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 It was love at first sight.

 Arriving at the breeder’s home in Christchurch, my friend Jan got out of the Jeep to open the high wrought iron gates. A pack of six or seven Dobermans appeared on the other side of the gates and stood silently, watching, waiting. I bravely stuck my head out of the Jeep window and called to Jan, who stood alone and unprotected, “They must be friendly… I’m sure they must be friendly.”

 The pack waited, unmoving, as Jan opened the gates, I drove through, then she closed the gates again. As we drove up the long driveway the dogs ran and played on the lawn beside us, then veered off to play what looked like a game of soccer. I soon realised their ‘ball’ was in fact a small puppy which they would run after then bowl over, his little legs sprawling as they leapt about him with joy.

 I parked the Jeep and got out, nodding hello to the man who approached. “Hi, I’m Jo”, I said. Looking towards the playing dogs, I asked, “Is that my pup?”

 “Yes, that’s Badge”, he answered.

 The pup saw me approaching and he ran closer, diving between my feet for protection from the chasing dogs. Scooping him up, I held him close as the Dobermans circled us before they went running off, looking for a new game to play.

I gazed down at the small pup lying  in my arms. With his enormous paws and flapping great ears he was simply gorgeous. “Hello Badge”, I grinned. “I’m here to take you home.”

 Badge had originally been sold to people in the North Island, but when the breeders learnt the pup was destined to be a guard dog they cancelled the sale. When I called to say I was looking for a male black and tan puppy they said, “We have one ready now. Would you like him?”

 After having my home inspected to make sure I was a suitable and responsible owner, I then drove six hours to Christchurch to collect him. And we haven’t been apart since.

Badge at three months

  I often call Badge ‘the perfect pup’ and he is.  Even as a puppy he never chewed the furniture or his bedding, he has never stolen food, dug holes in the garden or rolled in anything he shouldn’t.  Nor does he sit on the furniture… though he’s got me so well trained that in the evenings I just about always sit on the floor with him.

 Did I mention how smart he is? One day fetching sticks in the Arrow River, with the river in full flood, he found the force of the water had carried him over to the other side of the river. I called to him and he jumped into the river to swim back, only to find himself being swept way downriver past me. Within minutes he ran back up the track, the stick still clamped in his mouth. Taking it, I threw the stick back into the river and he bounded in after it. Carried again to the other side, he climbed out, shook himself vigorously, then turned and ran way upstream, twisting through the trees and bushes. “Hey”, I called. “Where are you going? Come back!”

 Without pausing he jumped back into the rushing water where the strong current swept him downriver, directly to where I was waiting. Climbing out, he shook himself, his whole body wriggling with his delight.

 Badge is a huge asset to Falling Leaves.  He loves having guests stay and as soon as he hears them arrive he is waiting at the door, full of eager anticipation. And in return he is simply adored by the guests. He has walked and run with guests down along the Cardrona River and has patiently allowed himself to be patted and fussed over for hours. Many guests have commented that Badge is spoilt. “No he isn’t”, I say. “He isn’t spoilt, he’s merely indulged.”

 But it makes me smile when later the guests carefully tuck Badge’s blanket around him when he becomes uncovered.  He has a knack of winning the hearts of everyone.

Badge prepares for winter

Many thanks to Cécile and Michel from Paris for the use of this photo. 

His only imperfection is his health. Before he had turned one Badge had an operation for a degenerating bone in his elbow. Then before he was two he had a major operation on his spine for Wobbler’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder which afflicts some large breed dogs.

 Wobblers is caused by a narrowing or malformation of the spinal cervical (neck) vertebrae which causes pressure on the spinal cord. It can cause a ‘wobbly’ gait, lack of co-ordination, falling over and intense pain.  In severe cases it can cause paralysis.

And now, after two years of blooming health, signs of Wobbler’s Syndrome have returned. Last week Badge collapsed and couldn’t regain his feet. When he finally struggled up he staggered around as if drunk. He is now on complete house rest, only permitted outside on a leash.

Week after next I shall take Badge to the specialist vets in Christchurch for a full diagnosis with MRI and surgery, if needed.

