Commentary: Sarasota ‘dog whisperers’ bring an unusual breed to the community

A dog lover learns lots about Leonbergers

The Leonbergers pose for their family. Contributed photo

A few years ago, when I was making my weekly trek to the Sarasota Farmers Market — mainly to see and pet the doggies — I watched a man and a woman approaching, each of them leading one of the most magnificent and unusual dogs I had ever seen.

The rather large canine masterpieces looked like Saint Bernards but definitely had their own identity.

They were black and dark brown, with huge round faces and beautiful dark brown eyes that gazed upon all of us human onlookers with such calm and peace that I just knew God had sent them to us.

A crowd quickly gathered around the dogs and their humans. I am positive none of us present had ever seen these types of dogs before.

I think some of us quickly found ourselves under a canine spell.

With beautiful fur that we could not stop touching, the dogs proved friendly to all of us strangers. As I observed these captivating creatures, I just had to know more about them. I could not get over how well behaved they were toward all of us.

The little children at the market had no fear of the dogs, as evidenced by the fact that all of the youngsters there appeared to begin petting them. The adults seemed mesmerized by the peaceful aura that seemed to envelop the dogs. It was truly magical.

Karen, their “mom,” told us the dogs are Leonbergers, originally from an area in Germany called Lyonberg. The breed is not as well known in the States as other large-breed dogs. She also told us that when she and her husband, Tim, and their six children were ready for a dog, they also agreed they wanted a large dog. One of their children had heard of Leonbergers, so Karen and Tim began a search.

Michigan residents at the time, they found out that the dogs were available from a breeder in Troy, Mich. The family members visited the breeder and knew immediately that Leonbergers would be joining them.

Karen, who has since become a friend — we chat at the Y — told me that breeders of Leonbergers must follow extremely strict codes. When the puppies are about eight weeks old, they can join their forever families.

Karen and Tim and the children named their first puppy Gus; he is 8. A year later, they brought home Oakley, who is 7.

Gus and Oakley eat only dry dog food — no human food — and they appear to be extraordinarily healthy.

I also learned that the dogs have an instinct for making water saves; i.e., when they see someone swimming out too far, they immediately yearn to jump in, swim out to that person, gently grab him or her and bring the person back to shore.

A Leonberger is not a small dog. Contributed photo

The breed is popular in many northern states, though I understand that Floridians are largely unaware of Leonbergers.

Nonetheless, Karen recently discovered that a third Leonberger puppy will be wandering around Siesta Key and spreading his own magic among visitors.

Since I met Karen, Tim and the Leonbergers, I have returned to the Farmers Market many times, always anticipating the joy I will feel when I am up close and personal with Gus and Oakley.  Seeing all the children who enjoy these dogs adds to the magical feeling that infuses me.