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A Dog's Life - Marlborough's canine heritage

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Last Modified: 25-7-2022 21:05

Doggy fun on the Taylor River Bed
Doggy fun on the Taylor River Bed
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

When I write for Marlborough Online, I try to write with some level of personal engagement with the subject, but my last article definitely wasn’t one that I intentionally wanted to get to intimately acquainted with. I wrote an article on the Wairau Hospital Fever Ward. Shortly after publishing the article, I was laid low with a viral respiratory infection, that numerous RAT tests insisted wasn’t Covid, but still left me the sickest I’ve been in about seven years, and pretty incapacitated for around three weeks.

Now that I’m recovered from that unfortunate experience, I can now turn to a subject that also, up until recently I haven’t had much personal experience of, but something that’s usually rather more enjoyable. I’m talking about dogs.

As many parents do, I made the mistake of making a promise to my daughter some years ago that when she attained a certain age, she could have a puppy. She is an only child, and not having siblings is stressful for both her and my wife and me, as we are regularly asked for play time, and if we don’t engage, there are resulting grumbles. My daughter was very insistent that she wanted a puppy that could be a substitute for a human sibling. As parents, we might have been hesitant about the puppy part, but the idea of a sibling substitute we heartily agreed with if it would give us a bit more time for ourselves.

Embarking (if you’ll excuse the pun) on a puppy acquisition journey immediately brought attention to how to care for a canine companion, including where to exercise it, how to train and socialise it, and how to fit it in to our family activities.

It turns out that Marlborough is an incredibly dog friendly place to live, and it shouldn’t really be a surprise, as DNA evidence reveals that kurī arrived with the first humans to set foot in New Zealand at the Wairau Bar, and ever since, dogs have been a part of life in Marlborough, including even retiring Mayor, John Leggett, who is an enthusiastic dog owner.

Working dogs can be found on Marlborough’s high country farms including Molesworth, and sheep dog trials are a part of A & P shows throughout the region.

Well known retired former music shop owner Ken Ham had a guide dog due to his blindness, and police dogs also work in the region.

On a more recreational level there are clubs with a focus on pedigree show dogs, and dog agility and obedience, and like anything these days, social media has had its impact, with an informal dog meetup organised through Facebook that occurs on Saturday afternoons at Shep’s Park.

Marlborough is well catered for with dog exercise areas, and even a good deal of DOC land in the area is dog friendly, although a readily obtained permit is required.

Not all the history of dogs in Marlborough has been positive. Wild dogs caused issues with sheep, and reading through old newspapers, it was common to find notices from landowners warning that any wandering dogs straying onto their properties would be destroyed. Sadly, while dogs were responsible for killing stock, the kurī or Polynesian dog itself became extinct as a breed, now known only from taxidermied museum specimens.

Speaking of breeds, that brings me back to my puppy, and the fascinating story of how dogs have accompanied humans wherever they go around the world.

Allie is a miniature American shepherd, also known as a miniature Australian shepherd, with the naming ambiguity due to kennel club rules more than anything. Australian shepherds themselves are anything but Australian, but rather an American dog derived from New Zealanders and Australians who took their herding dogs to California in the 19th Century, where they developed as a well respected working dog. The mini Aussie is a more recent derivation from the Australian Shepherd, but it was developed entirely in America, hence the breed being registered as a miniature American shepherd. The breed was only introduced to New Zealand quite recently with the first New Zealand born puppies only arriving in 2020. It was never my intent to end up with an ‘exotic’ dog; I just wanted something that would fit our family lifestyle, and expectations, and it turned out nothing else was really a better fit.

Allie certainly turns heads when she’s out walking. A lot of people think she’s a border collie, which was actually my daughter’s first choice, but given their energy levels, size, and need for stimulation, I’d said no. The border collie looks probably stem from the heritage of her breed, and in a way it’s almost as though history has turned full circle, as a puppy of a new breed derived originally from dogs belonging to Australian and New Zealand shepherds has found a home where perhaps the first dogs ever to set foot on these shores first arrived, right here in Marlborough.

Although we don’t have a statue like the famous Tekapo one commemorating McKenzie’s sheepdog, perhaps we should, as potentially, Marlborough isn’t just the birthplace of human habitation in New Zealand, but of canine companions as well.

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Cookson, C. (2022). A Dog's Life - Marlborough's canine heritage. Retrieved August, 19, 2022, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/a-dogs-life/

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