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The Letti Effect

A goofy Newfie and her human

“I need to see the Newfie.”

Sierra Golberg had been following animal shelter webpages in Montana and Wyoming for over a year when an adoptable Newfoundland finally appeared in an update from the Heart of the Valley Shelter in Bozeman. Golberg immediately contacted her friend, a shelter volunteer, who was happy to send photos of the latest resident. One day later, Sierra drove to Bozeman to pick up her new family member: Letti.

“I’ve been obsessed with Newfoundlands since I was a kid,” said Sierra. “I grew up with other ranch dogs, but I knew I wanted a Newfie because I like their personalities.”

During the adoption process, Sierra learned a few German commands that Letti had been trained to follow. The German word for “lay down” is “platz,” but Sierra initially misheard it as “pots.” By the time her brother-in-law pointed out the mistake, the word had become part of her daily dialogue with Letti. “So now I look [silly], yelling at my dog, ‘Pots! Pots! Pots!’” she said. “Everyone’s like, ‘you’re yelling pots and pans at your dog?’ But that’s just one of her goofy Newfie things.”

It’s hard not to fall in love with the giant, clumsy fluff-ball at first sight. Even when Letti knocks over my coffee (with the best intentions) and rushes into the Mazevo lobby to give each customer a slobbery hello (whether they want it or not), all anyone can do is smile.

“She’s actually really small for her breed,” said Sierra. “She’s a full-sized edition with short legs. When she sits down, if I can get her to, she has lateral rotations in both legs. She’s a ‘panda-seal.’ Kids will call her ‘panda,’ and the way she sits makes her look like a seal.”

When I meet Letti on a June afternoon, some faint streaks of pink dye cling stubbornly to her neck and tail—a Valentine’s Day surprise from her groomer. “Everyone always assumes she’s a boy, so that really helps,” said Sierra. “We live over by a park and the soccer kids just absolutely lose it over the pink panda at the park. She’ll play ball there and jump in the air. If you ever hang out with a dog, you know what their voice would sound like. When I toss a ball in the air, I can just mentally hear her say ‘athlete!’ as she catches it.”

Letti’s athleticism isn’t limited to land activities. Like most Newfoundlands, she enjoys time in the water, but Sierra is quick to clarify, “She’s not a rescue-Newfie.” The breed is famous for water rescues: in 1815, a Newfoundland allegedly saved Napoleon Bonaparte’s life when he fell off his ship. A decade earlier, a Newfie named Seaman accompanied Lewis and Clark on their entire river-based expedition across America. Letti, on the other hand, enjoys lounging solo in her kiddie pool, and she doesn’t like to be touched while swimming. She’s a good sport on a paddle board, but her hip dysplasia limits the amount of time she can sit comfortably.

While Letti might not be cut out for the water rescue life, she has found other ways to help the people she cares about. Her arrival in Sierra’s life coincided with tragedy, as Sierra’s mother passed away due to brain cancer within a week of the adoption.

“Letti was a lifesaver,” said Sierra. “She forced me to get out of the house and walk instead of sitting inside, wallowing in the dark.” Letti’s uplifting effect extends to everyone in her orbit. In caring for the outgoing panda-seal, Sierra’s friends and family find their lives enriched. “I have a pretty great community,” she explained. “My neighbors love her; they dog-sit for her. My groomer dog-sits for her. She’s best friends with my groomer’s son. They have sleepover parties. Somedays I’ll come home and she’s not there, and I can assume it’s one of five people who kidnapped her. She’s a therapy dog. If she wasn’t so hairy and drooly, I’d get her set up as an on-call support animal.” Sierra shakes her head at her slobbery dog and sighs. “Your jowls are really gross, Letti.”