 All I want for my perfect pup is a long, pain-free life. I shall keep you posted…

Update…

Well the MRI report isn’t the best.

 But I am pleased to report that Badge is loving life and he remains pain free. This weekend he spent two hours running around the garden with his much loved sister, Bella. It was their first time together since his collapse a month ago and they both revelled in their play.

 And the next time someone comments that Badge is spoilt, I shall just smile. “Yes he is,” I will say. “And he deserves it.”

Update April 2010

Despite his handicaps, Badge remains the perfect pup and his remarkable laid-back personality continues to charm all he meets. Our walks are now much shorter and less frequent but he still bounds around as if a puppy, thanks to his daily steroids.

Sadly his beloved sister Bella came to the end of her life and she is now buried in our garden where the two dogs  spent hours in happy play. A eucalyptus tree is planted to honour her memory. Sleep well Bella. 

Badge 8 Nov 2005 – 7 April 2011 

Badge passed away peacefully April 7th 2011. Wrapped in his sleeping bag with his favourite toys, he is now resting in the garden next to his sister Bella, a ghost gum planted over him.

  Thank you Badge. You were a most exceptional companion and you will never be forgotten.

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A glacial remnant of the last ice age, Mou Waho Island is, geographically, almost unique in the world.  Rising high above Lake Wanaka the craggy island has the rare distinction of having a small lake, Arethusa Pool, situated near the summit. It is quite remarkable to stand at the top of the island looking down at the pool and further out to the blue expanse of Lake Wanaka, then beyond to the stunning snow capped peaks of the Southern Alps.

 The island is situated near the middle of Lake Wanaka, an easy 30 minute boat cruise from Wanaka’s marina.  After a successful predator eradication programme (which I helped on in the late 70’s), the island is now a Nature Reserve and is home to a growing population of birdlife including the flightless  buff weka, as well as the N.Z falcon, wood pigeon, bellbird, tomtit, fantail, wax eye and grey warbler. Lizards, geckos and the alpine weta also thrive here.

 Once ashore, a well formed track taking about 30 minutes leads to the high summit with its stunning views. The island is a very popular picnic destination in the summer months, offering walking, swimming, bird watching and it even has a lovely BBQ area.  

In the late summer I helped organise a clean up day on the island with the Wanaka Rotary Club. We pulled weeds, planted native trees and shrubs, helped clear the walking track and repaired the jetty, all under the authority of DOC (Dept of Conservation) and with the supervision of Chris from Eco Wanaka Adventures.   

 After a morning spent on the working bee and then a relaxed lunch, some of our group left by boat to go fishing, some lay back  in the warm sunshine for a siesta, while a few hardy souls went back to pulling weeds. Soon word came down from the summit that a tourist had slipped on rocks and suffered a broken leg. After a short delay a rescue helicopter approached the island but they were unable to lift the injured Australian off the steep summit. The helicopter instead landed on the rocky beach below and some of our group climbed the path with the paramedic to help stretcher the injured man down.

 I must say the injured man was quite cheerful and jolly through what must have been a painful experience of being carried down a sometimes steep mountain trail. Strapped into the rescue helicopter, he was soon skimming across the lake towards the Wanaka Medical Centre. 

 Finished for the day, we cleaned up, packed up and headed back across the lake, the afternoon sun still strong on our backs as we finished the last of the picnic fruit cake and biscuits.

Trips out to Mou Waho Island are run by Lakeland Adventures  and by Chris from Eco Wanaka Adventures  While on the island with Chris you can plant a native tree, enabling you to contribute in a ‘hands on’ way to the continuing restoration and conservation of the island. The trees provide a valuable food source for the island’s birdlife and are a lasting reminder of your visit to this wonderfully unique sanctuary.

About a week or so before Christmas the perfect pup Badge and I spent the day in Dunedin before heading home. Driving through the countryside we passed a sign hanging from a farm gate, Piglets for sale. Slamming on the brakes I stopped and did a u-turn, returning to the gate.

“Are you looking for a piglet?” the man asked.

