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Saving our ‘mates’

Retired Working Dog Adoption NZ organisation founder Natalie Smith with five-year-old Mate who she adopted after he lost an eye. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED


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Twelve-year-old Tod was a four legged “legend” that sparked the beginning of Natalie Smith’s journey to save retired working farm dogs.

Mrs Smith was working at Tararua Vet Clinic in Pahiatua as a vet nurse when Tod’s owner bought him in to be euthanised.

“His owner was more than happy to re-home him, and he lived to the grand old age of 17,” she said.

“He was a legend, and the start of something bigger than I ever expected.”

Tod was the first dog Mrs Smith saved, and in the five years since establishing the Retired Working Dog Adoption NZ organisation, she has re-homed hundreds more who have been injured or just aren’t up for the job.

“I got to thinking, where there is one there will be lots more.”

At a rural vet clinic, many dogs could come through the door to be put down, she said.

“It’s mainly because farmers couldn’t find anywhere for them to go. I suppose there isn’t really a way for them to communicate with people about their dogs, like we have got now.”

Since 2012, the team is now made up of 10 volunteers.

There are fosterers across the North Island that help with a dog’s recovery from surgery or train them to be more like a pet, ready to be adopted out.

The dogs are welcomed into all sorts of homes, including as a new companion for a couple or to work on a lifestyle block.

Mrs Smith, who lives in Martinborough, has made a name for the group, with nearly 12,000 followers on Facebook.

Farmers contact her via the page or email, then she advertises the dogs on their behalf, whether it be free to a good home or as a trade.

Vet clinics also get in touch with her if a dog has been bought in with career ending injuries.

“Obviously farmers can’t afford to pay to fix injuries that [means the dog] won’t be able to go back on the farm, so we take those guys on.”

She has a handful of vets on board, including Tararua Vets in Pahiatua and South Wairarapa Vets, who dedicate their time to help out with surgeries to keep costs down, she said.

Retired dogs range from nine years-old to about 14, or they often get dogs up to two years-old that haven’t made it as a working dog.

“I think there is a bit of an idea out there that farmers don’t care about their dogs, it’s so not true, they are your mate you work with every day.”

“It’s a place where everyone knows where to go if you want to re-home an old dog… to work on lifestyle block and to be a companion, and for a farmer who has a dog that they can’t keep.”

The organisation originally was local, but after five years the audience spans from Northland to Invercargill and anywhere in between.

“Apart from obviously the fact you get to help these dogs, I think one of the really cool things about this whole process is the awesome people I’ve met through it,” she said.

“It would not be possible without the group of fantastic dog lovers who are fostering and working behind the scenes.

“ All of these people have busy lives, but selflessly donate their time and energy to rehabilitating and rehoming these awesome dogs.”

The organisation is in the process of becoming a registered charitable trust, which will make donating more attractive for businesses, she said.

Mrs Smith never thought the organisation would grow as much as it has, “it’s just, you know, something you do for the love of it rather than a job”.



  1. Natalie has worked tirelessly to help wonderful retired work dogs and give them a happy and deserved retirement. I have always found Natalie to be very helpful and professional. Long may the work continue. Thank you, Natalie

  2. Met Natalie five years ago when she had just started out. Admire the work she has done for our four legged mates. She is an inspiration!

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