Pets

Kiwi stars and their fur babies

What do Nadine Higgins, Sharyn Casey, Matty McLean, Gilda Kirkpatrick, Alex Tarrant, Luci Hare, Kanoa Lloyd, Kara Rickard and Zac Franich all have in common? These animal-obsessed Kiwi celebs share their dog tales.

By Ashleigh McEnaney

Zac Franich & Chief the chow chow

When his professional sporting career crumbled and he battled with depression, former Bachelor star Zac Franich counted on his chow chow Chief to put a smile on
his dial.

“When I wasn’t in a very good space, I’d think about the things that made me happy – one was my niece Bailey and the other was Chief,” says former sprint kayaker Zac, 28, who sought therapy in 2015 when his dreams of competing on the world stage were dashed.

“He was the super-loyal, loving companion I could always count on and with all that fur, he gives pretty good hugs.”

The Franich whanau welcomed Chief into the fold in 2001, shortly after their previous chow chow Kahn died of old age. Zac says, “Losing Kahn was the hardest day of my adult life, but Chief made light work of cheering us all up.

“He’s a character. He’s super-cheeky and mischievous, and he loves the water – he’ll jump around in the shallows as the waves push him around with this stupid grin on his face.”

While the lovable fur ball – who has his coat trimmed every two months – might be named Chief, his owner insists he’s not top dog. Zac says he’s terribly anxious and gets uneasy around new people, although Zac’s new girlfriend Viarni Bright was an instant favourite.

“She’s warmed to him very quickly, much to the jealousy of all my friends who have been trying to get close to him for years,” Zac laughs. “Her kind and caring nature gives her the magic touch.”

Nadine Higgins & Rico the German Shepherd

Media darling Nadine isn’t the only celeb in the house – her handsome hound is following in her footsteps by becoming a bona fide TV star!

Rico recently made his acting debut in the Kiwi drama Dear Murderer and former Breakfast presenter Nadine reveals, “He absolutely loved it. I’m not a stage mum – I left him in the hands of the professionals – but Rico’s a very social dog, so he was always going to respond well to attention. When people visit, he thinks they’ve come just to see him.”

While Nadine (née Chalmers-Ross), 30, and her husband Dan love spoiling four-year-old Rico, they’re also sticklers for rules. She explains, “Because of his size, I feel people expect more of him. We’ve always been very clear about what he can and can’t do.”

That said, excitable Rico lives a very good life – he has regular visits from a “dog whisperer” behaviouralist and is served his dinner with cat biscuits on top, just the way he likes it.

“He even has his very own life jacket!” Nadine grins.

“He’s a great swimmer, but if we’re out on the boat and it crashes, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. We only have to think back to our wedding day, where Rico sat up with the groomsmen in his custom tux, to know we’d be lost without him.”

Sharyn Casey & Warren the french bulldog

While nausea, fatigue and baby brain may be the telltale signs of pregnancy for most women, for mum-to-be Sharyn, it was her pint-sized pooch that gave
the game away.

“If I was lying on the couch, she’d snuggle into my belly where the baby would be. Every time I’ve been pregnant, she’s done the same, which is why I did a pregnancy test,” explains The Edge radio host, who’s suffered several heartbreaking miscarriages on her journey to become a mother.

Now safely in her second trimester, Sharyn, 31, and her hubby, The Rock radio star Bryce, are hoping their pampered pup – named after the rapper Warren G – will adjust to having an actual infant in the house.

“She’s tiny, so she’s the perfect-sized companion for a newborn, but she has been awfully spoilt in her little life,” tells Sharyn.

“She thinks she’s a human! When she’s in bed, she gets under the duvet and puts her head on the pillow. Sometimes I wonder if Bryce loves her more than me – when he gets home from a night out, the first person he’ll chat to is Warren.”

But Sharyn is unapologetic about doting on their five-year-old bundle, especially after almost losing her two years ago, when Warren broke her spine and suffered paralysis after jumping on and off the couch one too many times.

“She was in the vet for two weeks and it was touch-and-go,” Sharyn says of her fragile fur baby, who has regular physio and hydrotherapy to keep her legs functioning.

“Bryce and I couldn’t even eat dinner at home because the house felt so empty without her. Warren is the sweetest, quietest, gentlest puppy you’ll ever meet. She truly is so precious to us – life wouldn’t be the same without her.”

Matty McLean & Otis the miniature schnauzer

Breakfast reporter Matty might be a familiar face on TV, but at only seven months old, his Insta-famous schnauzer Otis is already nipping at Dad’s heels.

“His Instagram goes gangbusters!” says proud dad Matty, 30.

“Otis has over 3000 followers, and people send him messages and free stuff, like dog biscuits and pet-friendly selfie sticks, all the time. The day after he first appeared on Breakfast, we stepped out the gate for a walk and a woman coming down the street yelled, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s Otis!’”

Despite the fame, Matty insists his pup – who he co-parents with partner Ryan – is no diva. “Otis is adorable and very well trained, mostly thanks to Ryan,” he says.

“I’ve never owned a dog, so he’s taken on all the obedience training – he’s the disciplinarian parent and I’m often the big pushover.”

But Matty can’t be too hard on their four-legged friend – after all, Otis was instrumental in bringing him and Ryan together.

“One of our very early dates was going to pick Otis out from the litter. I’m glad we chose a goodie – otherwise, things with us could’ve gone very pear-shaped!

“He’s such a cheeky, excitable pup, I love being with him and miss him when we’re apart. I never knew I wanted a dog until I met Otis and now I’m obsessed.”

