TAK­ING THE LEAD

NZ Life & Leisure - - News - WORDS JANE WAR­WICK PHOTOGR APHS F IONA TOML INSON

Wel­come to this lux­ury coun­try club, where guests sleep on the couches, chase tennis balls, and gen­er­ally wag, lick and schmooze their way into the lives of staff

AN­GELA BEER DIDN’T EVEN KNOW SHE WAS A DOG PER­SON UN­TIL SHE MET HER BELOVED DUNHILL, AND SHE HAD EVEN LESS IDEA JUST HOW FAR THAT LOVE WOULD TAKE HER

AN­GELA BEER WAS dumped and de­pressed. So was Dunhill the jack rus­sell. Dunhill was in­car­cer­ated in the pound and An­gela may as well have been, the way the walls of her life were lean­ing in on her.

Luck­ily for both of them, they had a mu­tual and com­pas­sion­ate friend who quite lit­er­ally put one and one to­gether and made two. An­gela, at 37, got her first dog ever. Dunhill, at eight, found his for­ever home. She had the best case of de­lighted flab­ber­gas­ta­tion ever, and he got an owner who was not only old enough to have most of those an­noy­ing hu­man kinks ironed out, but was also such a dog novice that Dunhill could mould her into just the owner he wanted.

Oh, he was a wag, that dog, and it wasn’t just his tail. He had a grin that went right across his face nearly to his shoulders and a heart that was ca­pa­ble of al­most com­plete de­vo­tion; “al­most” be­cause a lit­tle part of it would re­main for­ever bruised by his early ex­pe­ri­ences. But this was a good thing, too, be­cause it taught him to be cau­tious while re­mind­ing him of his enor­mous good for­tune in find­ing An­gela and he de­ter­mined to never, ever let her down.

And he never did. There are those who thought he came close, once, when he went miss­ing for eight days while An­gela was away look­ing af­ter her sick mum. He was deaf, nearly blind and 14 years old when that hap­pened. But, if you are in­clined to be­lieve that we are not in this alone, that we never re­ally stum­ble along solo, then pon­der this: At a time when An­gela once more had chal­lenges to over­come, when she could prob­a­bly least deal with the dis­ap­pear­ance of the dog that res­cued her from her­self the first time, more than 300 peo­ple came to her aid, peo­ple who knew of her and Dunhill through their work for an­i­mal wel­fare.

More than 300 friends An­gela didn’t even know she had called her dog’s name into the cold­est of win­ter nights when they could have been home in front of a warm heater. They called and called un­til they found him, wet and hun­gry (and prob­a­bly a lit­tle cranky, but he didn’t show it, let­ting him­self be res­cued with typ­i­cal Dunhill dig­nity), down in the man­groves at West­mere, in Auck­land’s western sub­urbs. Dunhill al­ways did have a way with the ladies, but this time he sur­passed him­self, rustling up some solid fe­male sup­port for An­gela.

But back to those early days with Dunhill. An­gela was a bit lost in both life and con­fi­dence. Af­ter all, she’d had some huge suc­cesses. In what she now sees as the first stage of her life, she was a very young group ac­count di­rec­tor for a large ad­ver­tis­ing firm, then the mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for a 300-staff cor­po­rate, and fi­nally the owner of a suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy be­fore a brush with thy­roid can­cer slowed her down.

The sec­ond stage of her life was en­tre­pre­neur­ial, where (now thank­fully can­cer-free) from her kitchen ta­ble, she founded the Hello Dolly brand of DIY and garden tools es­pe­cially for women. The con­cept was a hit world­wide, and was sold in ma­jor depart­ment stores like Har­rods, Lib­erty and David Jones, as well as Europe, Canada and Sin­ga­pore. She worked hard and was fi­nan­cially well re­warded, but it still cost her dearly. Her part­ner worked for the United Na­tions in the Mid­dle East, and she trav­eled be­tween there, China and her clients. It stretched the cou­ple too far; they ended up spend­ing lit­tle time to­gether and there be­came too many phys­i­cal and men­tal oceans be­tween them.

