Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Berenice Defends Failed Seeing Eye Dingo

In 1977 a seven week old dingo pup, Nerida, was given to the Lady Nell Seeing Eye Dog School by Bruce Jacobs. She was to be trained as a seeing eye dog to fulfil a condition of a $30,000 donation to the school promised by retiree, Mr John Blair. Mr Blair had shot a blind dingo more than half a century earlier while its sighted mate was trying to lead it to safety. Haunted by the incident he concluded that if a dingo could lead its blind mate in the wild then perhaps it could lead blind people in the suburbs.

It was expected to take 18 months to train Nerida. In July 1978 it was reported she had passed her early tests with flying colours

However, in 1979 “Dingo training as seeing eye dog flop” and “attempts to train a dingo as a seeing eye dog failed” featured in the papers.

The report went on to say “After 12 months training, two-year old Nerida couldn’t make the grade.

Labradors usually graduate from the school after six months … The main problem is lack of concentration. She’s still a puppy at heart and likes to play around rather than getting stuck into the work. We’re not sure whether inability or immaturity caused this.”

Berenice believed the headlines were just another example of exploitation and questioned what chance the project had of success.

She recorded her reaction in the August 1979 edition of Merigal Magazine

For those who are experienced with the Dingo, nothing could be less suitable to the character and temperament of the Dingo, or any hunting dog, than the stability and predictability essential in the seeing-eye dog. What this school describes as “lack of concentration” is in actual fact concentration on hunting instincts. It is a pity these people did not take the trouble to learn a little more about the breed to start with; and instead of blaming the breed because it has not come up to expectations, blaming themselves.

But I suppose the remuneration that was reportedly offered to the school to attempt the training of the Dingo for this type of work was considered reason enough. If this school considers hunting dogs such as the Dingo could excel at this type of work, one wonders why they don’t experiment with the Afghan, Basenji, Saluki, Pharaoh, Dachshund or Greyhound.

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