Late last week a good friend of mine visited Nyirripi, a small township in the Tanami desert.

She saw this notice in the local store.

In my most recent post I looked at some innovative and very funny examples of the use and abuse of signs and notices at the nearby southern Tanami desert townships of Yuendumu and Wirliyajarrayi, 300 kilometres or so north-west of Alice Springs.

Unfortunately at Nyirripi there were no friendly japes, just a deadly serious message from officialdom to the general population – “I will have the Police shoot your dog.

Doesn’t get much more direct and to-the-point than that.

Nyirripi, like many small Aboriginal communities in the NT and elsewhere, may well have the serious dog control and management issues indicated in the notice, but on my most recent visit there in November 2010 I saw no real evidence of it.

I don’t know who wrote and posted this Notice – I assume he or she works for the local Central Desert Shire council. For present purposes it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that there are people in positions of power in remote townships who think that the bullet from the gun of the local cop is an effective means of animal control.

As my good friend and long-term Yuendumu local Frank Baarda reminded me dog control has been an issue in the central deserts for many years. Back in the days when Aboriginal townships were centrally controlled by the Federal Welfare Branch “local health nurses were horrified to receive a directive from the Health department to ‘burn all their blankets and shoot all their dogs’ as a way of dealing with a serious outbreak of scabies.

Fast forward 33 years to the first days of the new Central Desert Shire in July 2008. As Frank notes: “One of the first moves by the newly appointed Shire Service manager was a directive to introduce a centrally-mandated ‘Two dogs per household’ policy.”

As Frank noted in mid-2009 in one of his irregular, highly entertaining and informative “Dispatches from the Front“:

You can hear Jangala coming. As he wonders about on his social rounds he is surrounded by a phalanx of dogs. [Jangala’s] dogs jealously guard his space and his travels are punctuated by dog skirmishes. His dogs have never bitten a human and are a picture of canine health. He looks after them and they look after him. They are malpa (company).

Jangala is a dignified old widower and one of Yuendumu’s most successful artists.

Both our first SSM [Shire Service Manager] and our latest GBM [Government Business Manager] have been bitten by dogs. I’m jealous, I have never been bitten.

At the ROC’s LRG’s LIP meetings I attended, I don’t recall dogs having been much discussed, yet at the last meeting, dogs suddenly appeared on the agenda. The “two dog”(maliki-jarra) policy was even mentioned. The assimilationists are nothing if not persistent.

Dogged they are. Like a dog with a bone.

The dog policy that keeps rearing its head, epitomises the very dogmatic approach of the authorities to everything. No matter how often members of the community object to or reject a proposal, they keep coming back with it. Like a dog returning a stick.

At the meeting Napangardi said: “…people here love their dogs, they are family.

I’ve owned a few dogs over the years, I am a Jungarrayi, my dog Glue was Japaljarri, my dog Chocolate was Napaljarri. They were my children.

Wendy has four dogs. A decision as to which two to eliminate would be heart wrenching.

I’ve mentioned it before. In three decades Yuendumu society has undergone inspiring changes. Much reduced violence and alcohol abuse. Greatly improved nutrition and hygiene. Eradication of petrol sniffing. Higher status for women. Establishment of a world class art industry. And yes, better dogs.

When we arrived in Yuendumu there were many mangey hairless sick dogs. Gradually dogs were better looked after and now dogs are healthy and less numerous. At our shop sales of dog food have increased dramatically over time.

Should Jangala be forced to reduce his dog pack to jirrama-puka (only two) I fear we would have to start preparing his final resting place.

I’ve written many times here and elsewhere (see below for some links) about the seriousness of animal control issues in remote – and not so remote – communities in the NT and elsewhere.

For a few years I was lucky enough to share a house with at times up to 30 or more very happy camp-dogs. All were loved and loved without hesitation in return. I miss every one of them to this day.

I’ve written of the wonderful work done by my ex-partner Gloria Morales and the crew at Warlukurlangu Artists at Yuendumu over many years and their attempts to bring Yuendumu’s once highly unstable dog population under control. That was done not by the bullet but by using love and respect for the animals, no matter how sick, mangey, injured, scabrous or tick-infested they may have been when they came through our gate.

They use commonsense and ensure that dog owners make their own decisions about what happens to the dogs. And they use appropriate veterinary tools and techniques to stablise the overall population, change the community-wide dog breeding profile and remove vicious and dangerous dogs from the population.

