When Mark Sanders and his wife Dawn decided to take in Newfoundland pup Monty, it changed their lives forever
Both dog lovers, they already had three Cocker Spaniels, Molly, now 11, Poppy, nine, and Bailey, eight, and shared their home with a range of pups over the years.
Monty was something else. A little black and white bundle of fluff soon grew into a bounding nine stone dog as a young pup and now, at seven, he weighs 13 stone!
Their home has been rebuilt, with a separate living room for him with his own sofa and a bathroom with a custom walk in shower.
Their dinky Nissan Note car was switched for a Berlingo people carrier and when the family go away with Monty, instead of using the family caravan they hire his own holiday cottage!
But Mark, 59, wouldn’t change a thing
“Monty has transformed our lives and it’s been a fascinating journey,” he chuckles.
Just before Monty arrived, Mark had taken early retirement from his job as a football development coach and decided the family were ready for another pup.
“I was fascinated by Newfies,” he said. “We spent a long time researching the breed and finding the right breeder and then found Monty.
“He was totally adorable. Like all pups, he grew quickly and was soon into everything, but rather than being a regular sized dog, he was nine stone! Nothing could have prepared us!”
Mark had always enjoyed writing and set up a Facebook page where he spoke about life with Monty
It soon attracted other large dog owners and lovers who shared their experiences too.
Mark said: “I guess it was a bit like Mumsnet but for people with big dogs! I’d write stories about what he’d been up to and it was like therapy.
“I’d be half laughing half crying, talking about how he’d chewed through the wall or tried to eat the postman.
“I’d share how he dragged me over in the street, or how other dog walkers had laughed as he’d pulled me face down through a muddy ditch in the park trying to chase something.
“People shared their own stories and it became a community. Then I started to write about the world through Monty’s eyes.”
Wherever Monty and Mark went, people stopped to chat
One afternoon while out shopping in Wigan Town Centre, he stopped to talk to an Army veteran who was selling poppies.
People flocked over, so he stayed there for the rest of the day. “The poppy seller told me it was the most money he’d ever raised,” recalls Mark.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to use the fascination people have with Monty to do good. We’ve worked with the poppy appeal for four years and have raised £30,000.
“Monty is also the face of the charity Shoulder to Soldier supporting soldiers, ex soldiers and their families.”
Soon one large dog wasn’t enough!
Mark decided Monty needed a companion and Cookie, now five, arrived. Their house had by now been extended with an extra living room and a ground floor walk in shower room!
Mark said: “The builders laughed when I said it was for the dogs, but when you have two of them and they’re muddy, you can’t just carry them up to the bath!
“We have our own sitting room where Dawn and I and Monty and Cookie watch TV. Monty will try and sit on Dawn’s knee sometimes.
“We used to buy dog beds for them but they grew out of them so quick that now they have their own sofa. “They’re always knocking things over, glasses, cups, ornaments. We have a hippo we brought back from Africa which is pretty much made of superglue now!”
Then Mark started to blog and this became a trilogy of children’s books
He set up Montydogge.com and the idea for the first of his three books – I’m not a Panda-Cow – came when a gang of teenagers started taking the mickey out of Monty while out on a walk.
Mark recalled: “They were larking around as teenagers do and started laughing at Monty and one said, ‘Oh look, it’s a panda,’ then another said, ‘No, it’s a cow,’ and a third lad quipped, ‘It’s a panda-cow!’
“I get so many silly things said to me while we’re out, like ‘ooh, I bet they do massive poos,’ so it’s brilliant that one of them inspired the books.”
The first book is about Monty’s journey of self discovery. As a pup, he doesn’t know what he is and the other dogs he meets, from Spaniels and Terriers to Rottweilers, tell him he’s a Panda Cow.
He finds himself at a river and all around are other Newfoundlands and they embrace him into their world.
The second book, Monty and the Slobbernosserus, is about Monty and his sister Cookie and the bond they share.
A third, Monty and the Poppit Dragon, is out next month (June 2018). Monty finds a dragon who can’t fly and all the animals work together to help him.
Mark says: “It’s a lovely story and the message behind it is that it doesn’t matter how you’re born, you can work together to achieve what you want in life.”
Now Monty inspires a love of reading in children
Monty started visiting children in schools last April when the first book came out and now the pair travel all over the country and meet hundreds of children every week.
He has a cult following and Mark says it’s one of the most rewarding parts of caring for Monty as it’s teaching children to be passionate about reading.
He said: “It’s really good to see the kids who don’t think it’s cool to like reading to completely change because they’ve met a giant dog!
“It’s so moving. You see how much spending time with a dog affects them and the joy they bring. Their faces light up and it’s just lovely that he brings something so positive to people’s lives.
“Monty loves it too. He would much rather be around people and be at school with the kids than out having a walk, so it’s fun for him too.
“He’s fantastic with kids as he’s such a gentle giant. My daughter and her family live with us, and my two year old granddaughter Pippa spends so much time with the dogs she thinks she is one.
“She crawls around on the floor panting!”
Mark is surprised and thrilled at the impact Monty has had
And through the blog and Facebook page, Mark raises awareness about Newfoundlands while supporting other owners and education people about the breed.
He said: “It’s become a resource where people can ask for help if they’re struggling with their dog, just as I was when we first got Monty.
“Whatever owners need to know, or whatever they’re experiencing, someone on there will have been through the same and can help.
“We want to educate people about life with a larger dog, not just the fun stuff but the reality. Newfies can have heart and hip problems and bloat, a deadly disease.
“The best thing is the unconditional love. It really is something special, seeing their big eyes and wagging tails. They have so much to give.
“Monty may have turned our lives upside down but it’s been for the better and we absolutely adore him for it.”
If you enjoyed this post, and would like to learn more about inspiring animals, then you might like to read about Cate and Doug The Pug Therapy Dog or How Starina the Cat became an emotional support animal.