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Colin Campbell adopted George, who helped him heal from divorce and inspired his new book.
When Colin Campbell was a little boy, his grandfather used a particular phrase to describe great days spent in the company of loved ones: He called them “free days.” In the opening pages of Colin’s new book, Free Days With George, the author fondly remembers how his grandfather would explain the concept to him and his brother before bed, telling them, “today, boys, we didn’t grow old.” If you only knew this one fact and the title of the book, you might think Colin’s bestseller is about his grandfather, but the World War II vet went by Nick, not George. George entered into Colin’s life after his beloved grandfather — among others — had left it. George is Colin’s dog, and before the 140-pound Newfoundland came home with him in 2009, Colin wasn’t having a whole lot of free days.
“My wife left without any discussion. It was out of the blue, very unexpected, and I was struggling,” he tells Lucky Puppy.
As family and friends became increasingly worried about the state of Colin’s emotional health, a friend and colleague suggested he consider adopting a canine companion.
“I sat on it for awhile, and I wasn’t really that keen on the idea, but over time I warmed up to it,” says Colin, who spotted a Newfoundland-type dog while browsing a rescue site and found himself — somewhat hesitantly — drawn to the big breed.
Meanwhile, George the Landseer Newfoundland Dog found himself in the custody of Newf Friends Dog Rescue, a volunteer-run, foster-based organization in Ontario, Canada. His exact age unknown, George looked to be about a year or two old when Colin left Toronto in a snowstorm and drove two hours to meet the dog whose profile had captured his eye. When he arrived at the foster home, Colin learned more about George — and his fear of people. That fact, combined with his large size, put the Newf at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to selling himself to potential adopters. Like all rescue dogs, George was fighting against the public’s perception of second-hand dogs as damaged goods.
“I guess at first glance, George might have fit that bill because he was very hesitant and cautious and frightened of people. He’d been neglected and abused we think,” Colin explains.
George didn’t know it yet, but those days were now long behind him. He moved in with Colin, who enrolled his new adoptee in obedience classes, and talked with animal trainers about how he could help George move forward and learn how to trust people again. When Colin had had George for just a few months, he got big news — his job was transferring him from Toronto to Los Angeles. At first Colin worried about how George would adjust to the upheaval — but the move turned out to be a turning point in their friendship.
“He saw the ocean for the very first time,” Colin explains. “He came out of the water a different dog.”
Their new home in L.A. was just two blocks away from the beach, and the surroundings seemed to awaken something in George’s DNA — after all, his ancestors had been bred to be lifeguards.
“When he swam for the first time, he swam out and tried to rescue a surfer,” Colin recalls, adding that he had to teach George that beach etiquette dictates he should not attempt to rescue people from their good times.
As Colin tells it, he and George became beach regulars when he decided to become an authentic Californian and take up surfing. To his human’s surprise, George was not content to sit on the beach and watch. When Colin paddled out and stood up on his board, George followed and did the same. The dog refused to let his friend surf alone.
“He was never taught, he just insisted on doing it,” says Colin, who believes the relationship changed when the two began surfing together.
“The more confidence he got, the more sharing and loving and open he was with me,” he says. “When I got him, I thought I was doing him a favor, and over time he got better and gained confidence, and as he did that, I was still sort of struggling.”
According to Colin, George eventually realized that his human was still reeling from the end of his marriage. As Colin dealt with depression, George was there to lift him up.
“As much as I helped him at the beginning, he started to help me,” Colin recalls. “We sort of reversed roles.”
After spending many weekends in the California surf together, George and Colin started to get noticed by local surfers, who suggested they sign up for an annual surfing dog-rescue fundraiser — which turned out to be a lot bigger than Colin imagined. Hundreds of dogs were signed up, but despite the odds, George prevailed.
“He was in the heavyweight division, so everyone was really shocked to see this 140-pound dog when compared to the average-sized dogs who were probably half his weight. He ended up coming in third,” says Colin.
That day has gone down in Colin’s personal history as one of his favorite “free days” with George. Now back in Canada, the duo continue to surf together each summer when they travel from Toronto to Nova Scotia.
“George is probably one of the very few dogs who’s surfed in both the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean.”
George is also one of very few dogs to get his own tour bus. On May 3, the surfing heavyweight and his human will embark on a six-week, 24 city U.S. book tour on a bus wrapped in George’s likeness. It’s just another of many things Colin never would have imagined when he set out to adopt George. He doubted getting a dog would do much to alleviate his heartache — but did it anyway. He had no idea how many free days would be in store thanks to the rescue dog who would rescue him.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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