“Sure,” I nodded. I’ve never had a piglet before, but why not? Afterall, how much trouble could one wee piglet make?

Peering into a muddy pigsty with some piglets running around squealing, I pointed to one. “That one?” I suggested.

“A saddleback,” he said. “Okay.”

With her freckled pink nose and a white stripe running around her belly, the little black piglet was very cute.

Scooping her up, he gave her a shot and dropped her in a sack. He tied up the top and then expertly lopped of a corner of the sack so she could stick her snout out for fresh air. I placed her in the front foot-well of the Jeep, training the cold air down on her to prevent her from overheating.

Driving along, I began to run names through my mind, trying to find a name which incorporated the word ‘ham’ in it. Afterall, I need to remain focused on what the piglet is for…ham…Hamlet! But we hadn’t driven far before Hamlet wriggled around in her sack and lost her air hole. I reached down to try to turn her back and she bit me, ouch!

We soon arrived in Lawrence and I stopped at the petrol station. “May I please borrow a pair of scissors?” I asked.

I then cut a few more air holes in the bag, being careful to keep the tips of the scissors, and my fingers, away from Hamlet’s teeth. Driving on, I began to run through the realities of the situation. Her food, her shelter, her fencing. I know pigs are smart and they require special fencing. Many owners use a tiny pigsty, or an electric fence. But I hate seeing animals confined and I certainly wouldn’t want to electrify the entire five acres of the lower paddock. I had a portable pen which I decided I would erect for a temporary home until I had a new fence erected.

But it was almost two hours later by the time we arrived home and poor Hamlet was suffering dreadfully, her breathing laboured. Placing the sack in her new paddock, I listened to her stressed breathing and quickly made a decision. Cutting open her bag, I helped her to freedom. With some water to wallow in and some crusts of bread in her belly she quickly revived and began to explore her new paddock. Satisfied that she seemed happy, I headed up the hill to home through the gathering darkness.

The following morning I wasn’t totally surprised to find Hamlet was nowhere to be found. It was another hot day and I thought she would be either down at the river at the end of the property, or she would be over in the cool shade of my neighbour’s trees. Leaving some food in a bucket in the unlikely case she returned, I went home and called the neighbours. “If you find a little black piglet on the loose, she’s mine”, I explained.

“We’ll keep an eye out,” they promised.

Late in the afternoon my neighbours called back. They are a lovely couple, very welcoming and hard working and totally down to earth. Hardly the type to place much credence in the airy fairy… yet they often talk to their psychic in Auckland. “Don’t worry”, they report. “The psychic says Hamlet has just gone for a walk and isn’t far away. She’ll be back home soon.”

“But she was only here a short while”, I say. “She won’t even know this is her home.”

But just on the off-chance, I took some more food down to the lower paddock and began to make the small enclosure in case she returned. The ground is hard river flats, more shingle than earth, and well compacted from being a river bed for many millions of years. The sides of the pens have spikes for pushing down into the earth, but this terrain requires a sledge hammer and brute strength. About an hour later I had just hammered in the last spike when I glanced up to see a little black shadow moving swiftly across the paddock. Hamlet!

“Come on,” I encouraged. “I have yummy food for you.” Placing the food in the enclosure, I stood back as Hamlet ran straight in and I closed the gate. She’s home!

“Welcome home Hamlet,” I laughed as she scoffed the bread and vegetable scraps. When I began rubbing her back she stopped eating, closed her eyes, and then gently collapsed onto her food as she stretched out, allowing me to rub her tummy.

If the psychic hadn’t predicted Hamlet’s return would I have been down in the lower paddock with the enclosure ready just as Hamlet turned up? Or would she had wandered over, found neither food nor a tummy rub and moved on elsewhere? I can’t help but feel that without the psychic’s vision, poor Hamlet would have ended up being someone’s Christmas BBQ, browning nicely on the spit.

Within a few days the new fence was erected and Hamlet was given the freedom of almost an acre of land to run around in. It has trees for shade, an A-frame house for shelter and I even dug her a swimming hole so she can wallow in the mud. She loves company and often had her snout pushed up to the fence to say hello to Badge or the goat. And she loved when I visited and rubbed her tummy. So the next time I went to Dunedin I stopped at the pig farm for another piglet to keep her company but there were no piglets left to be had.

