Wednesday, May 22, 2024

To George, who showed us the way to a rural life

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Allan Barber remembers a beloved pet who cut his own path.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Vanessa and I put our old dog down last weekend after he had almost reached his 18th birthday, which was a very sad although clearly inevitable decision. 

George was a Tibetan terrier who we acquired a week before we moved out of Auckland permanently to live on a 2ha section near Matakana with a magnificent view out to Great Barrier Island and within easy reach of Omaha beach. 

In his younger days he was very high spirited and presented us with frequent challenges, not least his resemblance to Hairy Maclary, both in appearance and character.

We took him to dog training classes in Warkworth, where he caused total chaos by leading a breakout around the A&P Showgrounds, and a walk on the beach often resulted in him latching on to another dog owner and disappearing into the distance. Many was the time we drove home and waited for a phone call to tell us where we could collect him. One holiday weekend I let him out of the car at the beach and realised with horror he had lost his collar with his name tag, so I had to try to keep up with him for 10 minutes before he disappeared through an unsuspecting family’s open door. I staggered in and asked them to keep him shut in until I could come back in the car to collect him.

One day he was unwise enough to try rounding up some sheep on the other side of the drive and shot back through our fence squealing loudly, after a ewe had backed him into a corner and given him a head butt. 

Over the first couple of years we were better known as George’s owners than for anything notable we had done ourselves. On another occasion he disappeared off our section and raced down the driveway, successfully stopping the traffic in both directions on the road between Matakana and Leigh.

This was the point when we concluded we had to take him to the vet for an operation, having decided we were unlikely to find a mate for him, the main reason we had left him entire until then. To reassure readers who will be muttering about our irresponsibility for allowing him to run riot, there is no evidence of George having sired any puppies in the area; he was just exceptionally gregarious and independent. 

At the age of six we finally had a relatively manageable dog and we heaved multiple sighs of relief. Fortunately he retained all the character traits we loved so much, while no longer indulging in his worst excesses. 

He was with us for the 18 years of our life in the country, helping us get to know a whole new group of friends and joining in at several events, such as when we had to prepare for the Warkworth A&P Show and he was able to range across the showgrounds in the days before the actual show. 

We had been somewhat nervous about leaving the city in the first place, although I was originally brought up in the Cotswolds and retained my love of the country. But George made the transition easier than would otherwise have been the case with his personality and eagerness to get to know new people and their dogs. 

He made himself known to our driveway neighbours and kept us company, not always helpfully, while we developed our garden and maintained the section, covering large distances following the ride-on mower.

Viewing his life through another lens, his span covered almost all the years since I began writing this column for Farmers Weekly and he lived through the final three years of Helen Clark’s government, nine years of National and six years of Labour with help from NZ First and the Green party. 

The chaotic prospect of National, ACT and possibly NZ First or Labour, Greens and the Maori Party may have proved more than he could take, so with immaculate timing he got out just three weeks before his 18th birthday, which also happens to be Election Day.

We already have another Tibetan terrier, Hugo, who came to us as a puppy more than eight years ago, so we have had our replacement in place for quite some time. He is a totally different character, much more relaxed and very affectionate, whereas George was more standoffish. 

He was a challenging and rewarding dog who we loved dearly – it really is the end of an era.

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