Canterbury's quake dogs

22:40, Sep 25 2013
LOYAL: Lyttelton dog Tetley.

After months sharing stories with Canterbury dog owners, Laura Sessions and photographer Craig Bullock have released Quake Dogs. The book tells the story of more than 80 dogs affected in some way by the earthquakes.

Some stories will break your heart and some are uplifting, but all demonstrate why dogs remain man's best friend. Abbie Napier shares three standout stories.

- Oscar passed away a few weeks ago in the back of the van he most loved to ride along in. Owner and rescuer Ian Spellerberg held Oscar's head as the vet put a painless end to his suffering. He wrapped him in his favourite blankets and dug the grave himself. Oscar now lies under the trees at the bottom of the yard, a little plaque to mark his final resting place.

FRIENDLY: Oscar passed away just a few weeks ago.

Oscar's owner Ian doesn't know a lot about Oscar's life in the years before he was rescued. When they met, the golden retriever was eating rags and pieces of cardboard in a dirty yard, his ribs poking through his matted coat.

He had been abandoned at least twice, after both the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes.

Ian is an instructor at the Selwyn Dog Training Club. Sadly, each earthquake prompted a flood of requests for the club to rehome abandoned dogs.


CLEVER: Poppy the rottweiler.

When Ian got a call about a golden retriever needing help, he went down to the property himself.

"He was just such a mix of wanting to be friendly, but also unsure of humans."

There were a handful of dogs in the same yard, but Oscar hung back, nervous.

"He was not in a good state, " Ian said. "I just love dogs so much, and we seemed to get along straight away. There was a bond there already. I just couldn't walk away."

Perhaps sensing Ian would be the one to finally offer him a loving home, Oscar was happy to scramble into the back of Ian's van with his dogs, Bess and Tinker.

Grossly underweight, Oscar took a long time to mend. His back legs had been badly damaged, possibly by long periods spent in confinement.

Ian and wife Myfanwy fed him up and he became a member of the family for two years.

Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, Oscar's health began to deteriorate.

While he was healthy in most ways, his back legs became more of an issue and often gave way without warning. At times, he was unable to lift himself up, and began to soil himself in his kennel.

"One day in the winter, he was lying in front of the logburner. He was trying to get up, desperately trying to get up but he couldn't move his legs.

"We felt we couldn't do anything more for him, and we had to make that awful decision."

Oscar could not have handled the kind of operation needed. Years of neglect had taken their toll.

"On his last journey we went out together and left the other dogs at home. He just loved going for outings in the van, loved it.

"He was just lying in the back of the van and it all happened very peacefully, in the place he loved so much.

"He was just a gentle dog."

Ian made sure Oscar passed away with the dignity he had missed for much of his life, a treasured member of the family.


Poppy's disappearance after the February 2011 earthquake was hell for her owners.

Poppy fled and owners Katrina and Richard put up posters, and scoured the neighbourhood.

On day three, a neighbour heard on the radio a rottweiler had been found.

The radio station put Katrina and Richard in touch with Poppy's rescuer - none other than city councillor Sue Wells.

Sue had found Poppy the day of the earthquake in Cashel St, and had set her up in a life of luxury while she tried to find her owner.

When Katrina heard where Poppy had been found, she couldn't believe it.

Before the quake, Richard had been picking up Katrina every day after work. They always met on the Cashel/Fitzgerald corner and took Poppy to Bottle Lake Forest for a run.

Poppy remembered and ran seven kilometres in search of Katrina, assuming she'd be waiting at the customary corner.


Tetley is a Lyttelton personality.

He's quite the ladies' man and his sociable habits once saw him narrowly avoid being kidnapped by some intoxicated Wunderbar patrons.

Ever since he was a puppy, owner Sarah and her father Ian took him for long walks in the hills but, on February 22, Ian wasn't at home.

Sarah and Tetley looked for him in the hills.

They went up the Major Hornbrook track and saw most of the bluff had fallen away.

Stones were still skittering down the hillside around them.

On the Stan Helms track, Tetley began to bark and ran into a deep, overgrown gully.

Sarah and Tetley stayed with Ian's body until it got dark.

Hours later, Tetley had to be coaxed away from Ian before some soldiers could carry his body home.

Two years later, Sarah and Tetley still go walking in the hills, sometimes stopping to visit the place where Ian was killed.

The Press