Farmer credits his dog with fighting off attacking steer

By Kristin Edge

Johnny Bell was saved by his farm dog, Jade, after a steer attacked him. Photo / Tania Whyte
Johnny Bell was saved by his farm dog, Jade, after a steer attacked him. Photo / Tania Whyte

Johnny Bell reckons his little dog, Jade, saved his life by fighting off a steer that bowled the veteran farmer and was attacking him on the ground.

The canine companion then ran along the road to get help for her wounded master who had been knocked unconscious.

Bell's front teeth had been smashed out, his right eye severely bruised as was his ribs and legs. What was not immediately evident was the Northland farmer was suffering a brain bleed.

Bell, who had his 76th birthday in hospital, can't remember anything of the bovine attack.

But one thing he is certain of is Jade, who he affectionately refers to as "the little dog", raised the alarm.

"Obviously the steer attacked me and I can guarantee the little dog got stuck into that steer and chased it off me and then ran up the road to get my brother."

Brother and farming partner 79-year-old Joe Bell, who was waiting 1km up the road, knew there was something wrong when he saw Jade trotting along the road towards him.

"I was waiting and waiting and thought something must have happened. That dog never leaves my brother's side so when I saw her I wondered what had happened."

Now back at home on his Paparoa Rd farm after weeks of rehabilitation Johnny Bell can talk about the drama that unfolded on October 18 last year.

It all began when the two brothers, who run three farms with about 500 head of dry stock, were shifting a mob of 12 rising-two-year-old friesian steers to a paddock on their Waikiekie Rd farm.

Johnny recalls 11 of the 12 moved well together but one decided it was not going to follow its mates.

"It got up the bank and lay down in the grass. I put the dog round it but decided to take it along the road by myself."

It was then the steer turned on him.

"Its eyes were hanging out and they were pitch black. It was glaring at me and that was basically the last thing I knew," the experienced stockman said.

Despite the agony he was in Johnny was on his feet by the time Joe arrived and he was keen to get the rogue steer off the road. He got some heifers to join the steer so they could all be moved into a paddock.

Once home he cleaned up his eye which he could no longer see out of it was so swollen and told his wife of 40 years, Fay, that he had had a run-in with a steer.

Despite her repeated requests for him to go to the doctor Johnny refused and instead lay down on the couch. Fay checked on him regularly through the night.

The next morning his good mate, Bruce Papworth, of Warkworth, rang just to see how his friend of 40 years was getting on.

Upon hearing he had been hit by a steer, and the fact he was gibbering on the phone, Papworth got a neighbour, Paul McCarroll, to pop by and check on him.

The report was not good and Papworth drove north and on seeing Johnny bundled him into the car and took him to doctor Tim Cunningham.

Immediately the doctor ordered Johnny to Whangarei Hospital and, after a scan, he was flown by rescue helicopter to Auckland where he spent a week in the Intensive Care Unit before being released to the high dependency ward.

The verdict was bleeding on the brain which meant he was unable to walk or talk.

"I had terrible pain in my legs, it was giving me hell," he said. "I didn't even realise I'd been in intensive care until I'd been released."

From hospital Johnny went to the ABI Rehabilitation centre in Auckland where he learnt how to walk and talk again. He was released on November 21 after passing a myriad of tests.

And on his return home he got a massive welcome from his dog, Jade.

"The little dog just about flattened me. She came tearing at me the moment I stepped out of the car."

Jade, an eye dog possibly crossed with a red healer, was given to him by Dave and Debbie McCullum about five years ago. Johnny reckons she is one of the best dogs he has had and one that might just have saved him by fighting off the attacking steer.

Johnny wanted to thank everyone who had rallied around and helped with the farms while he was in hospital and to those who visited him. He was grateful to the rehabilitation staff who helped him get back on his feet again.

- Northern Advocate

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