Farley Mowat did breed Albert. Albert, it turns out, was a very rare find in Newfoundland of those days.
Mowat bred Albert to a Labrador, which is the closest thing to a St. John’s Labrador. He hoped the pups would have the big white spot on the chest that Albert possessed. Unfortunately, the pups were all solid black in color.
It also turns out that Farley Mowat was in contact with the early Portuguese water dog fanciers in North America. It turns out that Mowat had actually researched the breed’s origin all the way back to the Portuguese water dog through to that Russian (which I think is really Central Asian) herding dog landrace. He also traced the Portuguese Water dog’s origins through Turkey, which is why the dogs were called “Turkish dogs” in Spain and Portugal.
I wish Farley Mowat had pursued this more. He could have saved a Newfoundland icon, and it would have made a hell of a good book!
If Farley Mowat found one St. John’s water dog during that time period, there had to have been at least a couple of dozen of them in Newfoundland. That would be enough to recreate the breed using the more diverse retriever breeds as outcrosses. Even the Portuguese water dog and the poodle could have been used, for they are also part of this retriever/water dog family.
Now, if Mowat traced these dogs to Russia, then maybe a close relative is the strange “Russian retriever” that appears in Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs. I thought this breed was a Russian water dog similar to the poodle. (There was a Russian poodle, but it was more gracile in its build and smaller in size.)
It’s a very interesting find. I wonder why Mowat didn’t pursue his attempt at breed preservation further. I think if he could have gotten several interested breeders together they would have save this breed from extinction, and then I could say the Labrador retriever and all other retrievers descends from a dog that still walks this earth, sniffing the earth and wagging its otter-like tail, and not some extinct animal from the annals of history.
Interestingly, the two dog pups in the litter Albert sired went to Prime Minister Trudeau and Soviet Premier Kosygin. Now, the latter I find interesting.
Former Russian president Vladimir Putin has a Labrador named Koni. Koni is descended froma Labrador owned by Leonid Brezhnev. I don’t know if his dog descended from Kosygin’s Labrador, but it’s possible. And if she does, then she’s got a little Albert in her. (I don’t know how we’re suppose to take this, but Koni is rumored to be named after Condoleeza Rice.)
I would love it if Koni was a descendant of Albert.
One can only hope, although I don’t think it’s very likely.
So Farley Mowat may have tried to save the “black water dogs,” and there was definitely a story to tell.