Best camp dog ever…we brought him home, a surprise for Gordon’s birthday, nearly 13 years ago. We had been looking for a puppy to accompany Sadie, our seven-year old female lab, and our minister had a yellow lab puppy. I told Gardner and Turner that we were just going to “look” and to meet the parents…two hours later after a trip to Walmart for a crate and a red bow, Newton was in our kitchen ready to surprise Gordon. We spent his first week in our home during spring break, and he was the star of the vacation. I remember him settling in on our chest while we watched movies on the couch. In fact we were to watch hundreds of movies as a family with Newton at our feet all through Gardner and Turner’s middle school, high school and even college years- from Disney to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones.
Newton quickly grew from the yellow fur ball to his mature 100 pounds, and in his “early days” was known to trek as far as downtown Brevard and one time even out to Rosman. Gretchen found him one afternoon (during a snowstorm) in the produce section at SavMor, the grocery store up the road from camp. (In our defense as responsible pet owners, we were out of town.) When you live on a camp, it’s hard to fence in a dog, and Newton usually had no reason to leave.
Anyone who knew him, (and that would be hundreds of Illahee girls) will remember his smell. Even after a bath, he smelled…kind of a wet musty odor. His thick fur undercoat stayed wet. I apologized for it thousands of times, but never thought to take him to the groomer. “Only sissy dogs get groomed,” and he’d just go in the lake again. In fact, in the summertime, Newton never fully dried. He went from one swim session to the next; not only did he love retrieving balls, but he also swam “recreationally.” He was a capable lifeguard assistant during splash and accompanied me during countless evening programs as a lifeguard.
In between swims, he cured homesickness – always willing to be loved on and hugged. I took him up to a cabin one morning when an overwhelmed camper wasn’t able to tell her counselor how she was feeling. She sat on the floor and told Newton. And rubbing his ears was the perfect anecdote for a tough morning. His station in front of the office on the porch or inside the office by the corner made him available for hugs and pats. When families would visit for a tour, Newton was the best greeter. I would cringe when I saw a five year old in a Lily Pulitzer dress draped over a wet and muddy Newton to give him a hug, but then real campers don’t mind getting a little dirty.
Newton also loved to eat. He seemed to be able to tell time…at 12:30, he magically appeared at the back door of the dining hall with his starved look and he always knew where the maintenance guys were eating their lunches. He would pick the person with the softest heart and just stare at them with his big brown eyes. His favorite food was chicken, and even when he aged and slept most evenings, the smell of a baked chicken in the oven would bring him quickly to his feet.
Newton gave us one more summer last year. Even with his huffing and puffing, he made it to the lake and to the Rec Lodge for evening programs. Daily he walked back and forth from Pinecrest. He even made it out to final night campfire. He wasn’t comfortable, but he was stoic and determined and such a faithful camp companion. On closing day of the summer, many of the counselors who had grown up with him stopped by the office one by one on their way home to hug him, take a “selfie” and say goodbye.
We said goodbye also to him this week. Our hearts are full as we so loved him and appreciate all the joy he brought to us and to our camp family. He is at peace in the real heavenly world.