FAMILY MEMBER: Belle, left, is a 15-year-old border collie with vision and hearing impairment.

Bryan’s Beach resident Michael Corboy was so impressed by the effort of his small community when his dog Belle, a deaf and almost blind 15-year-old border collie, went missing recently, he has written this article to express his gratitude.

A FAMOUS person once said there was no such thing as society. The word has been defined as “an aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community”.

Definitions can be bland, but we can have a feeling for what communities are like by the statements people make. For example, “They live alongside one another with very little interaction”. Or, “I like visiting that place. Everyone says hullo and neighbours often stop by for a chat. You feel welcomed”. Or, “Everyone in this small community looks out for one another”.

Or, “Old Jack broke his leg, one neighbour took him in and nursed him until he became mobile, others cooked meals or brought him treats, others did his shopping or took him to town”.

My wife Judy and I recently felt a deeper appreciation of our community. At about 6.30pm, Belle, our border collie, aged 15 years seven months, deaf and almost blind asked to go outside.

She usually knocks on the door to come back in a few minutes later. After 20 minutes she had not returned. Judy sent me to look for her. Torch in hand I scoffed saying she will probably be lolling about at the bottom of the drive where she often sits. She wasn’t.

I looked everywhere. As the moments passed I became more and more anxious. I asked Judy to come and help. Before joining me, Judy sent out a text to our neighbours asking them if they wouldn’t mind checking their gardens. She posted the same message on our village Facebook page.

FOUND: Belle at home after her night out after falling down a bank.

Within 15 minutes there were a dozen people with torches searching for Belle in the pouring rain and howling wind. The search carried on until 11.30pm when we insisted that people go home and even then one neighbour, a midwife who works the most unsocial hours, wanted to carry on.

When everyone had gone I decided to go into the adjacent Onekawa Te Mawhai Regional Park and check the stream. I climbed down the side – a depth of about two-and-a-half metres and started walking. Although the depth of the stream was only a few inches it was hard going due all sorts of undergrowth, including blackberry and fallen logs.

The ditch also had mini waterfalls dropping up to a metre. After about 60 metres I reached the point where the drain runs parallel to our street. I checked all the culverts and shone the torch along the sides of each bank, which were overgrown with plants like cannas.

There was no sign of Belle.

We left the garage door open, the light on and food beside Belle’s bed. Judy slept for one hour and spent the night making Boomerang Bags for our supermarket and regularly went downstairs to the garage. I slept four hours. During the night, messages came from friends and family dotted round the country and across the world. Neighbours on holiday in Europe sent messages of hope wishing they were at home helping us.

July 4 was overcast and heavy rain threatened. As the daylight leaked into our neighbourhood I was out with my torch looking into every dark place. At 8am I decided to go and get Ruby, our neighbour’s golden retriever. I look after her during the day. I belatedly thought that perhaps she could find Belle. My neighbours were already turning out to continue the search.

On my way home with Ruby I walked alongside the stream looking down in hope but really thinking that it was a futile exercise. About 60 metres from home, there she was lying motionless, close to the water. I’m 72 and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to and I don’t remember how I got to her side but I was there in a flash. She was cold and wet, but alive. Before I got her home the word had gone out. Neighbours turned up and texts of joy started pouring in.

In one night, Belle had lost a kilogram – quite a lot when you are only 18kg. During the day, when she got up to walk, she fell over and later couldn’t get on to her feet without help, but by the next morning she had improved and during the day had had several short walks down to the road and back and she is gobbling up all her food. The vet thinks she has a good chance of recovery.

What did I learn? The obvious one is that Belle can no longer go outside at night (perhaps not even in the daytime) unaccompanied.

More importantly, I received a reaffirmation that society and communities within it do exist and they are as good as the sum of their individual citizens, especially those who consider the concerns and aspirations of others as having equal importance to their own.

Communities thrive where there is a wealth of kindness and generosity of spirit. Judy and I have always enjoyed chipping in and helping out in our local and wider community. It has given us a great sense of pleasure. I consider the idea of “what goes round comes round” a flawed notion, that you do something for someone else because it is the right thing to do, not because that action might provide you with future benefits.

However, when we were in a state of apprehension and people turned out to help us we were warmed in a way that words can’t describe. Furthermore, today I have a heightened sense that thinking only of one’s own welfare and ignoring the consequences of our actions or the concerns of others leads to ethical impoverishment, even bankruptcy that cannot be rectified by financial riches.

Looking for a old dog was a small event yet it reconfirmed that in a small community where people have differing views on a number of issues, it doesn’t mean that when something goes wrong or needs to be addressed we can’t help one another.

My community is made up of diverse “characters”. One person described everyone here as “weird”. Most of us interpreted that as a compliment. Weird we might be but underneath it all we are a community of good down to earth human beings. Judy and I are so glad we live where we do for the age-old three reasons – the people, the people, the people.

As a postscript, and to put the last couple of days into perspective, I was reminded that on July 4, 2004 everyone was evacuated from our village when after prolonged heavy rain, hillsides collapsed one after another.

A landslide destroyed the house next door and in the process killed my neighbour. A short time later another landslip took out our house. The people of our village were helped by the district’s services and the kindness of the wider community. In the days that followed, the area we lived in looked as if bombed by B52s. The trauma of those days still faintly lingers,

if only in the empathy we feel for others struck by similar but often massively more harmful disasters.

Society does exist and contributing to its wellbeing involves far more than paying one’s taxes. Long live John Donne – “the bell tolls for thee” (and me).