Every evening Caroline Thomson takes her six-year-old pet sheep Lucky for a walk along the Heathcote River in Christchurch. He happily trots along, poses for selfies with other passersby, enjoys children giving him a pat and obediently walks on the road when asked.
Caroline jokes he's a bit "world famous" in their local area, but what others don't realise, she says, is Lucky is no ordinary sheep.
If you look beneath his shaggy 120kg exterior, you'll find this animal is full of tricks and can follow more than 30 commands – dispelling the popular belief that sheep are, well, hare-brained.
"Lucky responds to 'bow', 'turn', 'back', 'shake', 'stay', 'jump', 'pose', 'through', 'wait', 'go to bed'," Caroline laughs as she lists just a few of his skills.
The pair met in October 2015, when Caroline was visiting her sister and brother-in-law, who run a farmlet at Burkes Pass, in South Canterbury. They had a ewe that birthed triplets but only managed to feed two of her lambs and kept bunting the third one away.
"So, my sister asked if I wanted to feed it and I said yes, even though I hadn't really planned to take a lamb home," she tells. "But he was very cute and wasn't going to survive otherwise."
Caroline had never owned pets as an adult due to travelling for work in her previous role at Landcare Research. And life took a bit of adjusting to while the former science technician juggled caring for the lamb (who slept in a cardboard box in her bedroom) while studying film and animation.
"I'd give him a feed in the morning, then roar across town with him in the car, just before my class would start, and hand him over to my sister. Then I would pick him up in the afternoon," she says.
"Once he grew bigger, I kept him in my garden on a long leash before investing in an electric fence pen. When he was a few months old, I'd sit down, and he would come and sit down. I thought, 'That's strange – maybe I could command him to do that.'
"I had a fist-full of willow leaves to start with and I'd say 'sit', and he'd sit and eat his leaves. From then on, he cottoned on pretty quick that if he did what I wanted him to do, he'd get a treat.
"The vet told me I should start him on sheep pellets, so I got him a bag of muesli for young calves and he just loved it because it's got molasses in it. He would do anything for some muesli!"
Feijoas became Lucky's most favourite food, so during fruiting season Caroline saw the opportunity to use them as a tool for teaching him to "go to bed".
"At that time, he had a mat on the deck where he slept," she says. "It didn't take long for me to give the command 'Go to bed', and he'd immediately race over to his mat and look at me expectantly as if to say, 'Okay, I'm here, now where's my feijoa?'"
Next up was buying a hula hoop to train Lucky to jump through. Caroline started off holding it low and each time he stepped through it, she'd give him a treat, before slowly raising it up until he was jumping.
"I attached the word 'jump' each time and now he just reacts to the word."
Caroline now believes most sheep could be trained if people had the inclination to do so.
"There are whole paddocks of these amazing, intelligent animals and it suits people to think that they're not bright. I mean, you wouldn't eat them otherwise."
Which begs the question, is she a vegetarian? "I'm not," she laughs. "But I haven't willingly eaten mutton since I've had him. Occasionally, someone might cook it for me and it'd be rude not to eat it, but it does make me feel somewhat guilty," she admits.
While sheep are supposed to be in a group, says Caroline, Lucky has proved he's more of a loner.
She began looking after another couple of lambs, which she thought would be good company for him, but it didn't work out.
"And living in town, trying to look after more than one sheep, was actually a bit much," she concedes. "He's just happy with me and happy to jump in my station wagon for trips back down to Burkes Pass.
"He's quite a big boy now. His head looks out the window and we've seen people driving along the motorway filming him on their phones," smiles Caroline.
"It's just like having a dog – plus, I can give his poo to friends for their vegetable gardens!"
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