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Meet the man who spent 9 days searching for a lost dog he’d never met

When Matt Newman-Hall’s dog Benny went missing, artist Zane Hair and his dog joined the search. This act of kindness turned into a friendship between the two men – and their beloved dogs.

Zane

I was carving in Wellington. I was due to go home to Whanganui and my friend took me to Belmont Regional Park for a walk. When we got there, we saw some missing posters for a dog named Benny the beagle.

Benny had been missing for about a day at this stage, so we went for a walk and had a look. It’s quite a big place. As we came back, we met the owners, Matt and Grace, and they were pretty distraught.

It kind of resonated with me because my dog, Zeke, is like my child. I don’t have any kids. I’m 39, and I’ve had Zeke since he was a puppy. He’s my shadow, he comes everywhere with me. I live on a lifestyle block and Zeke’s got the run of the place, so he’s never been tied up. He’s his own boss. He’s a one-man dog and he completes me. So if he had gone missing, I would have been beside myself.

I went and stayed at my friend’s place and I couldn’t sleep thinking of Benny out there; I just couldn’t get him out of my head.

The next day I came back. Matt was still there – he had slept in his car that night. So we started searching and I ended up helping with the search for nine days. The first few days it was cold but fine. Then a cold front came in, and there was thunder and lightning, so it was pretty urgent to find this dog.

One day I was walking up to the top of a ridge and down in the valley below the SPCA had megaphones and were calling out. I had Zeke off the lead and he bolted, ran down the hill through the bush. And I freaked out; my heart just dropped.

So I knew what Matt and Grace were going through, and it brought it home to me. Because my dog was missing as well. I waited, and about half an hour later he came back out.

By day eight, the whole town knew about Benny because it made the six o’clock news. There were a lot of people walking their dogs trying to find him.

Hope was getting lost. But we didn’t give up, and on day nine Benny was found. I felt like a load was lifted off my shoulders and I was just so elated. I was really happy for Matt and Grace. And I could finally go home.

During my search with Zeke, I found out that he had cancer. I took him to the vet because his testicles were as big as grapefruit and they got cut out. Afterwards, Matt and Grace bought him a huge box of toys and treats. Now he’s good as gold, never been better.

Kindness to me means putting yourself in other people’s shoes in a time of need. And empathy. I really felt their pain. And I just wanted to do something about that while I was here because I could.

Matt

When Benny went missing, we were under the assumption we’d find him fairly quickly. For the first three or four nights, I stayed in my car in the park with the back door open, assuming he’d pop out of the bush and jump in and I’d wake up in the morning and he’d be there.

But Belmont is one of the largest regional parks in New Zealand. It covers the whole section between Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Valley, and has a dozen entrances and tracks running all throughout. It’s dauntingly large.

On the second day, my father and I had stopped where Benny was last seen and Zane came trotting along with Zeke. I initially thought Zeke looked a bit scary but he’s just this gentle giant. We started chatting to them and then we saw them every day after that as well. I think he was up there probably longer than I was every day.

The whole event was very humbling, how much the community got behind us – we had something like 150 groups of people searching a day. But the fact that someone like Zane was willing to come and spend a week, 9 days, of his life looking for my dog when we didn’t know each other from Adam was incredible.

I find it really amazing that someone was willing to go that far for a complete stranger. We’ve become friends. We’ve had Zane around at the house and we’ve had some play dates with Zeke and Benny. We’ve stayed in touch and we’ve built a friendship over what was a very stressful time in our lives.

When Zeke got sick during the search and ended up needing some surgery, being able to support Zane and Zeke through that – and play the small part that we did in sharing some of the compassion and love back – was important for us, because it was what we could do to offer some support back as a thanks.

I think if I was to define kindness, it’s doing something for someone else without any plan of what you get back – what it means to them rather than what it means to you – and treating other people how you hope you’d be treated in return if you needed it.