27 September 2021

Mental Health Awareness Week is a chance to reflect on all aspects of mental health, including that of dogs, says the co-owner of Aotearoa’s only rover rehabilitation park.

Dogs – just like humans – can get overwhelmed by what is going on around them, and taking them to the Canine NeuroPark in Christchurch’s red zone is one way of helping to calm their minds, he says.

“Our field may look similar to many dog parks or fields, but our focus is to give owners and dogs space to heal the underlying issues of both body and mind,” says canine behaviour practitioner Bono Beeler who runs the park with business partner Elena Saltis – a certified canine rehabilitation therapist.

Canine behaviour practitioner Bono Beeler and his dog explore one of the NeuroPark’s sensory stations
Canine behaviour practitioner Bono Beeler and his dog explore one of the NeuroPark’s sensory stations.

“The focus is on creating a calm, safe space where dogs and puppies can gain confidence or heal off-lead in a predictable environment and without the stress of other dogs.”

The unique, not-for-profit park is one of many short-term projects facilitated by Toitū Te Whenua LINZ, which owns red zone land on behalf of the Crown. In the past nine months, the park has attracted about 150 members who can book private sessions for their dogs to explore its ramps, maze, tunnels and different smells, textures and surfaces.

“For dogs with behavioural problems, it’s all about calming them down so they can more easily take in and process sensory information – ultimately reverting to natural behaviours.

“We want to help them be more social and that’s something you can’t train – the dog has to learn it through sensory experience.

“Our park is a real workout for the mind. Navigating the different sensory stations may look easy but it’s not simple for a dog – it takes a lot of energy for them to figure it out.”

Rescue dogs that have experienced trauma, along with those facing physical challenges, are frequent flyers at the park, although it’s also popular for socialising dogs and puppies. Groups of up to five dogs are welcome, so long as they are familiar with each other.

“If dogs don’t know each other, they’re more likely to get excited and that goes against what we’re trying to achieve here. One member held a dog birthday party which was fine because they had the dogs in mind – they did a lot of scent work rather than racing around.”

Any profits from the park are shared between dog rehoming and rescue charities. During times when there are no profits, extra allocated free time is given to rescue and rehome charities for their dogs.

Canine behaviour practitioner Bono Beeler and his dogs explore the Canine NeuroPark in Christchurch’s red zone.
Canine behaviour practitioner Bono Beeler and his dogs explore the Canine NeuroPark in Christchurch’s red zone.

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