eight cats, Saint Polly, and shell-shocked me. I don’t really get this. Don’t people usually add one animal at a time until they have reached a comfortable limit? After Lucy died, how did we go (in a span of several weeks) from one cat to three cats to eight cats and a dog??? I am not in control here…
Anyway…the dog. I am very proud of our dog. He is exactly what I wanted. I wanted a boy dog. Got it. Big dog. Check. Hunting dog. He is. No shedding. That, too. We got the perfect dog.
For a while, it looked like we might get what I really wanted…a Portuguese Water Dog. Austin wanted a Chocolate Lab. Adam wanted a White Chocolate Lab. Polly was strangely quiet, though the boys all knew it was Mama who swung the vote so we all lobbied fiercely.
Turned out, the dog she settled on is a rare breed so we actually had to drive three hundred miles to get him. No, sir. You can’t get a Normandy Retriever on just any street corner. He is big (for a puppy) and solid black with the softest hair you ever felt on any dog. And as God is my witness, he has webbed feet. Webbed feet! A big, black, clumsy puppy with feet that have folds of skin between the toes. Like a duck.
You will remember Normandy Retrievers from the first scenes of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” as the dogs in a couple of the landing craft. They were never an American Kennel Club registered breed but had gained some popularity in Europe during the first half of the 1900’s as a working/hunting dog. Adopted by British troops as bomb dogs during the early part of World War II, it was the Normandy’s webbed feet and buoyant coat that first brought the breed to the attention of the United States Marine Corp.
Needing the unique combination of a rescue animal strong enough to carry a pack and smart enough to learn silent hand signals, the Normandy Retriever was chosen over the German Shepard, which was in great use during that time, and the breed we know today as the Labrador Retriever. And while many breeders claim Labrador genetics in the Normandy dog and while it is true that both originated in cold, windswept climes, the web-footed resemblance has never been enough to make an actual case-by-case historical comparison.
So why did the Lab rise to such prominence while the Normandy’s popularity plummeted into almost total obscurity? That, my friend, is what Paul Harvey would’ve called the rest of the story!
On that horrible day of June 6, 1944, as the Allied Invasion was launched onto the shores of Europe, more than one hundred black Normandy Retrievers were scattered throughout the thousands of landing craft. And as luck would have it, almost all the dogs were killed in the assault. The very few that did survive were abandoned by fast moving troops given to the care of local villagers.
In an odd footnote to that event, an effort was made to recover the dogs from the villagers after the war. After all, these were highly trained animals and still the property of Uncle Sam. The effort was half hearted at best. By then, the dogs were entrenched with their own “families” and were finally forgotten. They were dismissed by the war office as “bad luck dogs” and in one communiqué, those words were actually written. Bad Luck Dogs. As if the dogs themselves had something to do with the frightening welcome they received on the beaches of….Normandy.
It is curious, isn’t it? No one seems to know whether the breed was given the name that stuck—the Normandy Retriever—before or after the landing on the beaches of Normandy. What is not in dispute, however, is the fact that the generations of dogs since that time can all be traced back to that few litters of pups that began appearing in that region of France after the Great War.
And now we have one. We wanted this dog to be calm and intelligent with a sense of wisdom about him. And since he is jet black, we have named him after one of my favorite characters from history. Our new puppy, George Washington Carver, will be called Carver by us…his new family!