December 25, 1997 – January 14, 2012
On Christmas Day 1997, just a week before Peter retired from his government job, Litter 33 was born at Hannibal Kennels. As usual, a female pup was chosen by Peter and Maribeth to be kept for later evaluation as a brood bitch. However there was something extra special about this little girl and Maribeth did something she had never done or even considered before; she named the pup after herself. She gave the little bundle of fluff her middle name, Belle. The registered name then became Hannibal’s Christmas Belle. Whether there was something prophetic in Maribeth’s decision, we’ll never know but she died suddenly in a car accident three months later. Then Peter in his grief clung to this fur baby like no other.
Following the tragedy Peter lost heart and did not select any more potential brood bitches for many years. One of the two remaining females proved to have fertility problems and produced wonderful but few offspring so the onus was on Belle. She came through wonderfully producing six litters with 63 whelps, 56 of whom survived, ensuring the continuance of the Hannibal line of Newfoundlands. There were some large litters, two of 13 and two of 11. In one of these whelpings, Belle allowed her half sister, Sugar Bear, who had come into a false pregnancy, to enter the whelping box and help nurse the babies just like wolves do in the wild.
It wasn’t just Peter who considered Belle to be a beauty. In 2003 she was chosen by the editors of Dogs in Canada magazine to grace the cover of their August issue.
As her health was exceptional Belle was active as a brood bitch until eight years of age. Her retirement was to be as a house dog with Peter but circumstances prevented that. Peter then searched for a nearby home where she could have the retirement she so richly deserved. One of her long time fans, Shel Munro, volunteered to take her into her household and she became “Mary”.
Mary’s days of contributing to the Hannibal Kennel mission were far from over. Her role had changed and now, with Shel’s assistance, she became the head guinea pig in Peter’s dietary research and testing program for Newfoundland dogs.
Mary became the focus of the research because Peter was now concentrating his longevity through diet program on preventing cancer. This girl was destined to get cancer; her dam died from bone cancer at 11 years and one of her littermates went from the same disease at eight years of age. Mary’s half sister died from lung cancer at 11 years and other relatives had passed from other forms of cancer.
Year 11 then became the critical time. Mary started to go lame and Peter feared the worse, bone cancer like her dam had at this age. However sockeye salmon oil was added to her diet and the lameness not only went away but never returned. Sockeye salmon oil is now the main supplement used for Hannibal Newfs and is proving effective in preventing cancer and keeping joints in top condition along with other health benefits.
There was a second cancer scare in year 11. At eight years of age, Mary had a broken canine tooth removed. Now, three years later, a mysterious lump was discovered where the tooth had been. The vet removed it and sent it to a laboratory for analysis. To our great surprise and relief the lab report concluded that it was a “tooth bud”. Amazingly at the equivalent age of a human in their nineties, Mary was growing a new tooth.
At 12 years of age Mary came back to live with Peter and became Belle again. She was far from done. Peter started Belle back on one of her favourite activities, pulling dog carts and sleds. This was much more than a recreational activity. In Peter’s early research he found that the Newfoundlands of old regularly lived 13 to 15 years and more importantly often “worked” until they were 13 years. On Peter’s bucket list was to have a Newfoundland dog working until age 13. This was first accomplished in 2002 with Hannibal’s Big Mac. Now Peter wanted to try to achieve this life goal once more. Well not only could Belle pull a dog cart but on her 13th birthday, she was hooked up to an ice fishing sled and hauled water containers all around the property. Peter was ecstatic and wrote a column about this amazing feat entitled Carting with a Senior Newf. Lots of photos were taken on Christmas Day, 2010 as this was something you had to see to believe.
Belle’s ideal mature weight was 100 to 110 pounds but in year 13 she started to lose weight dramatically. The vet said she might have some sort of cancer in her torso but at her age, there would be no possible treatment so she was not put through any testing. Instead Peter continued to experiment with diet and several times managed to reverse the weight loss. Other than the loss of weight her health remained superb and the year culminated with photos of Belle pulling a dog cart on her 14th birthday. Photos were again taken and another column written entitled Carting at 14 Years Old. Thanks to Belle, Peter had not only achieved a life goal twice but had now exceeded it.
On January 14, 2012 at 14 years and three weeks of age (equivalent to 108 human years), Belle passed. Until the day before her demise, she could still go up and down a full flight of stairs. The Newfoundland Club of America gives an award each year for the longest living Newfoundland dog and Belle was one of the six eligible nominees for 2011 and the only Canadian Newf so honoured.
Belle’s life was a major milestone in the quest to regain the healthy longevity that Newfoundland dogs enjoyed centuries ago and she brought much love to those whose lives she touched in many ways, especially to Shel and Peter. To her last moment the sighting of a young child sent her tail a wagging.