A few days later the local paper had an ad for piglets and so Hamster arrived. A pure black piglet with a long snout, she is the result of a wild pig crossed with a Captain Cooker… a descendant of one of the original pigs which arrived with Captain Cook. She is a cunning wee thing, rushing in to snatch food from under Hamlet’s nose, and not liking to be touched. But the two of them get on well and are often to be found lying together in the shade, or in their nest in the paddock.

I had placed four bales of hay in their paddock, not sure what they would use them for… scratching posts, shade, shelter, food? Two of them remain untouched, but the piglets cleverly removed the twine from the other two bales and opened them up into a large nest. Most days they curl up together in the hay for their afternoon siesta.

Cute as two peas in a pod… or two pigs in a snooze.

Bulbs

Well it took some time, but the assorted daffodil bulbs are finally planted… all 2000 of them! I placed them under the grove of 75 silver birch trees so am hoping for a spectacular display next spring. I suspect many will remain dormant for the first season, but there should still be a good number appearing.

This autumn was particularly stunning. The colours along the lake and river edges were breathtaking in their brilliance. I would often bike along the Outlet Track, or out towards Waterfall Creek and riding through the thick carpet of deep gold leaves was magical. Badge, the perfect pup, would at times be up to his neck in masses of leaves as he scrambled off-trail. One blustery day we biked through a storm of golden yellow, the leaves swirling and dancing in the maelstrom.

Early morning and late afternoon, in that brief moment when the light is sheer perfection, the photographers (a dozen at a time) would be out along the river and lake with their cameras and tripods, trying to capture that one great shot.

During the peak of autumn we had a day trip over the Lindis Pass to Aoraki/Mt Cook. The weather was gorgeous with a stunning blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. Following the river before the Lindis, the willow trees were pure canary yellow, the colour in sharp contrast to the deep blue of the sky and the lazy tawny browns and golds of the tussock clad hills. Did I mention it was simply breathtaking?

Aoraki means ‘Cloud Piercer’ but she didn’t live up to her name. There she was, displayed to her full glory with the fresh snow glistening against the blue of the sky. The Hermitage was buzzing with visitors, all enjoying the abundant sunshine. After meeting up with friends and getting some picnic supplies, we headed back the way we had come until we were back out of the national park. Stopping by Lake Pukaki, we enjoyed our picnic as the two dogs played and swam in the turquoise waters.

This winter is predicted to have abundant snow. The ski fields now have a good base cover and one Northern ski field has already opened for the season. Meanwhile, not being a skier, I’m patiently waiting for my daffodils to bloom. Is it spring yet?

We had a bit of a drama here last week. I arrived home from a meeting and went down the hill to feed the piglets only to find the baby goat, Lavender, with a broken leg. She likes to climb fences and must have slipped.

So I dropped the box of pig food (a dozen cauliflowers) to attend to the goat and Hamster – the sneaky wee pig whose bacon is well and truly already cooked – became enraged and slipped under the fence (which cost a fortune and is meant to be pig proof!!) to get at the food. I opened the pigs’ gate and put the food in their paddock to entice Hamster back but of course good piglet Hamlet decides to come out to see what’s happening and meanwhile Raspberry the naughty goat, thinking no one was looking, decided it an ideal opportunity to enter the pig’s paddock to scoff all the food.

I then let Badge the perfect pup into the paddock to round everyone up and he got all excited as he’s not usually allowed to chase the animals and really it became a total zoo with them all being very naughty indeed! I just stayed on the ground holding poor Lavender who fell over every time she tried to run.

Somehow the chaos all sorted itself out and the piglets went back into their paddock to eat their dinner. I then had to wrestle Raspberry away from the pigs’ dinner and lift her back over the fence to her own space, and I tell you, that girl seriously needs to go on a diet!

The vet soon arrived with his bag of magic potions and now Lavender is in a cast for six weeks, poor girl.