It’s a classic love tail: Broken man meets broken dog and together they make life good again.
Colin Campbell was a regular guy living a regular life in 2008. He had a nice job, a nice house and a beautiful wife – until he returned from a business trip to learn his beautiful wife didn’t want to be married anymore.
“I really struggled” is Campbell’s short description of what went down. “I was shocked. There were no second chances. No discussion about it.”
Living and working in Toronto, Campbell’s friends grew concerned, suggesting he do something that he had never done before: get a dog.
Rambling around his house alone and depressed, he went online to a pet rescue site and found about as much dog as any human might bargain for: the kind-faced George, a 140-pound Landseer Newfoundland, though he was a mere pup, just over a year old, at the time.
George, too, was in need of saving. He had been abandoned. There was evidence of abuse and neglect. He was wary of men in particular, including Campbell, and had trouble with trust.
Together the two healed, and a move a year later to Los Angeles worked some magic of its own.
Newfoundlands are water dogs, though George had never had the opportunity to experience the ocean. When Campbell went surfing, George swam right out and hopped on his board, earning accolades over the next three years from the surf crowd at Hermosa Beach and competing a couple of times in a doggie surf competition that raises money for pet rescue.
“I don’t think he had ever swam before, but he just instinctively knew how to do it,” Campbell said. “He had balance and he had an affinity for it and he did really well. So George went from homeless in Canada to surf champ in California.”
All of this, it turns out, made for a great book, “Free Days with George.” The title, Campbell said in a recent interview – with the fluffy, white George at his side – comes from something Campbell’s grandfather used to say, having saved from drowning three Allied comrades on D-Day as they stormed Juno Beach at Normandy.
He, Seymour Wylde Howes III, considered all good days spent doing something you love, with people who love you, free days. “That’s a good day,” he’d say. “That’s a free day on Earth.”
That’s how it felt for Campbell, surfing with George, loving George, sharing George with all of his admirers.
“He went out of his way to try and make things good,” Campbell said of his gentle giant of a friend. “As he moved on and got better, he really taught me how to do the same. We were both at a really dark place. When we move to California and he swam in the ocean, it was like a baptism. Like he really discovered his purpose and all the DNA for Newfoundlands who were bred to save people in the water, he figured it out. He came out of the water and he goes, I know what I’m supposed to do. He had a confidence that he never had before.”
George continues to be a feel-good ambassador for all who meet him. Campbell and George are on a cross-country bus tour promoting their book, stopping at animal shelters along the way to drop off donated bags of food and help raise awareness of the need to rescue homeless pets.
Over six weeks, starting from New York this week, the two will visit 26 cities in their tricked-out luxury bus, the title of the book and George’s black face and mostly white fluff across each side.
Looking back, the 54-year-old Campbell recalled how helping George took some time.
“It was a rocky start at first,” Campbell said. “I had to take him through obedience and gradually socialize him. It took about a year for him to trust and to recognize that I was somebody who was helping him.”
The takeaway, for Campbell and George, is an obvious one.
“I really credit him for saving my life,” the human said.