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A Landseer Newfoundland inspires a classic love tale

 
In this Monday, May 2, 2016 photo, George, a once neglected and homeless 140-pound Newfoundland Landseer, stands with his owner, Colin Campbell, after an interview in New York. Campbell is on a nationwide promotional tour for his new book, "Free Days with George." (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
In this Monday, May 2, 2016 photo, George, a once neglected and homeless 140-pound Newfoundland Landseer, stands with his owner, Colin Campbell, after an interview in New York. Campbell is on a nationwide promotional tour for his new book, "Free Days with George." (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Published May 9, 2016

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, as heartache often happens, he returned from a business trip to learn his 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 in Toronto, working hard as he always had, Campbell's friends grew concerned, suggesting he do something new: 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.

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, out from Anchor Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The title, Campbell said in a recent interview — with 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.

George, now 8, continues to be a feel-good ambassador for all who meet him. Campbell, 54, and George are on a six-week, 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.

Looking back, Campbell recalled how helping George took some time. A meandering bus trip seemed fitting.

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"It took about a year for him to trust and to recognize that I was somebody who was helping him," Campbell said.

The takeaway, for Campbell and George, is an obvious one.

"I really credit him for saving my life," Campbell said.