Ireland the Labrador greets me by jumping high in the air whenever I come to take him for a walk.
The two of us met about six years ago through The Dogshare Collective. One of his human family had suffered an injury at that time and needed help with his care. I started taking him out in the afternoons, and continued doing so long after his owner’s injury had recovered.
Ireland was bred to become a guide dog for the blind, but due to a minor defect in his own vision he was withdrawn from training and made available for adoption as a family pet. Large, friendly and exuberant, he loves playing with other dogs and like most Labradors he has an insatiable appetite. We have enjoyed many outings and adventures together (search the Animals section of my website to see illustrated posts about my walks with Ireland, also with my other dog share Buddy).
Having a dog brings great benefits – physical, mental and social – also involves great responsibilities. There are many people who are not in a position to have a dog of their own but would like to have a relationship with one. And there are many dogs who, often because their owners are out at work all day, need additional exercise and company. Within New Zealand The Dogshare Collective exists to put people from these two groups in contact with one another.
A ban on the export of live cattle, sheep, goats and deer from New Zealand will come into force this month, following years of campaigning by the SPCA backed by widespread public support. But we are having a general election in October 2023, and the National and Act parties have stated that if they come into power, live animal exports will be started again.
This practice is both cruel and unnecessary. A position statement from the SPCA has described the stressors on animals undergoing sea voyages lasting weeks or months: fear and anxiety, exposure to disease, overcrowding, overheating, motion sickness and more. Some animals die on board, and in 2020 almost 6,000 drowned when a livestock container ship en route from New Zealand to Saudi Arabia sank off the coast of Japan. And, depending on the adequacy of health and welfare in the destination countries, animals may be subjected to further suffering when they arrive.
There are alternatives to live export. Animals for food could be slaughtered here and their refrigerated carcasses exported. For breeding purposes, semen and embryos rather than live animals can be used.
This issue presents me with a moral dilemma. I don’t want to see the Labour Party returned again; since they have been in government New Zealand has gone backwards with falling standards in healthcare and education, increased poverty and crime, increased racial divisions, billions of dollars wasted on idealistic projects which have never been completed. Until now I had been firmly intending to vote for either National or Act, but how can I justify supporting a party which will reinstate live animal exports? Several letters published in the NZ Herald newspaper, including one from me, have expressed this dilemma. I have written to the party leaders, and my local MP, to protest the policy and I hope that if enough other people do the same they will revoke it. If not, is the only answer not to vote at all?
Although I don’t have my own dog, I have the pleasure of knowing several local ones, and regular “dog sharing” arrangements with two of them: Ireland the Labrador and Buddy the Cavoodle. This involves taking them for walks, and sometimes keeping them company while their owners are out. I love both dogs equally, but they are so different from one another it can be hard to believe they belong to the same species, canis lupus familiaris.
Ireland is a confident, exuberant big black Labrador nearly six years old. He loves everything life has to offer: going for walks, playing with other dogs, riding in cars, and most of all he loves eating – almost anything except kidneys. His only fault is a tendency to bolt towards any source of food, such as a picnic or a discarded pie, which he can smell from far away. I have been walking him for about four years now and his joyful greeting when I come to see him always makes my day.
Buddy, a second generation Cavoodle just coming up to his first birthday, is a more sensitive soul and prone to anxiety even though he has been raised with the utmost kindness. He is gradually becoming more confident, and now enjoys going for walks although he was previously reluctant to leave the house. He still hates car travel, and in further contrast with Ireland he is indifferent to food, and often has to be coaxed into eating. Buddy is a very handsome dog, with an affectionate nature. He loves cuddles and is still small enough to sit on my lap.
The characteristics of Ireland and Buddy are typical of their respective breeds. For example it is well established that Labradors are obsessed with food, and that Cavoodles are prone to separation anxiety. Although the way that dogs are treated and trained has a big influence on their development, research has shown a clear genetic basis for inter-breed differences in personality, behaviour and intelligence. https://theconversation.com/genetic-research-confirms-your-dogs-breed-influences-its-personality-but-so-do-you-196274. Doing similar research on humans would be considered racist and unethical nowadays.
I’ve just met my new dogshare puppy, Buddy. I will be helping to look after him on days when his owner cannot take him to work. He is a lively, cuddly and confident little pup and I fell in love with him at first sight.