The wonderful work done by Gloria Morales and others continues to this day. They deserve all of our support. (go to the Desert Dogs website if you want to adopt a Desert Dog or show your support)

That job isn’t easy and isn’t finished – it may never be – but the dog population at Yuendumu is now smaller in number, healthier, more stable and happier than ever.

The lessons learnt at Yuendumu have slowly filtered through to agencies and professionals working in the field. For the last few years the Central Desert Shire – the local governing authority with responsibility for the townships of Nyrripi and Yuendumu (and many more) had an effective and well-designed animal management program run by capable staff. This entry at the Shire’s Companion Animal Management page reflects that commitment:

Vets visited Central Desert Shire communities and several major outstations, with most locations receiving repeat visits. During these visits dogs were treated for internal and external parasites, de-sexed (with the owner’s consent) or put down (with the owner’s consent). Vets were also asked to support local participation in animal management and promote education about animal management.

During 2008-09 approximately 3,000 treatments for internal and external parasites were administered. Over 500 dogs were de-sexed either through surgery or through chemical sterilisation and approximately 500 dogs were put down.

But somewhere between the noble sentiments expressed on the web and the harsh day-to-day reality of life in a small dusty town five and more hours drive west of Alice Springs the Central Desert Shire’s Companion Dog policy has gone well awry. The message to community members has suddenly shifted from “support” and “education” on animal management to “If you hide your dog from the Vet. I will have the Police shoot your Dog.

I’ve written here before about the great work being done by AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural & Remote Indigenous Communities) and over the past few years they have worked hard to develop links with local government authorities – who they clearly, and rightly, see as key elements in the delivery of animal control and management in remote towns across Australia. In the course of that work AMRRIC has developed a few key policy guidelines for councils, including a checklist of the elements and issues involved in Setting up a Sustainable Dog Program and this comprehensive analysis of the Principles of AMRRIC Dog Health Programs.

AMRRIC’s principles include such pretty straightforward propositions as a vision of communities that:

Are healthy and safe for people and animals. In practical terms this means –

– Fewer animals;

– Healthier and better behaved animals;

– Owners who take responsibility for the health, welfare and behaviour of their animal companions; and

– Community based management and control of the animal populations and delivery of animal health programs in conjunction with veterinary professionals.

AMRRIC’s objectives are to:

– improve the health and welfare of companion animals in the community;

– contribute to an improvement in human health by improving the health of companion animals in the community, reducing the transmission of disease from animals to people, educating people about parasites and disease in companion animals, and consequently expanding people’s concepts regarding their own health and disease prevention;

– provide a means of managing a large, relatively uncontrolled dog population, with the associated problems of noise, scavenging and attacks on humans;

– empower aboriginal communities to maintain, improve or develop animal health and welfare standards; and

– provide the knowledge, training and resources to enable the community to take responsibility for and manage animals, animal health and welfare, and related issues such as responsible pet ownership.

For those of us that work on a daily basis with local communities, the notion of consent – particularly “free and informed consent” – is a no-brainer. You don’t get effective and inclusive community-level support for a project, proposal or program without it. AMRRIC recognises this as a key component in their dog programs:

No procedures such as euthanasia or surgery should be performed without the owner’s informed consent (unless complying with lawful directive from authorities such as police). If the parties involved are not fluent in English an interpreter is present in all negotiations.

This brings us back to the Notice at the Nyirripi Store and begs the question.

Has anyone bothered to ask the locals if they want the Police to shoot their dogs?


I thought not.


Some links and information

– Dogs and Art. By Penelope Bergen. ABC Online. May 2008. (with links to a podcast of the wonderful “Camp Dog Tails“)

Camp Dog Tails. By Penelope Bergen. Photo gallery. ABC Online. April 2008.

Dog of the week, Sole. The Northern Myth. September 2008.

A Plague of Beautiful Dogs. The Northern Myth. November 2008.

Camp Dogs on the Radio! The Northern Myth. November 2008.

Camp Dog of the Week: Ding the Dingo pup. The Northern Myth. October 2009.

A Tribute to My Plague of Beautiful Dogs. The Northern Myth. November 2009.

Interview with Jan Allen, AMRRIC Program Manager. The Northern Myth. December 2009.

Dog management and control policies in the NT are a dogs breakfast… The Northern Myth. May 2010.

Camp Dog of the Week: “Stripe” aka “Buckley”. The Northern Myth. July 2010.

Interested in adopting a “Desert Dog”? – see here or have a look at their FaceBook page for more information.