Man’s best friend has been a trusted and long-time employee on the farm since humans woke up and realised how smart dogs are.
But it doesn’t have to be the end of a happy life when they get too old, have had a career-ending injury or just won’t quite make the cut.
This was the idea behind the Retired Working Dogs charity Natalie Smith started when she was working as a vet nurse in Pahiatua, under the Tararua ranges, and 12-year-old working dog Todd was brought in to be put to sleep.
“It didn’t look like he wanted to go yet, so I took him home with me and the cool old dude lived to seventeen,” Natalie says.
The struggle for her was that she couldn’t bring them all home and that’s when she thought of the charity.
“I knew if I wanted them then other people would too.”
The charity was created in 2012 with local vet Helen Sheard and vet nurse Kayla Groves from Totally Vets Feilding, who helped Natalie grow it into a registered charity and what it is today.
It’s not just retired working dogs that the charity helps.
“It started out just for the oldies but as we got going we discovered there were lots of dogs that don’t make the cut that still make great pets. They have awesome manners.
“We have vets call up with a dog that’s had a career ending injury then we get them fixed up and find them homes. Some of them can still do a bit of work on lifestyle blocks or smaller farms,” Natalie says.
Homes suitable for an adoption are entirely dependent upon the dog. Older dogs go to homes for companionship and comfort, whereas the younger ones need plenty of exercise and something to give them purpose, while still being loved and a little bit spoilt like any other pet.
The hard truth is, many people don’t consider working dogs for pets because of their intelligence, high energy nature, their training and time spent outside.
“A lot of people worry about toilet training them at older ages but we’ve had older dogs (10 or 12) go into homes and toilet train within a day or two.”
The intelligence of their breeds means that teaching them to sit, wait or other training you’d usually put into a pet is often already there or they would learn quickly.
The charity also does an annual calendar which features successful adoption stories and dogs who still need a home. A charitable, useful and very cute Christmas present for $25.
Check out the Retired Working Dogs charity website: https://retiredworkingdogs.org.nz/
Meet Eric – retired pig dog
Marie-Claire Andrews and her husband Lee brought a lifestyle block in the Wairarapa to call home four years ago. Six months ago they decided they needed another animal friend to join them.
They heard about Natalie and the Retired Working Dogs charity through their accountant, who also sold some of the charity’s calendars.
Lee had owned dogs before but this was Marie-Claire’s first time so they knew they wanted an older dog that was placid and wouldn’t chase the other animals on the property.
After a half day visit at their home from Eric – a retired pig dog – to see if it was a good fit for everyone, the adoption process began.
“Natalie runs such a great operation, we didn’t have to worry about a thing. She sorted chipping, registration, vaccinations and more for Eric. All we had to do was pay the adoption fee,” Marie-Claire says.
Eric has now made himself very much at home.
“Not long after we’d adopted him we looked around one day and he wasn’t in his bed and we thought… ‘He’s done a runner!’ But he’d gone and fallen asleep in the spare bedroom and that’s been his ever since.
Eric spends his days going for a run with one of his new parents around Wairarapa countryside then sleeping either in his bed or in the sun. He also loves a trip to work in the truck with Lee because of the cuddles and attention he gets from the other workers.
Meet Cloud – injured working dog
Matt and Rebecca Boggs moved to their lifestyle block with their two sons and daughter two years ago. They adopted their dog Lulu three years ago but after about a year in the country they knew they needed a second dog.
They’d seen the Retired Working Dogs charity on Facebook and kept it in mind so when the time came to add to their family it was the perfect place to look.
Cloud was a fully capable young working dog when her back leg was kicked and shattered in five places leaving tendon damage and ending her farm career.
“Her surgery was all paid for by the charity and they had her for a while looking after her during her recovery until we got her in June this year,” Matt says.
“She was an outside dog before she came to us so you can tell she knows how good she’s got it now. Her and Lu go in their kennels when we’re away and sleep inside at night with one in each of the boys’ rooms,” Rebecca says.
Cloud perches in the corner window keeping an eye on the cattle while we chat.
“She and Lulu are inseparable and have become true sisters, getting up to mischief together,” Matt says.
Despite not being able to work like she used to she still has that purpose helping the new lifestyle family move their stock from one paddock to the next… and keeping their chickens in line.