Now she found her­self in an odd space – with noth­ing she wanted to go back to and lit­tle to look for­ward to. She was done with the busi­ness world and didn’t want to risk burnout by start­ing a new project. She felt she didn’t fit in. She had money and suc­cess, but she re­al­ized that those things did not bring hap­pi­ness. So when she was asked to be a men­tor or speak on her achieve­ments, she felt phoney be­cause she knew how hol­low suc­cess could be. De­pres­sion crept over her.

How ironic that de­pres­sion should of­ten be re­ferred to as the “black dog” be­cause ul­ti­mately it is dogs that have saved her. There is a crack, rasps Leonard Co­hen, a crack in ev­ery­thing; that’s how the light gets in. The crack, for An­gela, was that cheeky jack rus­sell Dunhill, and for a while he was all An­gela needed or wanted.

Then an ex-col­league started the busi­ness Pets & Pats and ap­proached An­gela to be her busi­ness men­tor. An­gela de­clined but asked her what her dif­fi­culty was. Bills, they were the prob­lem, her col­league couldn’t pay her bills. So here’s a plan, said An­gela. You go and drum up some free­lance work to cover your costs and on the days you have to be do­ing that, Dunhill and I will take out your clients for free.

It was a good so­lu­tion, not least that Dunhill and An­gela, with the clients of the day, had fun at beaches and parks. It was also all the headspace An­gela needed, and she found a grow­ing sense of be­ing grounded again.

Three months later, the col­league gave it all up for love

and passed the leads to An­gela. And there it was, the be­gin­ning of a third life; An­gela Beer had gone to the dogs.

Be­ing aware now of dog day-care cen­tres and ken­nels and how they are run, An­gela de­cided there was a need for an up­mar­ket, per­son­al­ized and bou­tique lux­ury dog day care with overnight stays, which is why the farm – her Dis­ney­land for dogs – was born at Dairy Flat within Auck­land’s north­ern reaches.

The busi­ness has grown slowly and or­gan­i­cally over the past seven years, with se­lect group of clients bussed to the farm dur­ing the week to swim, snooze, romp and play, chase balls lobbed by a tennis ball ma­chine on the tennis courts and do as much or as lit­tle as they like.

An­gela and her part­ner Ja­son Shep­herd – now joined by dogs Ge­orgie and Scout – di­vide their time be­tween the coun­try farm and their in­ner-city home, en­joy­ing the best of both worlds. Dunhill has since passed – or has he? Phys­i­cally, no doubt, but he was such a charmer, such a life force, it is im­pos­si­ble that he is not con­tin­u­ing to over­see mat­ters. It is also fully pos­si­ble that the wet nose kiss pushed into the palm of a hand is not your imag­i­na­tion at all.

There was a time if any­body had even sug­gested that one day this girl about town would be liv­ing in the coun­try, brush­ing dog hair from her jeans, An­gela would have told them they were delu­sional. She could not even be­gin to imag­ine such a sce­nario and yet here she is, in the third stage of her life. She has no plans for any more stages – this is what she loves, and this is what ful­fils her. What is meant to be al­ways finds a way.

There is a crack, rasps Leonard Co­hen, a crack in ev­ery­thing; that’s how the light gets in

An­gela and her dogs Ge­orgie and Scout.

It is easy to see how much th­ese guests love their breaks from the pave­ments of their city homes; Buddy ( left) in his cush­ion fort. Buddy metaphor­i­cally has his own key to this coun­try es­tate be­cause he comes to stay ev­ery year while his own­ers are in Europe.

Guests Louis with his win­some smile; Richie McPaw (right) in his All Black strip.

Guests and their staff play with the au­to­matic ball lob­ber on the tennis courts and later take a dip in the pool. An­gela hopes to buy a nextdoor farm that has three cot­tages on it so she can pro­vide on­site af­ford­able hous­ing for her team in the face of in­creas­ingly high rents in Auck­land. On the cur­rent site, she al­ready pro­vides ac­com­mo­da­tion for a pro­gramme that al­lows peo­ple who have de­pres­sive ill­nesses to in­ter­act with the ca­nine guests. “When you are in the car­ing pro­fes­sions, you re­ally have a duty to care not only for the an­i­mals but also your team, and hope­fully hu­man­ity and the com­mu­nity in gen­eral. The bless­ing in not hav­ing chil­dren is the time to ded­i­cate to com­mu­nity is­sues.”

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