Deep in the heart of Nelson lives a dynamic duo that go by the names of Corey and Ajax.
Theirs is a legendary and heart-warming tale of the bond between a human, Department of Conservation (DOC) field ranger Corey Mosen, and his unique canine, Ajax. Together, they have a very important job.
Ajax, named after the hero in Greek mythology, is a working dog traversing the South Island's rough terrain in the name of saving one of our most endangered native birds, the kea. And when he's not busy working he's a beloved pet, keeping an eye on the family's new additions, Corey (35) and wife Sarah's (32) twins, Zara and Leo (1).
He's also New Zealand's only registered kea dog, and it's his job to sniff out kea nests so Corey can place cameras around them to monitor the birds and dangerous predators threatening the population.
It's these adventures that the ranger has shared in his book Ajax the Kea Dog. Being an author was never part of the plan, Corey laughs, but after a publisher witnessed them in action in a documentary, Corey was asked to share their stories.
Much to his disappointment as a child, Corey was never allowed a dog. But he quickly changed that once he moved out of home, convincing his new landlord that a "DOC dog would be a very well behaved dog. And they agreed!".
So he drove three hours to Westport with a friend who had tracked down a litter of Catahoula puppies.
"We went to check Ajax out and he was pretty cute when I met him. He's a cross between Catahoula and Border Collie. His eyes are unique," Corey tells.
But it wasn't love at first sight for the pair.
"It sounds a bit rough!" he jokes, "but Ajax didn't show promise at all at the beginning, so I wanted to trade him with his sister who my flatmate had also adopted, as her dog was feistier. But my flatmate wouldn't trade and I was stuck with Ajax."
Corey is the first to admit, however, that keeping Ajax was the best decision. In the years since, the pair have been inseparable during some gruelling work hours that have seen them scale two or three mountains in a day and cover up to 25 kilometres in peak periods.
"Obedience is the key for dogs like this," Corey explains when discussing Ajax's training. "Being around endangered species, you don't want him to be aggressive, and he has to trust me that a kea won't bite him hard."
And like most close relationships, the friends have had their ups and downs.
"He's disappeared a couple of times when we were in the bush when he was pretty young. I yelled myself hoarse trying to find him and he didn't come back. You find yourself going, 'What do I do next?'" Corey recalls.
"And he's run away from home a few times – teenage behaviour – but he always ends up somewhere where there is someone to give him a pat."
These days, despite Ajax now being seven years old and slowing down, Corey remains more devoted than ever to the cause of the kea.
"Walking around the mountains is pretty hard work and we've had some massive days. Dogs don't last quite as long as we do in physical fitness, so seeing what's happened to him is probably a bit of a precursor to what will happen to me," he reflects. "But he still loves being out there."
And when Ajax clocks off work, he can be found chasing the sun for a snooze – well, Corey jokes, a quick snooze before two babies crawl all over him.
"Now the twins are older, he absolutely loves them. As soon as they wake up in the morning, they have big smiles and point at him. Their favourite thing right now is to dive at him, crawl over and slide down the other side. He'll tolerate it for a while and then eventually he moves somewhere else."
Ajax is a valued member of the family, even being a groomsdog at Corey and Sarah's wedding in March.
"He just schmoozed the crowd in his little waistcoat and bow tie. It was actually a waistcoat that I'd worn when I was groomsman at my mate's wedding. And it fitted him really well!" he laughs.
"Ajax has definitely taught me to be a bit more patient and people ask me what will I do when he retires... but I could never get another dog until he passes. Our bond is too strong."
Through his and Ajax's strong bond and adventures, Corey hopes to teach people more about conservation.
"I want people to see that a career in conservation is fun. I think we've got better work stories than anyone. I remember when I was a kid and someone brought a working dog to school, it's still in my mind vividly. People love a dog with a job!"