Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Would Dora Revert to the Wild?

When Berenice got her first dingo, Dora, in 1974 she kept records on the differences between her Cattle Dogs and her Dingo.

More importantly, she took noted what the ‘experts’ told her about dingo behaviour and Dora’s behaviour.

In this abridged extract from For the Love of a Dingo Berenice tells the story of Dora and the birth of her pups and how the ‘experts’ had told Dora would revert to the wild and become a dangerous animal.


We had watched Dora develop from the little wild bundle of yellow-grey at six weeks, to a glorious adult; we had reared and trained her through her puppyhood and teen-age periods; had marvelled at how quickly she matured into an adult at about seven months of age; we had successfully seen her through her period of heat, mating and pregnancy; now she was on the verge of whelping.

The 'experts' were still warning us. Would they be right this time? Would she at last revert to her wild state? Would the pain and fear of whelping turn her into an unmanageable, killer?

Dora had milk for three days, was well developed in the abdomen, but still carrying her pups high, compared to domestic bitches, she barely looked in pup. However, being accustomed to her lean body, she was now showing up well to us, though not to others.

Lionel Hudson had asked if he could film the whelping if it did not worry Dora.

On Tuesday 22nd July Dora's temperature was still normal. There were no outward signs that her time was eminent; no hysterical searching for a place to whelp, no desperate scratching in her box. As with everything else, Dora was cool, calm and collected. No panic, no hysteria, but the expression in her eyes showed she understood there was a change in circumstance. She turned to me for security, clung to me, talking in a soft whine, a beseeching, trusting expression filling her beautiful eyes.

On Wednesday morning Dora and Bluebelle, a Cattle Dog bitch mated the same day, were due. I took the temperatures and pulse of both bitches. Dora's temperature had dropped. She was relaxed and alert, but the drop in temperature indicated she did not have long to go. I put on a heater to warm the room as she appeared cold.

Bluebelle on the other hand was excited, rushing around scratching. Her temperature was slightly lower, and I thought she would whelp first.

At 4.15pm, Dora had her first contraction. At 4.40pm she had four contractions in five minutes. My mother quickly rang Lionel to let him know birth was eminent and to get here as quickly as possible. As a precaution, I put a strong collar on Dora to help control her should she be unpredictable. The warnings of the 'experts' were still at the back of my mind. Her long, sharp, well developed teeth could be capable of inflicting terrible wounds.

The first pup was born at 5.10pm. I could see from the first he was enormous and doubted she could manage unaided. She couldn’t. Carefully pulling in a stroking motion, I helped her and eventually he came away.

At 5.25pm a second male was born, without help this time. She was exhausted after this and we wondered if she could possibly have any more as these two were such big pups, and she herself had never 'shown' very much.

Poor Lionel had not yet arrived. The birth had been so quick, and we hoped she would have just one more that could be recorded on film. In exhaustion, Dora quietly laid her head on my hand, steadfastly looking deep into my eyes. A tear rolled down her face.

Here was the 'terrible' Dingo lying quietly, gently mothering her pups, the only witnesses my mother, my son and myself.

At 5.50pm a car burned into the yard. Lionel had arrived looking like the proverbial expectant father. He even forgot his glasses. He must have been disappointed at missing the birth of the first pups, but he was so excited and happy to see mother and sons looking so wonderful. He was so flat out getting his equipment ready in case there should be another pup on the way he hardly had time to think. Dora paid him no attention at all.

Dora continually licked her two sons which were marked similarly. She was very sleepy and rested her head on my hand. She was calm and trusting and did not object to my handling her pups.

Tears came to my eyes as I quietly stroked her golden body. I asked myself "Where is the savage and possessive monster I had been warned about". She was just like any bitch in whelp, only calmer. Her eyes were full of trust, but only in me.

Lionel had his camera working furiously and successfully filmed the next birth.

The fourth pup was a little girl we called Josephine. She was a little smaller than the others but very active. All the pups were perfect with very short fine coats, very fat and healthy.

