Northland’s celebrity dog ​​is attracting visitors from far and near

This larger-than-life dog has been greeting guests at the Gallery & Café Helena Bay Hill for more than two years. Video / Avina Vidyadharan

The first question visitors ask when they enter the Helena Bay Cafe and Gallery is “where is Leo?”.

Named after the world-famous artist Leonardo da Vinci, the pooch absolutely loves all the attention he is getting.

The more than 1.8m tall (if he stood up) Saint Bernard lives in the tucked-away property in Helena Bay, on the scenic coastal route to historic Russell in the Bay of Islands, is befriending every visitor who comes to the cafe and gallery .

Many visitors come just to meet the celebrity dog.

Owner Peter Brown has always loved big dogs, having owned three Newfoundlands previously, but said Leo was just out of the box and loved everybody.

Brown got Leo during the first lockdown in March 2020 as a 12-week-old puppy that has now grown up to be a “big boy” weighing 90kg.

Helena Bay's celebrity dog ​​weighs 90kg and is more than six feet tall when he stands up.  Photo / Avina Vidyadharan
Helena Bay’s celebrity dog ​​weighs 90kg and is more than six feet tall when he stands up. Photo / Avina Vidyadharan

“A lot of visitors say they are here only to see the dog … can’t tell whether they are joking or not.”

Brown is used to Leo being a celebrity in the area, however, the canine has proven to be expensive.

“When he was a pup and had sharp claws, he would scratch the cars which cost me some paint jobs.

“He almost tripped an old lady once and managed to knock her phone. Despite that, she wasn’t unhappy at all, but I ended up paying half a grand.”

Brown has owned the land in Helena Bay for more than 20 years and set up a gallery nearly 19 years ago, while the cafe’s been running for the last 17 years.

When Brown is away for work or on vacation, there is never a shortage of people looking after Leo.

Virginia Pope, who works at the gallery, usually takes care of Leo in Brown’s absence and said he was one of the coolest dogs she had ever met.

“Every morning, he’ll come to me, greet me, and make sure I am okay.

“When Pete’s not here, he gets so sad and lonely, so I let him come in here. He is so gentle, especially around kids.

“He knows he’s getting all the attention and loves it.”

Virginia Pope works at the gallery and says Leo is one of the coolest dogs he's ever met.  Photo / Avina Vidyadharan
Virginia Pope works at the gallery and says Leo is one of the coolest dogs he’s ever met. Photo / Avina Vidyadharan

Pope said they were getting more visitors since Leo was around, even during winter, and many people would come in to literally see the dog.

“He loves people, will go back and forth, give his paw, and befriends everyone immediately.

“People come from far and near just to meet him.”

Cafe worker Susan Graham said everybody gets along well with the “delightful creature”.

Thirteen-week-old Leo playing at the Helena Bay Cafe and Gallery.  Photo / Supplied
Thirteen-week-old Leo playing at the Helena Bay Cafe and Gallery. Photo / Supplied

“We are forever wiping the slobber off us and cleaning up the customers he jumps on, but honestly everybody takes him well.

“Every morning when we come to work, he’ll come and greet us.

“When we shut the cafe door, he’ll just sit there, bang his paws and make those sad puppy eyes, and we eventually let him in. He just wants to come in and be around people all the time.”

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