My daughter, Te Whaea, introduced me to a community dog walking group in Greymouth. Whaea has always been a dog person. When she was a toddler we had a Collie bitch who sired numerous litters which were cared for in a small wash house. Whaea would spend hours sitting with the pups and even now the fetid smell of a puppy litter is her favourite perfume.
Her current dog, while very close to her immediate human family, has lacked social skills with other dogs and people, growling at them when approached, so she has joined this group in order to socialise her. She suggested I come along.
The owners and their dogs assemble in the dog exercise area in Cobden at 10.00am on a Sunday morning. Church time. There are most shapes of human beings and most shapes of dogs, although being Greymouth, there are not many pure breds. There are a couple who run a kennel who organise the event and who are expert at diffusing any trouble. But twenty to thirty dogs manage to get on pretty well as they bark a variety of barks and wag a variety of tails, before racing around after a couple of balls. There’re a lot of Collie crosses, a couple of large dogs and one of those squashed ones that snuffle a lot. The owners talk about the weather or the dogs. Last Sunday there was a campervan with a dog on board who paid a visit. They wanted to know the cost? Koha. Blimey, we went to one such outfit in Nelson and they wanted twenty bucks.
We put the dogs on their leads and walk down the road, past the Wetlands that are being restored, past the speedway track, along the shore where freedom campers loll in the sun, and down to the beach. A couple of surfers paddle about like seals and it looks blissful. The thirty dogs, playing in the surf, all chasing a single stick, is a remarkable sight. Sun, sand and sea, misty hills in the distance. We stand and breathe. The French election is a long way away. On the walk back I talk to the kennel owners about the trip they’re about to take to the UK. They’ve got Geordie relatives and an old Aunt in Wales. Plus they’re looking up some Irish family roots. Whakapapa.
I realise this is a city experience, something I can miss on the Coast – that encounter with the stranger with no strings attached. You learn a little about someone, share a momentary shared purpose, even exchange something that’s of concern, but then return to one’s own sphere. It’s different from chat with a shopkeeper, or chat with the visitor from elsewhere, for one knows the person encountered is a fellow resident. Perhaps the dogs feel the same? Perhaps that’s the essence of dog society? Anyway, it is non digital, full of sound and smell and touch. And costs a few cents.
I’ll keep going.