The whole time during whelping Dora had not changed her position. As the pups were born she cleaned them up, and snuggled them into her body, and as each successive pup was born, those already born were not disturbed. At no time did she stand or endanger her pups.

Lionel had his movie camera trained on the births and none of the activity appeared to upset Dora if only I touched her pups. My son sat beside the box keeping records as events progressed.

Lionel was balanced on the bed filming, bouncing from one position to another like an acrobat in training. "Move back, you're making a shadow", he pleaded. Then he found it was his own shadow. At a crucial moment he ran out of film. He reloaded quickly and continued to precariously balance on the bed or the heater, trying to find foot room on the crowded floor for close-ups, vaulting back onto the bed for other angles - all with a 16mm camera clutched in his hands.

At 8.10 we emerged from the maternity ward, exhausted but happy. Where were all the 'experts’ theories?

“Dingoes do not mate the same as domestic dogs.”

“Dingoes revert to the wild state during heat periods and whelping.”

“Don't let your young son near Dora.”

If I had not later heard of others who had had similar experiences, I would perhaps have considered Dora was an exception.

What really impressed me with Dora was her complete calmness and absolute trust in me. She must have been in a great deal of pain at the first difficult birth when I had to assist her. Although she did cry, she at no time attempted to bite or stand. She was only really a pup herself, barely 12 months of age. At all times Dora had the calmness and dignity that one expects to find in the old and experienced.

While we were all so busy with Dora whelping, how was Bluebelle faring? As usual, she was still hysterically scratching in her box, dashing in and out. Twenty-five hours later and she still had not whelped.  Checking her at 1pm, I found she had had four pups. By 6pm, she had seven.  She was tired but still very excited.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Truth About Dingoes 12: Hybridisation

One of the main threats to dingoes besides man is hybridisation with domestic dogs; the introduction of dog genes into the dingo population threatens to change and eradicate the unique characteristics of the Australian dingo.

Its uniqueness and importance to Indigenous Australians and our ecological systems make saving this species an important and urgent task.

I see the hybridisation problem as unimportant compared with the need to protect Australia's last top predator.

For in Australia it's the farmers who moved into an established home range of a predator. It is a well known fact that the dingo prefers to eat what he/she has always eaten, but if we have destroyed the habitat of its natural prey, or if he/she is too old or injured, it will resort to unfamiliar but, made by us, easily captured food.

Losses are simply that and should be accepted by the livestock owner....For it is they who should be trying to help themselves researching and practicing to find ways so that they can coexist, without destroying what is needed to keep a healthy balance in our ecosystems!

Reproduced, with permission, from the Aussie Canis Dingo Day Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/aussiecanisdingo/

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Dingoes, Dogs and Sheep

This article is based on several pieces Berenice wrote in the mid-late 1970s and should be read in the context of that period.

In her first book published in 1979 Berenice wrote:

All breeds of dogs are highly excited by sheep, particularly ewes and lambs. Following white settlement, it was not long before more remote farms, many of them established in country that should never have been used for farming, were reporting sheep losses.

No doubt many were due to dingoes, but the ranks of dogs in the wild were being filled by a far greater enemy; the European domestic dog gone wild or running uncontrolled. The reputation of the Dingo was being further damaged by the fact that all dogs running wild were being lumped together as dingoes, and the Agricultural Departments set up 'Dingo Destruction Boards’ to control their numbers.

However, because dingoes (and dogs generally) cannot co-exist with sheep, a relentless war of destruction has been waged against our native dog for over 200 years.

The first report of sheep killing was in 1788; the bodies, or remains, were found close to the natives' camp. Whether the native people had killed them, or their dogs, or whether the settlers themselves were guilty and made it look as if the natives or their dogs had, was never established. Fortunately, Governor Phillip's scrupulousness for fair play and the rights of every individual, protected the innocent, and his report made mention that the settlers were hungry, and could have been guilty of the slaughter.

