They are Leonbergers but they are not for eating. They are the heaviest dogs I have ever seen, as big as new born calves, with a touch of the lion’s face on show. They’re a cross between St.Bernard and The Newfoundland.
They would be in the pack of any rugby team. (Ireland needs them). They are absolute strangers to me but captivated me the minute I spotted them with Valerie and Ken Johnston on the end of a leash soaking up the sunshine in Portstewart.
Proud owner Valerie told me “they watch television with our grandchildren who sometimes sit on them and other times, use them as cushions.”
These dogs were originally introduced to the town of Leonberg in Germany in 1840 by the town’s mayor Heinrich Essig. The monks of The Hospice of St Bernard assisted the mayor in supplying the dogs and he in turn helped the monks.
By the end of The First World War the numbers had fallen to five pairs with only eight pairs existing at the end of the Second World War.
It took a quarter of a century to re-establish the breed as a canine force in Europe.
The Johnstons reckon there is probably only a handful of breeders on the island of Ireland. They procured their beauties Jed and Ziba from a County Louth couple. Jed weighs over 12 stone.
They clearly adore these monster pets costing them about £20 a week to feed: Valerie says “We get no family allowance for our two babies who would join us in bed if we let them.”
The Leonbergers are celebrated ‘rescue’ mountain dogs which were used for years in the Alps for tracking down and recovering missing persons.
According to a local rescue expert these gentle giants are also well known for going where it is too dangerous for human beings, places like caves.
I hope you enjoy the images of these adorable creatures.
Eamonn – I thought you were barking up the wrong tree with that headline. What about a giraffe. Would it be bigger sitting or standing? Answers on a postcard.