SocietyJune 16, 2019

The Spinoff Reviews New Zealand #85: Taking a dog on an Auckland train


We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Alex Casey borrows a dog and goes on a magical journey. 

Look, I had extremely high hopes for the day that pets were finally allowed on trains. I wanted guinea pigs wearing tiny backpacks. I wanted to see a horse scrolling The Spinoff’s Facebook page while wearing Beats by Dre, stopping occasionally to comment “WHO CARES” on a story I’ve written. I wanted to see the Titirangi Rats, piled on top of each other to fill out a man-sized trench coat, reading a newspaper on the Eastern Line and surreptitiously chewing every page as they finished it.

The girl about to get on the train

Alas, when I boarded the Western Line at 9.08am this morning, there weren’t even many people let alone anthropomorphised barnyard animals in backwards caps. The only present pooch was Suzie – short for Susan Boyle – who I had borrowed for the experiment, looking slightly perplexed from the confines of her mesh prison. We were among the first human/canine pairings to take advantage of AT’s new rules around pets on trains.

Basically, as long as they are enclosed in a bag or box that can fit on your lap or under your seat, you’re golden.

After a brief training session, it was clear that the secret to keeping her chilled out was an almost endless supply of treats. Yes, it bends the no food on trains rule (at least no hamburgers, according to the diagram), but sometimes you have to rob Peter to pay Paul. An older man in a camel coat who looked like Slugworth incarnate frowned at Suzie writhing in her bag from down the aisle. When he disembarked at Kingsland, I was certain he was going to complain.

Instead, he walked over and beamed at Suzie. “First time, is it?”

“First time,” I croaked back, still fearful he was going to try and get me to sell him Willy Wonka’s secrets.

She popped her head out at Britomart

I was dying for another dog to get on the train. Suzie needed to learn the ancient public transport tradition of avoiding eye contact with all peers and staring out the window and/or her tiny dog phone instead. Sadly, she made it all the way to Britomart as a lone wolf. After we got off the train, I focused on my next mission – a photo of Suzie going through the HOP gate in her bag, looking like a hurried commuter late for a meeting. Sadly, a guard was quickly approaching in orange hi-vis to thwart my mission.

“Please, no flash,” he barked. I turned the flash off and continued to try to get the hilarious shot. The guard came back. “Please, no blocking the exit!” I turned around, blushing, to an audience of absolutely nobody.

We then spent half an hour tootling around the Britomart area – Suzie had never seen such concrete, such café culture, such construction. She chased seagulls (on her lead of course) along the length of the Mighty Vodafone Worm, before admiring the glorious Hilton and, to a lesser extent, the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Let me tell all you art-heads out there that she simply adored Michael Parekowhai’s Lighthouse. 

Back on the train and headed for home, a different train manager sat opposite us, idly taking notes without noticing that Suzie, she of the newfound art appreciation, was even there inside the bag. As soon as he realised, he leaned over and sternly advised that all dogs must be kept “inside a kennel or a cage” – not a bag. I wasn’t sure that was entirely true.

Suzie stared at him with those big, dumb, wet eyes.

Even through the mesh, their potency was undeniable. Within 30 seconds, the train manager leaned back. “OK, yes, the bag is fine.” He cracked a huge smile. “This is actually the first dog I’ve seen today,” he explained, before sharing the fact that he is also a dog owner, thrice over. I asked if he would be bringing them to work any time soon. He sighed.

“I have three Alsatians.”

I think we’re going to need a bigger bag.  

Good or bad? Once they are used to the bag, good.

Verdict: Now they just need briefcases and full-time jobs and we can all go home.

Declaration of Mum: the author’s mum is councillor Cathy Casey, who proposed the trial legislation. 

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