Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Honorary Leading Aircraftsman Boots (AKA Woolleston Wellington - Dingo)

In 1978 Ministerial approval was granted for a dingo to be trained by the RAAF at Fairbairn Base.

The dingo was Wellington from the Dingo Sanctuary in Bargo, NSW. Dog handler and trainer Sergeant Neville Kleidon who was always searching for ways to upgrade the work of security dogs, he expressed tremendous interest in the breed, particularly in the fields of drug detection and tracking attended a training session at Bargo.

Wellington was six months old when he and Sgt.  Kleidon first met.  Although a very humanised pup he was also the pack leader making him dominant and requiring an experienced trainer.  

Sgt.  Kleidon was impressed with this dog's ability and decided to "give him a go". Wellington, called ‘Boots’ by his handler, commenced training at Fairbairn Airbase for a six-month trial period. He quickly made friends with Police Dog "Lefty", a Basenji cross, who became his constant companion.

‘Boots’ quickly demonstrated a remarkable potential using the dingo’s highly developed skills of sight, hearing and scent, and adaptability.

But, interest in this beautiful, handsome ‘dog’ started creating problems.  Dignitaries and the press were full of admiration for him and wanted to know 'where they could get one like him'.

As his time was for a trial period he was returned to Bargo and through the society’s Patron, Senator Tony Mulvihill, the society earnestly sought official approval to continue Wellington’s training, but this time officially as a Dingo.  The potential of the dingo had been firmly demonstrated by Wellington, and it was hoped that the application would be quickly considered and approved.

Sgt Kleidon was quoted as saying "We may be climbing to the crest of a very successful wave (then again we could also take a big tumble also) ... we hope Wellington will be the forerunner of quite a number of true Australians, assisting his country."

Approval was received and in August 1979 ‘Boots’ became Australia’s only official dingo. He moved into Sgt Kleidon’s house in the married quarters on the agreement that he would be trained for drug detection and tracking work but it had to be carried out in the sergeant’s own time.

Wellington’s story appeared on page one of the Canberra Times where Sgt Kleidon was quoted as saying: "In some kinds of work like drug detection, dingoes might be better than German Shepherds because they can squeeze into places where bigger dogs are unable to go.

"This one is an exceptional dog, which is why we chose him. Most of his breed are very wary but he is quite friendly.

"The dingo sense of smell is acute which will be very useful in his training.

"His mother and father were both born in the wild, but he was bred in captivity. He is one of the best of his litter for my purposes. (Wellington’s parents were Dora and Cornelius)

"He will be given the standard Air Force training, with allowances for his personality which we make for all dogs in training".

Soon after Wellington joined the RAAF Sgt Kleidon was posted to Queensland and ‘Boots’ relocated with him. He was given the rank of Honorary "Leading Aircraftsman Boots".

Initially Boots's progress was satisfactory. He mixed well with his German Shepherd companions and though considerably lighter was faster and had better sight, hearing and smell. He absorbed all the elementary commands and exercised across hurdles and through a flaming hoop.

When researching Wellington’s story there seemed to be nothing following up on his progress. I enquired through the RAAF dog Handlers Association and was told simply “Unfortunately, Boots did not have all the attributes required.”

It would be most interesting to know just what attributes boots was lacking particularly as he had shown so much potential.

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