Though he's the most adorable puppy you've ever seen, the temporary owners of Yates the budding mobility dog are asking the near impossible of Kerikeri residents - please don't approach him.
Sian and Michael Gaunt are the Far North's only puppy raisers for Mobility Dogs, a charitable trust which trains dogs to offer support, companionship and security for those with disabilities.
Last week they brought Yates home to Kerikeri, where he'll stay for a year getting basic training and being exposed to various places where he and his future partner may visit in daily life.
The 4-month-old golden retriever will go everywhere with the Gaunts, including the supermarket, cinema, hospitals, cafes, and other public places.
The hardest part of the job is being approached by dog lovers wanting to pat him.
"As much as the dogs are cute, people can help us by not approaching them," Sian said.
"The hardest part about puppy raising is asking people to not approach him. When Yates has his green coat on, he is working and needs to focus completely on us, ignoring everyone else."
Mobility dogs transform the lives of people living with disabilities, by helping them enjoy greater independence and quality of life.
Each dog is trained to retrieve, carry and deliver items, open and close drawers, press buttons for elevators and pedestrian crossings, turn lights on and off, help with payments in shops, and daily activities like dressing and undressing.
Sian became interested in mobility dogs during her 12 years working as an occupational therapist at North Shore Hospital when the couple were living in Auckland.
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In 2017 the couple took on Sophie the labradoodle with the aim of training the puppy, but her boisterous personality meant she wasn't suited to the job.
After his year with the Gaunt family, Yates will go to advanced training via the Puppies in Prison Programme the organisation runs in conjunction with the Department of Corrections, where inmates at Wiri and Spring Hill prisons are taught to train a mobility dog.
Prisoners develop skills that are invaluable to their rehabilitation including self-discipline, study, reporting, teamwork and leadership. They also develop self-esteem and gain a sense of responsibility and respect.
If he graduates, Yates will be trained by the Mobility Dogs trainer in specific skills for the person they are being matched with.
There are four puppies being raised in Northland; three in Whangārei and the Gaunts in the Far North.
Mobility Dogs general manager Jody Wilson said though the Northland community is relatively new to the programme "we have been very impressed by their commitment and the potential for future growth".
"The trust really values our community puppy raisers and the tireless work they do to support New Zealanders living with disability. They are an integral part of ensuring that more people who need a mobility dog will receive one."
While not currently involved at Ngawha prison, "we would like to have the programme in more prisons in the future", she said.
The next hardest part of their job will be letting Yates go, but the Gaunts say they're prepared.
"It's like your kids going off to university," Michael said.
"You're thrilled for them and want them to go but it's heart-breaking."
■ Mobility dogs are trained to offer practical support, companionship and security. They transform the lives of people living with disabilities, and your support can make an incredible difference.
The mission: To enhance the lives of people living with disabilities, increasing independence, confidence, self esteem and participation in New Zealand communities.
To find out more go to https://mobilitydogs.co.nz/