Gilda Kirkpatrick with Hungarian vizslas Pilo & Yello

Gilda’s pampered pooches, Pilo (left)and Yello, have people to wash them, walk them and whip up their allergy-friendly meals.
Gilda’s pampered pooches, Pilo (left)and Yello, have people to wash them, walk them and whip up their allergy-friendly meals.

Her furry friends’ food allergies make it hard to spoil them with yummy treats, but The Real Housewives of Auckland star Gilda’s designer dogs certainly don’t go without.

“Pilo and Yello don’t leave the house without their Louis Vuitton collars,” says the reality-TV favourite. “Because of their allergies, my staff prepare homemade meals, give them a weekly wash and walk them daily. I’m often so busy at work, but I walk them sometimes – trust me, I do have a great sports-shoe collection.”

Mum-of-two Gilda got Hungarian Vizsla Pilo five years ago as a playmate for her eldest son Lucan, four. “I had two other dogs at the time, Gigolo and Kirky, but they were both quite old and their deaths were inevitable,” tells Gilda, 44, who also has son Kyan, two.

“I didn’t want Lucan to miss out on growing up with a best mate.

“The house felt empty without my two older dogs, so we got Yello in December last year. He’s not yet one and a lot more boisterous than his older brother – poor Pilo struggles to get peace and quiet.”

While her pooches don’t always get along, they are the ultimate companions for her two boys, Gilda says.

“Lucan and Kyan had the most amazing privilege to bond with the dogs from birth. My boys are so lucky – they get unconditional love from their parents and their furry friends. And the fact they’ve always managed to ride Pilo and Yello is a bonus.”

Alex Tarrant & Luci Hare with Winston the British Bulldog

When their 14-year-old Chihuahua’s innings were almost up, this acting duo bought a British bulldog to help fill the void left by their beloved Buster.

“He was a little boss,” says 800 Words and Filthy Rich star Alex of their late pet, who passed away last year. “Chihuahuas have a reputation for being hyper and yappy, but he was the most relaxed dog I’ve ever met. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss Buster, but we are beyond happy to now have Winston in our lives.”

The 28kg “bulldozer of love” – full name Winston Major of House Tarrant – has fitted into their family unit with ease. Auckward Love actress Luci tells, “We got Winston with the idea that Buster would show him the ropes. In the end, they only had two weeks together, but something stuck because Winston is a super-cool dude.”

With a passion for animal psychology, lovebirds Alex and Luci have long enjoyed rehabilitating and rehousing dogs in need. At one stage, they had four pooches at their rural home.

“We thought Winston would be a good helper as bulldogs are renowned for being quite a relaxed breed, but our guy is truly one of a kind,” says Luci.

“We’ve had to teach him to stop resisting our cuddles because he’s such a bold, super-curious, athletic dog who’s happiest when he’s wild and free.”

Kanoa Lloyd and Brown the rescue dog

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can bring one up to be bilingual – just ask Kanoa, whose fur baby Brown understands commands in both English and te reo.

“I thought it was a cool way for my Pakeha husband Mike to learn a bit of Maori and get confident speaking it around the house,” says the co-host of The Project, 30.

“Mike and the dog are responding well – soon we’ll be taking Brown to a kohanga reo instead of doggy daycare!”

After a year-long search for the perfect pooch, Kanoa adopted her “lucky dip” rescue dog back in 2015.

She recalls, “I visited the SPCA and the pound, and was sure I’d get a grown-up dog. Then Mike and I fell in love with a litter of four puppies. Three of them jumped around and barked, but one sat sweetly in the corner – we knew immediately we were taking him home.”

Brown’s moniker breaks with tradition for Kanoa, who’s always used human names for pets. “I’ve got a rescue cat called Harry, and I’ve had a Matilda and an Alfie. But I needed to stop calling my pets baby names because when it comes to Mike and I starting a family, we’ll have no options left.”

An “only child” for now, Brown – who makes a great running and hiking companion – is spoilt rotten.

Kanoa laughs, “We thought we would be these really chilled-out dog owners, but we’re obsessed. We treat him like our child. The highlight of his day is after dinner, when he’s allowed to jump up on the couch and lie on top of us like a duvet. We call him our ‘dog-vet’!”

Kara Rickard & Monster the American bulldog

At 70kg, George FM radio host Kara’s hefty hound weighs more than she does, so it’s hard to believe that Monster was once the runt of the litter.

“We got him five years ago as a first birthday gift for our daughter Haea,” tells Kara, 35.

“She was the one who named him and, at that stage, we had no idea he’d actually get so big – it’s like he accepted the name as a challenge.”

A gentle giant, Monster is adored by Kara, her partner Justin and their three kids, Haea, six, Kahua, four, and nine-month-old Iver, but his size can be a blessing and a curse.

She says, “The kids love him – Iver can actually ride him like a horse. Whenever we take him out, we have to allow an extra 15 minutes to get anywhere.

Everyone wants to stop and take pictures because he’s such a beautiful dog. But because he’s so big, people can also be terrified of him and other dogs are quite wary, so he finds it hard to make friends.”

Fortunately, there’s more than enough love to go around in the Rickard household. “Monster’s like my fourth baby – we don’t even wash him outside under the hose because the water’s too cold,” laughs Kara. “We clean him in the shower, but I draw the line at him getting in my bed – he’s too stinky.”

She adds, “He’s a baby, a guard dog and a best friend all in one. We would be lost without him.”

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