Valiant George

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Out of all the stories that I have heard or read over the years about remarkable animals, the story of George the elderly Jack Russell Terrier would have to be the one that has touched my heart most of all. It is a story of love, protection, extreme bravery and making the greatest of sacrifices.

Untrained George had been in two or three homes, and was seven or eight years of age when Alan Gay adopted him. Alan who is retired, and who lives alone, used to train animals for the circus, so he trained him to stop chasing cats early, and also trained him not to wander off anywhere. Whenever Alan walked into town George knew not to follow him, and when he returned George came out to greet him with a smile on his face. He also liked to smile at strangers. Alan thinks that George always thought of himself as a human. He slept on a black oilskin coat on an old grey armchair, and when Alan went to bed George hopped up onto his chair, 'cause it was warmer and very comfortable. He had a cat door so that he could come and go as he liked. He was a very nice-natured, intelligent and obedient little dog who loved people. He was very good with children, and while Alan was out shopping on a Sunday, George sometimes visited his friends the Rosewarne and Wilson children who live next door, and they would go for walks together.

It was around noon on the 29th of April 2007 in the small town of Manaia, South Taranaki, and as the sun shone overhead, George (14), along with Richard (12), Kelly (10), and Christian Rosewarne(8), and Darryl Wilson (4) were returning home after a walk. Darryl's sister Ariana who was three years old, was in her pushchair. As they gradually got closer to home, two Pit Bull Terriers came up behind them, and as one of the dogs tried to attack Darryl, the children screamed and started to run. George who had been walking ahead of the group, turned around, bravely faced the two dogs, and ran right up to them, knowing that he didn't stand a chance. Once he reached the dogs he stopped, and they closed in on him. As the children ran home they looked back, but there was nothing that they could do to help poor George except witness the terrible savage attack.

Kelly was the first to arrive home and tell her mother what had happened.

Richard with the rest of the children arrived home shortly after his sister, and then accompanied by his stepfather Anzac, returned to the scene where the attack had taken place. They were told that George had been rescued but was very seriously injured, so they went to be with George who had been taken to the vet in Manaia. Because there are no small animal facilities there, George was then taken to Stephen the vet in Hawera. The woman who does the accounts there then telephoned Stephen and let him know that George was on his way. When they arrived Stephen examined him and took a number of photographs, and he also rang the dog ranger, who rang the police. George's best friend Alan was contacted but due to George being so badly mauled, the decision was made to put him down. When Richard and his stepfather returned home from the vets, Richard's mother Erica Veale telephoned the police.

When the police visited, the owner of the two Pit Bull Terriers admitted that the dogs had arrived home covered in blood on the day that George was attacked, and so they were destroyed three days later.

The news about George and what he did for the Rosewarne and Wilson children that day soon hit the local, national and international headlines. When Jerrell Hudman a dog owner, and former US marine from Austin, Texas heard the news, he was so moved by George's wonderful act of bravery, that he contacted very distraught Alan and offered his Purple Heart Medal to help mend Alan's broken heart.

Alan received a card with a message from the Rosewarne and Wilson children, and a number of cards, letters, telephone calls and money from people around the countryside, and a big bunch of flowers arrived from Australia. There was a phone call from a person in New York, and also from a newspaper journalist in Washington DC. Another card arrived from a couple in Youngstown, Ohio, two cards from Michigan and Oregon, and cards from Denver, Colorado, and Texas. More cards came flooding in from England, Australia and Sweden, and there were more telephone calls and money from all around the world. One man from Wellington who sent money wrote that “The circumstances surrounding his death are both a tragedy and an amazing testament to the bravery and character of this wonderful dog.”

Later local police constable Mary Parete remembering George in the Opunake Coastal News said that every time she used to pass his place, “George was sitting under the letterbox watching the world go by.”

And on the 18th of May 2007 at Manaia Primary School, a special ceremony was held in George's honour. On George's behalf Alan received the Supreme Award For Bravery, being a Gold Medal on a brass chain in a white-lined black case, and a Certificate of Bravery from the SPCA's National Chief Executive Robyn Kippenberger. The last time anybody had received this award was seventeen years ago. It is usually awarded to humans for outstanding acts of bravery where they have protected animals. Erica composed a song especially for the occasion titled “Our Hero Dog George” which she and her five children sung, along with the rest of the schoolchildren.

On the 24th of May 2007 Alan received the Purple Heart Medal for his beloved George from the very generous Jerrell Hudman in America.

Alan has turned down offers of another dog from all around the countryside, partly because of what happened to George.

Early in October 2007 in the centre of Manaia a bronze statue of George mounted on a rock was unveiled in memory of him. The plaque states: “In memory of George who gave his life on Kauae Street 29th of April 2007 protecting children from two savage dogs.” Unfortunately the name of the street where George was attacked wasn't Kauae Street but the corner of Tauranga-A-Ika Street and Riemenschneider Street.

George was also nominated for a bravery award in England by Stuart Graham and John Dick from Auckland. So on sunny Wednesday the 11th of February 2009 at 1.55pm near the band rotunda, just across from George's statue, and with a big photograph of George looking on, guests, and about two hundred onlookers gathered, and the ceremony to honour George began.

First of all the Mayor of South Taranaki Ross Dunlop met the Governor General Anand Satyanand who was accompanied by his aide-de-camp.

After the Governor General and the guests were welcomed by the Mayor, at the invitation of the Mayor, the Governor General read a message from HRH Princess Alexandra who is the PDSA Patron.

Then the Mayor invited Alan and the Rosewarne and Wilson children to come forward, and he read out the citation from the PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin which said: “There's no doubt that George was a small dog with a lion's share of courage.” “Each account of his devotion to the five children on the day of the incident tells of a dog that was not afraid to face great fear in order to protect his friends.” “The children will never forget George's sacrifice and PDSA is proud to honour this exceptionally brave dog.”

Then the mayor invited the Governor General to present the PDSA Gold Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty, on George's behalf to Alan, and said that “This is in recognition of your wonderful dog.” As the presentation was taking place, the Rosewarne and Wilson children stood beside Alan. The PDSA Gold Medal is the highest award ever given to an animal, and is the animal equivalent to Britain's George Cross, and the New Zealand Cross for humans.

And Nicky Baughen who was the representative for the British High Commission, on behalf of the PDSA, gave an iron bridge print to the Governor General, who then presented it to the Mayor.

Then the medal was hung around the neck of the statue of George, so that members of the media could take photographs of Alan and the five children gathered around the statue with the Governor General standing in the background.

Then the Mayor invited the Governor General to do a speech, and after the speech the guests were invited by the Mayor to the Manaia Town Hall for afternoon tea. The Governor General, the Mayor, Alan, and the Rosewarne and Wilson children, remained for more photographs, before joining the other guests for afternoon tea.

For an animal (or human) to put his or her life on the line to save other humans (or animals) when they know that there is some chance of survival afterwards is one thing, but to put his or her life on the line to save others knowing that there is absolutely no chance of survival afterwards like George did, is the bravest of the brave!!! The memory of George, his extreme act of bravery, and the greatest sacrifice that he made, will not only live on in the hearts and minds of Alan, the very grateful Rosewarne, Wilson and Veale family, and everybody else that knew him, but also in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders and people worldwide. He is etched in our memories forever.

Elizabeth Krammer
Fifty seven years.
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