People were very much under the influence of the superstitions of the Middle Ages – the big bad wolf image. To the early settlers, Dingo became Australia’s version – despite the fact the wolf could be three times the size and weight of the average dingo. It has been proven the wolf’s indiscretions are greatly exaggerated and there are very few if any proven cases of wolves attacking humans, or stock unless sick or weak.

In the early days, many told stories of terrified people followed by dingoes. Perhaps like the wolf they followed out of curiosity only.

We know it is historically correct that cattle brought out by the First Fleet were lost and then found seven years later near Camden, NSW. The herd had grown from 7 to 60. If dingoes were so murderous in their attacks on stock is it not strange they didn’t clean them up immediately?

In the early-mid 1970s, when Berenice and others kept dingoes illegally, very few were privileged to know this much maligned animal for what it is.

The dingo people kept quiet because their hands were tied, and their mouths gagged for fear of bringing the law down on themselves and their beloved, respected dingo who had to masquerade as a cross-breed, sheep dog, cattle dog - anything but what it is.

In the eyes of the law Dingo was, and still is in parts of the country, a noxious animal, vermin, a price on his head. http://jennyleeparker3.wixsite.com/aussie-canis-dingo/blank-c1ro1 has up to date information about the legalities of keeping a dingo state by state.

The body responsible for controlling dingoes was known as the Dingo Destruction Board. It was renamed the Wild Dog Destruction Board in the late 1970s and defined a wild dog as:
"Any dingo or native dog or any dog which has become wild, or any dog which apparently has no owner and is not under control".

This meant any dingo was guilty simply because he was a dingo. He may live in isolated ranges on mice, rats, frogs, rabbits, wallabies; in other words, keep a balance of nature, but because he is a Dingo, he is guilty.

He may have been a well-trained working dog, or a well-mannered, obedience trained house dog, but he had to be destroyed because he was a dingo and therefore guilty.

The shocking cruelties metered out to dingoes were, and still are, unbelievable; dingoes with their leg caught in a trap, dying after days of torture; left to starve to death in pits; skinned alive or kicked to death.

All dogs chase sheep. Try to run sheep near towns and you have every loose dog within miles chasing

them. In times of drought even a starving dingo will venture into farming areas.

It is the domesticated breeds that have been specifically bred for stamina, aggression, savagery. The wild animal for the most part kills to eat – and sleeps two thirds of the time.

Berenice recorded:

I have seen sheep torn to pieces, cows calving attacked, prime stock put through fences and chased till they lay exhausted. I have seen a cow with her inside strewn over the ground, and still alive; all the work of domesticated breeds. And yet, people who live in isolated mountain country say they have heard the howl of the dingo in the breeding season but seldom, if ever, seen one. Naturally you get exceptions and some dogs for some reason or another develop a taste for sheep and these must be controlled. A farmer I know employs a dog trapper full time; Labradors, Dobermans, shepherds, various working dogs are the main stock killers. Dingoes are protected on his property.

In August 1976 then Premier, Neville Wran, expressed his horror at the indiscriminate use of 1080 poison and general contamination of our wilderness areas. He called a Dingo Seminar to question the use and need of aerial baiting, and predator control generally.

Berenice recorded her interaction with pro poisoning attendees:

The meeting was well attended by the grazing fraternity who waylaid most of the women who attended (the "greenies"), with copies of horrific photos of sheep torn apart by "dingoes". I reacted in disgust at the slaughter and in all innocence asked, "Did you see this happen?". "Oh no. You never see them. You just find the results of their lust for killing."

"But if you did not see the attack, how do you know that dingoes were the culprits" I asked, adding that in New Zealand they had similar attacks on sheep, and there were no dingoes there. The attackers were uncontrolled or feral domestic breeds.

This argument seemed to cool the enthusiasm of all who approached me, and they seemed to shrink in stature and disappear into the crowd to await a less prepared victim.