Many of Waiheke’s ferry-riding “floofballs” are gaining fame, scritches and treats thanks to marine engineer Alisdair Newton-Wade.
Alisdair has worked at sea for almost 10 years, spending time on superyachts and cruise ships before starting with Fullers360 a little over three years ago.
The ferryman keeps the boats running and helps out where needed, but his most important job (when not in lockdown) is keeping his four-legged friends happy.
“On one of my first days on the job, I met a very frightened yellow labrador,” says Alisdair. “The poor little guy didn’t love the noise, so I sat down and reassured him. It took only a moment, and I thought it would have been even easier to give him some positive reinforcement. So I started bringing treats to work.”
Soon after he started with Fullers, Alasdair set up his Instagram account @ferry_gooddogs, where he shares photos of canine commuters and the odd holidaymaker. Alisdair’s adorable pictures and entertaining captions, featuring ferry-dog-specific lingo including “pupdates”, “scritches”, and “floofballs”, have seen the account quickly gain traction.
“My friends encouraged me to give it a go – I’d never tried Instagram before, but hey, people like dogs, and it has taken off in a big way.”
Not all of the dogs Alisdair interacts with are sweet and friendly. Several canine commuters took a long time to warm to him, others were anxious, and some rescue dogs displayed longstanding behavioural issues.
“The first time I met Fox, a four-year-old huntaway, he went nuts at me. And again the second time, third time, fourth time and so on. It took the thick end of a year before he’d let me close, and it’s only recently that he’s let me give him scritches.
“There are a couple of others that stand out: I met one dog named Sage – a sweet little shar-pei-lab who’d had surgery to replace part of her spine with a 3D printed titanium implant, and there’s a certain manic labrador named Maggie who always brightens my day.
“Some of my favourite dogs are the rescues. They almost always have some kind of resulting issue, usually behavioural, and it’s heart-warming to see people put in the effort to give them the life they deserve.”
Alisdair says the noise and confines of the ferry can generate fear in some dogs; this is where the pats, scritches and treats come into play.
“If they have a good experience, they’ll be a lot more relaxed and calm when they visit in future. So if I can do a little to help with that, well, it costs me next to nothing.”
The rest of the Fullers team is behind Alisdair’s dog appreciation and a spokesperson says they’re looking forward to welcoming Waiheke pooches back onboard.
“Fullers360 loves welcoming furry friends on our ferry services and keeping them connected to their friends in Auckland. We look forward to moving down alert levels when we can ferry them across the Hauraki Gulf once again.”
Although Alisdair isn’t getting his usual dose of doggy interactions during lockdown, he still loves the job.
“We can pull the speed right back since we don’t have to load so many passengers, and having the harbour to ourselves doesn’t hurt either. The weather, on the whole, has been great. The air is crisp, the days warm, and we have plenty of time to give the boats a bit of extra TLC.” • Sophie Boladeras