A Cavoodle is a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a toy or medium Poodle. Such dogs, weighing 4-12 kg, are said to be very affectionate, energetic and intelligent. Apparently they love human company, being prone to separation anxiety when alone; are not especially keen on food (what a contrast to my Labrador dogshare, Ireland); and are good swimmers.
Buddy is a 2nd generation cross, from two Cavoodle parents, and through the genetic lottery appears to be more Spaniel than Poodle. He looks very like a Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – chestnut and white, with a “Blenheim spot” on the top of his head. According to the Wikipedia site about that breed: “The Blenheim spot is also known as the mark of the Duchess Thumb Print, based on the legend that Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, while awaiting news of her husband’s safe return from the Battle of Blenheim, pressed the head of an expecting dam with her thumb, resulting in five puppies bearing the lucky mark after news that the battle had been won.”
Dogsharing involves dividing both the joys and responsibilities of dog ownership between households, in a flexible way arranged on an individual basis, for the benefit of both the humans and animals concerned. Within New Zealand, matches can be arranged through the Dogshare Collective.
Although I’m including this post in the Devonport walks series, it actually relates to a different part of Auckland. This is because Ireland, the dogshare Labrador I’d been walking most afternoons for four years, has moved out of the city with his owners’ family. Contact is less frequent now, but our bond continues unbroken, and Ireland greeted me ecstatically when we met halfway for a visit to the Normanton Reserve in the Wairau Valley suburb.
I had driven around there many times in the past for business purposes, not for pleasure because it is a rather unattractive industrial area prone to traffic congestion. I had no idea there was a peaceful green reserve close by, hidden away at the end of a cul de sac.
The large flat grassed field on the lower level of Normanton Park offers activities for both adults and children. On the path that encircles the perimeter there are a series of exercise machines – I did not try these. There is a playground, a small basketball court and a small skateboarding park, a picnic area and toilet block, all clean and well maintained.
On an upper level, reached by a short flight of steps, is a large field in a more natural state with plenty of room for a dog to run free.
Ireland’s departure has been a loss but I will certainly keep in touch with him and meanwhile, with other local dogshare opportunities on the cards, have had the gaps in our garden hedge sealed off …
It’s been a long time since we last had foster cats or kittens in the house, the reason being that I’ve usually ended up adopting them permanently. Having promised my husband that won’t happen again, last week I took in two more from a local animal welfare charity. It’s against the rules to post their photos online so I’ve used a stock image.
My first experience of fostering in New Zealand, over twenty years ago for a different charity, was quite informal. A litter of four small kittens was delivered to the door and I was left to get on with caring for them until they were old enough to be adopted. I kept one, Felix, a dearly loved cat as described in this post.
Nowadays, the role of a feline foster parent is much more tightly controlled. The online application process requires obtaining a criminal history check, answering multiple-choice quizzes based on the content of a 30-page manual, and submitting photos of the proposed foster room setup. After completing it successfully, I got a call from the volunteer coordinator and arranged an appointment to drive out to the nearest rescue centre.
I returned home with two kittens, a black male and a tortoiseshell female. They are about 10 weeks old and before being made available for adoption they will need to complete medication for an intestinal infection, receive worm and flea treatments and vaccinations, and gradually transition to a different diet. Looking after them involves providing fresh food and water, changing litter trays, and sessions of play and cuddles every few hours. I am also giving extra attention to our two adult cats who are being strictly kept apart from the kittens but are keenly aware of their presence. Leo seems frightened of them whereas Magic seems hostile.
Fostering these kittens is a big responsibility and time commitment, but also a delight, because they are as lively and affectionate as can be and it’s going to be hard to give them up.
A group of dogs who were bred in Auckland’s Guide Dog Centre meet every week for a “play date” in one of our local parks. Most of them are Labradors, either black or yellow. They include puppies in training, working dogs both active and retired, and those who were withdrawn from the training programme and are living as family pets. I was introduced to this group through Ireland, a four-year-old black Lab in the “withdrawn” category, who is owned by a local family. I am his “dog-sharer” who walks him almost every afternoon, as described in a series of my recent blog posts.
