Day celebrates beloved dog of explorer Meriwether Lewis

Day celebrates beloved dog of explorer Meriwether Lewis
Statue of Seaman the dog in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo courtesy Flickr user MBK)

WARRENTON, Ore. (AP) — It sounded like a support group for people dealing with terrible — and bizarre — roommates.

"You can't have a private conversation — they always want to know what you're talking about."

"He refuses to walk on tile or hardwood."

"The only time I get food without hair is when I go to a restaurant."

"I get body slammed every day after work."

"I go through 120 pounds of chicken a month."

"She ate all the remotes in the house."

But these testimonials did not come from disgruntled tenants. They came from proud and happy owners of Newfoundland dogs.

These comrades-in-canine detailed some of the difficulties — and the much greater joys — of owning Newfoundlands as part of a panel discussion for the 20th annual celebration of Seaman's Day Thursday at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Warrenton.

Seaman's Day honors Meriwether Lewis' beloved Newfoundland, Seaman, who accompanied Lewis, Clark and company on their arduous trip across the continent in the early 1800s.

"We spend much of the time focusing on the 33 members of the expedition," said Sally Freeman, one of the park's rangers, as she addressed a group of interested visitors. "But today we focus on the 34th member."

Freeman delivered the introduction from a set of notes on a well-worn piece of paper with the date "July 1989" typewritten on the bottom. The first official celebration of Seaman's Day occurred four years later.

Freeman, who said she had "zero" knowledge of Newfoundlands before she began working at Fort Clatsop in 1989, has become something of an expert.

"I get to give the 'Our Dog Seaman' talk," Freeman said. "They are incredible dogs."?

The Newfoundland enthusiasts and owners in attendance certainly agreed.

"She's great with kids," said Jeff McNeal, of Newberg, of Kalisha, his family's 7-year-old Newfoundland, who was making her first appearance at Seaman's Day.

Kalisha guards the family "in a very passive-aggressive way," according to McNeal.

"We had a contractor in the house and she didn't like the contractor," he said. "She sat in between my wife and the contractor all day - didn't bark, just sat there."

With their webbed feet, water-resistant coat and tremendous strength, Newfoundlands are adept swimmers. But Kalisha? Not so much.

"Ours, of course, is afraid of the ocean," McNeal said.

During her presentation, Freeman noted that Newfoundlands' swimming prowess may have led Lewis to purchase Seaman.

Newfoundlands were "often used as water rescue dogs ... and a lot of soldiers on the trip didn't know how to swim," she said. With Seaman at his side, Lewis had his very own "personal flotation device," as Freeman put it.

Seaman proved his worth several times, most notably on the night of May 29, 1805, when the large dog scared off a buffalo bull that had trampled through the expedition's camp.

The bull passed "within a few inches of the heads of one range of the men as they yet lay sleeping," Lewis wrote in his journal. "When he came near the tent, my dog saved us by causing him to change his course."

During Freeman's presentation, Dr. Dre, a 5-year-old, 165-pound Newfoundland, played the part of Seaman.

"He likes it," said Dr. Dre's owner, Matt Jeffers of Gresham. "He's a little bit more shy this year. It's getting to be old hat," Jeffers said with a laugh. Dr. Dre was making his fourth appearance at Seaman's Day.

Dr. Dre lazed on the ground next to his owner, soaking up the attention and the sunshine. Though they are large and strong, Newfoundlands are known for their calm, easygoing demeanor — one of the reasons they are so adored.

"They're gentle giants," Freeman said.

The panel discussion and "Our Dog Seaman" presentation were two of the day's numerous activities: children could also get paw prints and snouts painted on their faces to honor Seaman, and guides wearing period outfits led river walks and flintlock demonstrations.

Dr. Richard Joslin and Cindy Thomson, who were on vacation from Portland, were two of the numerous attendees who spent the day learning more about an often overlooked part of our country's past.

"I'm a native Oregonian, but it's my first time stopping and doing this, seeing this bit of history," said Thomson, who had never visited the national park before Thursday.

Neither Joslin nor Thomson knew that they had picked Seaman's Day for their visit. That was "just an added treat," Joslin said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press