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Scene stealer . . . Chaia, a four-month-old Leonberger pupply owned by sandy Hutchinson, of Waikari who takes attention in her stride. PHOTO: Shelley Topp

 

By SHELLEY TOPP

There has always been a special place in animal lover Elsha Burns’ heart for dogs.

But when she saw two leonbergers in Halswell nearly twenty years ago she was “blown away by the sight of them”.

It was the first time she had ever seen the large, loveable dogs named after the German city of Leonberg in Baden-Wurttemberg.

It was love at first sight for Elsha who now breeds leonbergers at her home in Summerhill, near Oxford, and has a waiting list for puppies.

“They are the royalty of dogs,” she says.

“Being an owner I would say that.”

But she quickly explains that a lot of leonberger owners say the same.

The leonberger breed, is believed to have evolved from a mix of newfoundland, saint bernard and the pyrenean mountain dog. They are tall, long haired, lion-lookalikes which love tracking and swimming and have huge paws. The adult males can grow from 72cm up to 80cm tall with the females slightly smaller from 65cm to about 75cm tall. They are loved by their owners for their gentle, caring and loyal temperament.

But as with all young animals they need patience and careful training to learn what is required of them.

“Leonbergers are not naturally obedient dogs – far from it,” Elsha says.

“It takes serious training to get them to be self controlled and obedient.”

Leonbergers were originally used as rescue dogs but their kind, calm and gentle nature also makes them perfect for therapy work.

“They do seem to have a very sharp sense of how they should behave in certain situations,” Elsha says.

“It is amazing how they can adjust to what is required.”

Elsha believes leonbergers, nicknamed ‘Leos’, are able to relate particularly well to autistic children.

“One of my owners has a good friend with an autistic child,” she says.

He recently took his young “‘Leo” pup called Atlas to visit the child, a boy aged 7. The boy is unable to talk and is very cautious and unsure of himself.

At first the autistic child was hesitant to meet Atlas. Then all of a sudden he made up his mind to make his acquaintance, approaching at full speed then poking, prodding and pulling Atlas. The young pup’s owner was initially concerned that the boy’s sudden boisterous behaviour would frighten Atlas, but he need not have worried.

“To my surprise, even though Atlas was only a 14-week-old-pup at the time he took it all in his stride,” says the pup’s owner.

“I think he just seemed to understand that the boy had no malicious intent and just sat there calm as can be.”

After a while the boy relaxed also and they soon became best friends playing together for the rest of the visit. It was a heartwarming sight for the boy’s mother who became tearful watching her son running and playing in a way she hadn’t seen him do for a long time.

“I can only presume this is the way of the “Leo”, calm, caring and even understanding,” the pup’s owner says.

“Leos” always attract a great deal of attention whenever they are out with their owners.

“I am a nobody when I go out without my dogs,” Elsha says jokingly. “With my dogs I am famous.”

People are always coming up to her wanting to know all about her dogs and if they can have a pat.

The same thing happens to Sandy Hutchinson, from Waikari, owner of four-month old “Leo” pup Chaia, a litter sister to Atlas. Luckily the leonbergers take all the attention in their stride and seem as happy to meet newcomers as they are to meet them.

Both Sandy and Elsha often take their “Leos” into Rangiora with them when they visit the dog-friendly town.

They both love the cafes in Rangiora because the owners are so welcoming.