Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 5, 2014

Despite drool and destruction, dog companionship worth the effort

— — It was the perfect shoe. Brown, with 4-inch plus heels and loafer-ish in style. It had cute little tassels and a peep-toe design. Every time I wore the shoes I received compliments — at work, in the parking lot of grocery stores and in line at the post office. Once, after speaking to a class at a local school, a young girl chased me down the hall to tell me how much she “loved” my shoes.

A week or so before Christmas, I made my way to the kitchen in the early morning hours. In the recesses of a dark hallway I spied a brown shape. Making my way to the corner, I saw that it was a shoe — more accurately, half a shoe. The tassel and peep-toe were gone, chewed beyond recognition.

Holding up the almost unrecognizable piece of leather, I yelled the offender’s name. “Pugsley! What did you do?!”

At age 7 one would think my giant dog — my baby boy — would be past the chewing stage. But he never ceases to surprise and amaze.

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It was 2006, and the stress was suppose to be lower, as was the blood pressure. It didn’t feel that way when I saw the potted houseplant — a large calla lily — being pulled briskly down the hallway, leaving a trail of rich, black soil in its wake. For a moment, I was surprised. This was a puppy — 12 weeks old and still teething — wrecking destruction on the huge pot and plant.

But reality quickly set in. I was the one who had a penchant for overly large dogs. And the one who thought it would be wonderful to share our home with a new breed — one that commonly tops out at more than 200 pounds.

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“Are you sure you want this dog?” It was the fourth time in the space of three hours the husband had whispered the question in my ear. We were in Lancaster County, Penn., to visit the top Neapolitan mastiff handler in the U.S. and take a look at a pup he had available.

After losing my last German shepherd earlier that year due to illnesses associated with age, we had decided it may be time to get a new dog. Ever since I was a toddler, I had always had at least one extra-large dog as a pet, whether mixed breed or pure. Deciding I wasn’t ready for another German shepherd, I began doing research.

That’s when I discovered Neos. Although I had never seen one in the flesh, I became fascinated with the breed when I saw one in the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Fang, the dog belonging to the character Hagrid, was huge and had an distinct look — one commonly described as “so ugly it’s cute.”

The more I learned about these special canines the more I wanted one. The breed has an incredible history, dating back to the days before Christ, and have belonged to such notable names as Alexander the Great. In more recent centuries, the breed was virtually unknown to the world, having been quietly bred, raised and contained to the Neapolitan region of Italy. Neos were “rediscovered” in the 1940s, but continue to be rare in many countries.

The reason for their scarcity is simple: Neos are not typical canine companions.

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Neapolitan mastiffs are not just large, they’re giants. Really. They can easily weigh as much as 220 pounds. They also have lots and lots of extra skin — kind of like a cartoon shar-pei exposed to the same nuclear radiation as Godzilla. They snore, loudly, and drool in excessive amounts.

These were just a few of the Neo quirks we learned about after spending the afternoon in Pennsylvania. The frank discussion with the breeder about their special needs, including but not limited to food, toys, health care and nutritional supplements, was enough to make the faint-hearted go looking for a collie. But when I was greeted by the first two Neos in the yard — my jeans covered in happy-to-see-you slob in less than a minute — I was hooked.

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There are more than 43 million households in the U.S. that have a dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The small percentage that own Neos are easy to spot. They have drool towels stashed in every room of their home, own T-shirts that read, “Real dogs come with saddles” and have no discreet puppy teeth marks on the bottom of their furniture — instead the top corners have been chewed beyond recognition.

Research shows owning a pet can have health benefits such as lower blood pressure, reduced stress and a potential measure of protection against heart disease and depression. While I’m a believer in the studies, I also think the benefits can vary according to a dog’s destructive behavior and its penchant for chewing shoes.

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Having spent virtually every spare minute the past seven years cleaning in Pugsley’s wake, I have often asked myself the question, “Did I really want this dog?” The answer is obvious each evening when he settles down in contentment curled at my feet. No matter how stressful the day, I can’t help but smile at his soft snoring and scrunched-up, wrinkled face.

Neos are not for everyone, but there are hundreds of other wonderful dogs ready and willing to be faithful companions. For a life-changing experience, visit your local animal shelter or consider adopting a stray that may need a home.

At the end of a long day, the dog food, vet bills and shoe-replacement costs are worth every penny.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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