Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Return of Li’l Jo

Li’l Jo was one the most agile and cat-like Dingoes. She was highly intelligent yet readily trainable. She was one of Merigal’s most highly regarded females but very shy with strangers, possibly due to a shy mother, and insufficient socialising as a pup.

Society secretary, Malcolm Tellesson, offered to take her into his home at Five Dock, following the death of his pup in a car accident, and she seemed to settle in quite well. 

However, she was just waiting for an opportunity to escape, and when a second gate was accidentally left unlatched she did just that. She was seen dashing across a busy Lyons Road, Five Dock struggling over two fences in absolute panic, then she disappeared.

They knew she couldn’t be too far away, but there were a multitude of places where she could have hidden in the densely populated area. She could have hidden under a house, in the maze of storm water pipes, in the bushes of a nearby park or golf course - virtually anywhere. Berenice sensed Li’l Jo would survive; her fear of people forcing her to constantly hide. She must have been terrified. Torrential rain fell for three days after her escape, and during this time there was only one possible 3am sighting by a neighbour. Berenice and other members desperately searched the area for days. Leaflets were handed out to neighbours, every house-yard was examined, and radio stations who normally refused to advertise lost dogs, carried an appeal to thousands of listeners. For weeks regular advertisements appeared in newspapers, Councils were notified, and pounds searched. The response was tremendous but there was no sign of Li’l Jo. Although food was left out at various points near where she disappeared, none was ever touched. The only clue found was a long scratch mark on the roof of a shed where she had walked along a fence and tried to jump onto the roof but slithered to the ground. It had to be accepted she could have drowned had she hidden in the storm water pipes, but somehow, Berenice still believed she would eventually be found.

Malcolm dragged a leg of lamb around the district in the hope she would follow the trail back to his house.

Then Berenice had a brainwave. There was a park with thick bushes of lantana on the shores of the bay in the direction she had run. She wondered if they played tapes of the Dingoes howling in the dead of night, it may trigger a response from their lost friend. Firstly, they explained the proposal to the local police who patiently, and avidly, listened - but passed no comment. They must have thought it was a hoax, and in some way,  they could end up the "bunnies".

At around 1am, Malcolm and Berenice, armed with a tape recorder, drove to the park. It was very quiet and isolated, but a couple were enjoying the silence. As they intended to break the peace with an ear shattering burst of dingo howling, they prudently explained their intentions. Malcolm approached the pair, who no doubt must have felt a little dubious about being approached by a stranger in this lonely place. As they came together, they appeared to fall into earnest conversation for a few moments, then Malcolm returned. The couple left in a hurry, no doubt relieved they had escaped without more than a fright. Malcolm looked puzzled. He said he did not think they believed him when he said he was looking for a lost dingo and was going to play a tape of Dingoes howling.

The thunderous sounds of the Merigal Mob howling seemed to burst upon the silence of the bush. The reaction was immediate and incredulous. Dogs all around started to bark furiously. The whole area was immediately lit up as hundreds of lights flashed on and startled householders emerged from their homes. Some peered over fences trying to see what was going on in the park, yelling for silence. Stunned at the instant activity Berenice and Malcolm collapsed in a heap laughing while the shrill howling went on and on. If Li’l Jo was in the area, she most certainly would have bolted for cover. Sadly, there was still no sight or sound of Li’l Jo.

Four months later, Malcolm received a telephone call from the Council advising him that a "cross-shepherd" bitch wearing a collar with his Council tag had been picked up in Auburn, an adjoining suburb, and she was being held at the RSPCA Shelter at Yagoona. She also had five young pups. Could this be the long lost Dingo? With her deep chestnut colouring and black muzzle, she could easily be mistaken for a shepherd cross. Certainly, no one would expect it to be a Dingo.

A frenzied phone call to the RSPCA next morning requesting her left ear be examined for an ear tattoo 039 resulted in confirmation this was Li’l Jo. Within two hours Berenice and Malcolm were with her. She was unrecognisable. Her eyes and black face were distorted with mange; through stress she lay in a trance-like state. Berenice quietly stroked her and talked to her and eventually a glimmer of recognition showed in her eyes, then she tried to lift her head. The vet advised she had blood dysentery, was very weak, and only gave her a 40-60 chance of survival. However, by the time they were ready to leave with their very sick Dingo, she had brightened up considerably and the vet thought they would have a 50-50 chance of saving her.

On the way back to Bargo they stopped off at Camden for society vet Jim Della-Vedova to examine her. He considered the dysentery to be caused through stress and once she got home she would improve.

Turning into Merigal’s gateway, her ears pricked as she heard the welcome howls from the Dingoes, but she showed the first real sign of emotion when Berenice gently lifted her from the car and she saw Flowers, one of her dingo mates, coming towards her. Standing in submission, tail slowly wagging, she sank to the ground in utter exhaustion like an old, old dog. She was only two years old.

Li’l Jo recovered from the virus causing the dysentery, the rash slowly healed, but she and was scarred for life through the horrors endured while lost. By her general condition she had not starved, and she soon demonstrated just how skilled she had become in acquiring food. One of the most astonishing skills acquired while lost was the speed she could up-end a garbage bin and dive to the bottom of it. Every night she enacted the way she had survived. In the early hours, despite regularly feeding, she would do the rounds, rattling buckets and fossicking about, a way of life that had allowed her to survive.

She was forgiven for stealing food from the kitchen. Berenice understood why she would not sleep in the laundry until everyone had gone to bed and was always out in the yard when they got up. They wondered whose verandahs or laundries she slept in during her enforced stay in Sydney.

Li’l Jo was a powerful runner. She and Julie romped together in a frenzy of excitement providing there were no strangers about. She would race through the long grass by a series of energetic bounds like a kangaroo.

They believed Li’l Jo went to heaven when she died, because she had already been through hell.

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