Dog Health Programmes in Remote Indigenous Communities

Well, what an adventure Dr Alison Taylor and I had a few weeks ago.

We were part of a volunteer team that went “outback” to Utopia, a remote indigenous community 300kms on a dirt road north of Alice Springs to help establish a dog health programme. The region contains 16 outstations of around 1000 people. Population health surveys conducted over 1986-2004 show Utopia people are significantly healthier than other comparable groups.

The camp dogs are all types of breeds (see photos) and rarely have any dingo crosses. Some specific camps have one type of dog, which is usually due to the presence of an “alpha” male and female. The dogs roam free and are usually very good at getting on together baring the disagreements over food and hormones! We found that there were approximately one to two dogs per person in a very small house.

The aboriginal people highly value their dogs, which are great companions. They are central to their culture and feature in dances and dreamtime stories. Some dogs are also used for hunting and protection.

The main issues around the dog populations involve the problem of uncontrolled breeding and subsequent overpopulation. As there are no fences, the dogs can roam around in packs, fighting and creating a lot of noise especially at night. Some people get bitten by the more aggressive or “cheeky” dogs as they are known. There are also some diseases like mange and worms that can be passed on to people in close contact with the dogs.

It is extremely difficult for people to access dog health care. It is a low priority of governments at all levels and there is a general lack of understanding of what services a vet can provide. The current status in the Barkly Shire is that there is one enthusiastic and kind hearted dog control officer (Brian), for a region that is 47% bigger than Victoria!

We are fortunate to be volunteers under the AMRRIC (Animal Management in Remote Rural Indigenous Communities) banner. They are a non-government, not for profit organisation that works nationally to improve the health and wellbeing of companion animals and consequently improve the overall health and wellbeing of remote Indigenous communities.

If you would like to be part of this exciting venture, why not start by joining AMRRIC (www.amricc.org) or talk to Dr Alison or Dr Michael about helping with the logistics of marinating this important work.

This post was originally written in 2012