We don't often feature any of our 4-legged friends in Bay View, but Bernie the Bernese mountain dog is an exception. Sitting or lying outside the Freyberg Pool, he's become a regular feature of Oriental Bay and a good mate of its residents, young and old. Nick Ryan of Roseneath (who owns the café at the pool) owned him jointly with his sister since Bernie was a puppy. Nick took over when his sister moved to Australia.
Bernie is now nine years old and he likes to take life easy. In preference to a vast meal each day, he likes to graze. A few snacks during the day is what he really enjoys, says Nick. When he puts his paws up on the counter for a snack, you could be forgiven for thinking that a black bear has wandered into the Bay.
Exercise, too, Bernie takes quietly. After all, it's a lot of weight (65 kilos) to carry around. "He's more sprint, than marathon," Nick told me, "though he did run for quite a while this morning in Oriental Bay." He's very well behaved as he sits patiently outside the pool, never wandering off. Nick has been taken to task occasionally for not having him on a lead which hardly seems necessary for this gentle giant.
The breed originated in Berne, Switzerland, where they were working farm dogs. Before this they were said to accompany Roman soldiers on their journeys through the mountains. These dogs were agile and strong which enabled them to navigate treacherous mountain passes. (Bernie has no ambitions in this direction. Mt Victoria does nicely for him). The ancestors of the present Bernese mountain dogs were most likely large mastiff-types, but dogs left as guardians at Roman outposts were crossed with local herding dogs, resulting in the dog that's known today.
Bernese mountain dogs are natural watchdogs but they also like to be with people. This is just as well, as people come and go continually to Freyberg Pool and/or the café which is called Bernie's on the Bay.
"Bernie is the managing-director and he runs a hard ship," Nick jokes. Bernie is surely the only dog in Wellington (New Zealand?) with a café named after him. When you stop to chat and pat him, as many people do, he tends to give you a patient, almost long-suffering look, as though you're going to tell him a shaggy dog story which he's heard before.
Bernese mountain dogs first arrived in New Zealand in 1973 with an English immigrant who established the founding kennels for the breed. Some were exported to Australia and became the first Bernese mountain dogs to be bred there. In the late 1980s, enthusiasts in New Zealand formed a club which is still flourishing today. It holds annual garden parties and publishes a quarterly newsletter for enthusiasts. The 1990s proved to be a boom time for imports of the dogs with more than 20 arriving in the country. Show entries increased as the breed became more popular and recognised.
Bernie, to the locals' delight, is on show frequently outside the pool. Winning hearts, rather than prizes.