Three of the long-term canine members of the group have died in recent months. Two of them were near the end of their natural lifespan, which for Labradors is 10-12 years. The third, who was a little younger, had developed heart failure. Today we gathered in a beach-side reserve to honour their memories. The weather pattern of sunshine and showers mirrored the bittersweet mood of the occasion. There were tears as each of the bereaved owners delivered a short eulogy to their dog, but there was pleasure in sharing food and drink with friends while watching the younger Labs chase each other round the grass and jump into the water. Like a human memorial service, it was a significant event.
When I lived in England I volunteered with the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) to provide telephone support to people who were distressed by the loss of a pet. Through that work, as well as through my personal experience, I learned that the death of a beloved companion animal can be no less devastating than a human bereavement. Those who do not love animals find it difficult to understand grief of such intensity, and may make hurtful remarks like “It was only a dog” or “Why don’t you just get a new one”. A lost pet cannot simply be replaced in the same way as a worn-out garment or an old car. Having said that, many owners will find comfort by bringing another animal into their homes when they feel ready to do so.
To quote from a local tourist website: “Mt Cambria Reserve is quiet retreat in the pretty seaside town of Devonport. The attractive landscaped garden sits in the remains of Mt Cambria volcano, which was a quarry for scoria rock between 1883 and 1985. Mt Cambria Reserve is situated behind Devonport Museum on 31a Vauxhall Road and is an ideal spot for walks and relaxing picnics.”
Ireland has to be kept on a tight lead when picnics are in progress – like most Labradors he has an insatiable craving for food. But provided there are no picnics, Mt Cambria is a lovely place for dogs to run free. It’s quite a small park, dotted with clumps of trees, and has a steep slope at the back.
From the top of the park is a view of Mt Victoria, another good place for dog walks as described in an earlier post.
A highlight of Ireland’s week is his “club day” when he spends an hour rushing around Mt Cambria with a group of his canine friends while their owners look on.
Ireland the Labrador loves walking up Mount Victoria/Takarunga, known by Devonport locals as Mt Vic. Of unknown age, it is the tallest volcanic cone on Auckland’s North Shore, though being only 87 metres high it is really a hill rather than a mountain. The wooded lower slopes are surrounded by old houses, churches and a primary school and there are several access points.
We usually approach the site through the historic cemetery, dating from the late 1800s, where the Maori warrior and peacemaker Patuone is buried alongside early white settlers.
Mt Vic was once a Maori pa (fortified settlement) and the remains of old terraces and kumara pits can be seen alongside the walking tracks that now encircle the site. Ireland seems fascinated by the place and sometimes, perhaps drawn by sights or smells or spirits of the past, he dashes up the steep grassy hillside and on one occasion took half an hour to return. At other times he freezes on the path as if hypnotised.
On the summit, with its panoramic views of Rangitoto, the Hauraki Gulf, Waitemata Harbour and Auckland’s CBD, are various modern structures: mushroom-shaped vents for an underground reservoir, a signal station for shipping, a disappearing gun. There are a few older military remains on Mt Vic and a delapidated army hut, known as the Bunker, is the venue for the local folk music club.
After completing the steepest part of the walk, Ireland and I stop for a rest and a snack.
Last week I wrote about taking Ireland, my dogshare Labrador, to North Head. Another of our favourite places to walk around Devonport is Ngataringa Park. Developed in the 1990s from an old landfill site, this is not a formal park but mostly consists of large fields which provide an ideal space for dogs to run and play and roll in the long grass.
Various local landmarks can be seen from the curved path that runs through the park. Auckland’s harbour bridge, viewed from across the tidal estuary with its mangrove swamps. Mount Victoria, or Takarunga – the highest volcanic cone on the North Shore – and another good place for a dog walk. The massive new retirement complex being built on a nearby hill overlooking the site. There is a skate park in one of the fields, and a piece of artwork, a pair of wooden statues called The Guardians.
At the far end of the path is a maze, intended to represent the interweaving between Maori and Celtic cultures. Beside it, a network of small circular paths bordered by stones is hidden in a group of trees. This is the halfway point of our walk, and while I have a rest on one of the rustic seats made of driftwood, Ireland eats a few biscuits and then waits patiently at my feet.
We can either go back the same way that we came, across the fields, or take the lower path which is shaded by an arch of trees.