Although the house dogs, Lillie Belle and Matilda, love greeting their guests, there’s one day during the special season that stands out as everyone’s favorite: when the farm turns into a holiday festival wonderland with the dogs taking on the important job of transporting a family’s tree in from the fields on a sleigh-style cart. Who needs reindeer when you have majestic Newfoundlands?!
Plow Farms in Plowville, Pennsylvania, is a family-run farm that has always had dogs around. Growing up, Lindsay Eshelman and her brother had dog playmates.
Labs were the breed of choice, as they are great on a working farm, but the matriarch of the family, Lindsay’s mom, Brenda, always dreamed of owning a Newfoundland. Right before Lindsay moved to New York City for college she decided to get her mom the dog that Brenda had always wanted. After forging notes to the high school to get her brother and herself out of school to go pick up their new four-legged sibling, they came home to find the school was on to them and had called their mother. Lindsay remembers her mom meeting them outside “with steam in her ears” ready to hand out punishment for their lies and ditching. One look at the pup they had in tow, and Brenda forgot all about being angry and simply fell in love with the pile of fur in front of her, who would soon get the name Kodiak, Kodi for short.
The Newfie reign
Kodi was the first in what was to become a long reign of Newfoundlands at Plow Farms. These gentle giants turned out to not only be great company for the family but for everyone visiting the farm. Lindsay now splits her time between Pennsylvania and New York, but has experienced more than one visitor coming to the farm not to purchase trees but to say hi to farm mascot, Lillie Belle!
“If she is sitting by the road, people just pull in to talk to her,” Lindsay says.
Lillie Belle was taught to pull carts and went through certification with the New-Pen-Del Newfoundland Club. The club was looking for a place where their trained students could work pulling Christmas trees and it just so happened that Lillie Belle and her family had the perfect place for just such a group of enthusiastic furry workers. Lindsay explains that the sleds they use have been built for transporting trees and, when a dog is hooked up correctly to the cart’s harness, she isn’t pulling as much as pushing forward against the weight of the sled.
Once you add Santa visiting with the children, hot chocolate sold by a local charity, a Christmas gift shop full of goods Lindsay and her mom have found from all over the world and, if you’re lucky, a light winter snowfall, the visitors on this special day are given a truly unforgettable experience.
An annual tradition
What started as a small event has grown, and now people come from hours away, as far as Chicago, to see the Christmas tree cart pulling dogs. Lillie Belle is now 10 and her sister, Matilda, is only 1½. That means they are considered “pull supporters,” as neither of them are at an age where it’s safe for them to work.
But not to worry! The special day is seen as a Newfoundland meet up, and dog owners bring their big pups and sleds to help with the merrymaking. You never want to hook up a dog who isn’t familiar with the equipment, which makes it important for owners to come with the cart their dog certified by an authorized club that can train their specific breed on that specific piece of equipment. This year Lindsay expects that at least 50 dogs and sleds will be ready to work.
The dogs bring their sleds with their assigned family as they walk out into the field to find that perfect tree. Once the tree is cut down, it’s carefully loaded onto the pup’s sleigh cart, and the happy dog takes over. Working dogs love being of service, and the Christmas tree pullers are no different.
Lillie Bell, having retired from pulling, still loves to go out and meet all the people. Lindsay says the majestic giant lights up every time she gets into the truck, knowing she is going to the trees and to see the people there.
A Q&A with Lindsay Eshelman
Working dogs are just like us
Q: What is Lillie Belle’s diet?
A: Lillie Belle has a special diet, and any human should be jealous! She gets a blend of roasted chicken, yams and pumpkin. We make a large batch each week that lasts her through the week. It’s all homemade.
Q: Does Lillie Belle get any human food?
A: At the tree field, Lillie is known to take hot dogs from children who aren’t looking. She is also the first in line every morning at the snack shack! At home we treat her to an occasional ice cream.
Q: What type of gear do the Newfoundlands who pull use?
A: It is a special harness that is specific to drafting. It’s crucial that you measure your dog across the girth and chest to assure the harness fits properly. There are many places online where you can get custom harnesses made.
Q: Are there certain health issues that the dog’s pulling causes them to have, and how do you address those?
A: Big dogs in general can have issues with their joints. It’s really important to watch to see if your dog seems extra stiff after pulling. If he does, it’s a sign that he should be resting or be watched for the next few rounds (or days). Believe it or not, it’s not the work in the winter that can cause issues for these dogs. With all their fur, the biggest issues seem to be those summer days when these water dogs lie around after a swim and develop hot spots or sores on their skin. That has been our biggest recurring health issue across all of our Newfs.
Q: Do you groom the Newfoundlands yourself or do you take them to someone to be groomed? How often?
A: Newfies need a lot of grooming. There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t brush them and clean the ears. Newfies are prone to ear infections, so we really focus on a good ear cleaning. Matting happens very quickly if you don’t keep their coats brushed. We made a special grooming table with a ramp just to keep Lillie clean and smooth! She gets a bath about every 10 days and, being a water dog, truly does love bath time.
Thumbnail: Photos Courtesy Plow Farms
About the author
Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned dog sitter, which keeps her busy being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop and sacrificing her bed. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area. Learn more about them on Facebook @The Active Pack and on Instagram @wnewell.