When Michael Walters' father arrived home with his son's birthday present, it wasn't just Michael who got a surprise. For his mother, Helen, it was a day she wouldn't forget in a hurry.
“I'd taken Michael to school the morning of his birthday but had a call at lunchtime asking me to pick him up. He'd come down with chicken pox.
“I collected Michael, picked up our other son, James, from his school and came home to be confronted by a new - and totally unexpected – addition to the family. My husband, Collin, had secretly arranged to purchase a puppy for Michael's birthday.”
So Goldie arrived, a busy bundle of golden mischief. It was the middle of winter, and with a sick child to look after and no previous experience of dog ownership the last thing Helen needed was an energetic puppy who wasn't toilet trained and regarded the family footwear as her own personal teething apparatus.
“To make matters worse, just when Michael was on the mend after a fortnight in quarrantine James caught chicken pox too. It was an interesting four weeks.”
Michael is autistic and Collin had bought Goldie to help the eight year old, but before long Goldie was adored by the whole family. Now 17 months old, the footwear fetish has diminished to “only the occasional shoe or sock” but on a visit to the vet to be speyed (requiring nil by mouth) Goldie first had to be X-rayed to ensure a missing pair of socks hadn't become an unscheduled breakfast.
Goldie is not only a treasured pet; her friendly and appealing personality have scored her a job helping other people too. It came about by accident, through Helen's work as a nurse at Pukekohe Hospital.
“I was looking after a man who needed 24-hour care. He was pining for his dog, a golden retriever like Goldie – so I sneaked Goldie in to visit him. He was rapt!
“With the blessing of the hospital manager I kept bringing her in for several weeks. Other patients got to meet her too and loved it, so we had her assessed by Pet Therapy and she's now an official hospital visitor.
“Many of our rehab and hospice patients are there for long periods, and it really cheers them up to be able to spend time with Goldie. It's particularly special for our rural patients, who miss the farm and their animals at home. I've lived here most of my life so I know a lot of them, and I understand how important that is.
“Pukekohe Hospital is wonderful in allowing patients to have their pets visit them in the courtyard. Pets are part of the family, like kids.”
With her beautiful golden coat and big brown eyes, it's no wonder people are drawn to Goldie. Helen tells of a time when they were out walking and met a group of special needs children.
“They all went straight for her, stroking her and cuddling her. It was beautiful to watch.”
Goldie's gorgeous nature is becoming so well known that Helen is now often referred to as 'Goldie's mum'.
“I'm losing my identity,” Helen laughs. “I said to my husband that she has to be useful as well as pretty – and she is.”