Tuesday 14 November 2017

Kalang: Special Dingo of Margaret Fulton

When Margaret Fulton’s partner, Michael McKeag, saw an advertisement to “walk with a dingo” at the Dingo Sanctuary in Bargo they jumped at the opportunity. 

For Margaret, their outing became a lifetime commitment to dingoes generally and one special dingo in particular.

Margaret and Michael sponsored Kalang and her mother, Meri, visiting every two weeks for more than 10 years over the lives of the two dingoes.

This was enough for them to know they were special to these two devoted humans. They recognised the sound of Margaret’s car long before she arrived and always gave Michael and her an exuberant welcome before settling down with them like two old domestic dogs.  Visitors were always enthralled to be invited to come and sit on the rocks and share the company of Margaret, Michael and their two dingo friends.  When Margaret walked Kalang she always regulated her pace to Margaret’s and in wet weather would circumvent puddles, patiently waiting for Margaret to catch up.
This was quite the opposite to Meri's treatment of Michael.  If something of interest took her fancy she would charge off through the dense undergrowth dragging a startled, but not reluctant Michael, on the other end of the lead.
Margaret always brought some special treats for Kalang and Meri. They were the only dingoes in the world to share the culinary delights of a world-famous cooking expert.

Margaret always spoke lovingly of the independence and free spirit of Kalang, and the way her beautiful eyes mirrored the devotion she felt for the few humans she trusted and loved; of her kindness and thoughtfulness.

In 1983, when Margaret was photographed for the national press and television announcement of being awarded an Order of Australia Medal she proudly wore her pink dingo sweatshirt.
Margaret was not only devoted to her special dingoes, she served for many years as Vice President of the Native Dog Conservation Society. She also appeared on television many times with Berenice and some of the Merigal dingoes

Each year an event that came to be known as DingoFest was held at the sanctuary. Margaret would be there along with other members helping to organise and run the event. She patiently took time to allow visitors to have their photos taken with her and a dingo.

This is Kalang’s story
Kalang inherited many of her father Napoleon’s gentle and caring characteristics.
As a pup, Kalang was always the cheeky one.  Many a time her father, Napoleon, would suddenly turn and chase her in a rage after she had bitten him.  However, life with her bossy mother, Meri, did help to straighten out her more undesirable habits, like nipping us on the bottom or thigh, though we sometimes wondered if Meri was a bit too hard on her wayward daughter.
All her life, Meri was aggressive to other dogs and Kalang seemed to become her henchman.  As Meri was originally from the wild and reared by hand from five days of age, she thought of herself as being 'one of us', a human.   

Despite the many scraps, we all survived, but Meri met her 'Waterloo' at thirteen years of age, when she picked on another elderly dingo, nine-year-old Jedda.  Berenice desperately tried to separate them, but fell over many times due to weakness.  Meri became disorientated, and although neither Dingo was really hurt, Meri collapsed.  Actually, it was this distressing occurrence that finally led to Berenice’s weakness being diagnosed as Motor Neurone Disease.
Meri was greatly shocked with this encounter and shortly after had to be euthanised.  Kalang was distraught and went into a deep depression.  She had always lived with her mum, and been dominated by her; but their lives were shared, Kalang her very shadow.  Together they were a formidable team, and care had always to be taken to keep other Dingoes away from them.

At twelve years of age, Kalang's face actually looked quite elderly although physically she was absolutely beautiful, and active. We felt our only chance of giving her life was to take her in as a house dog, along with Sheila and Jarrah if they would accept her.

Thankfully, this was accomplished without drama, as Kalang was used to being subordinate, and Sheila was able to maintain her seniority in a very civilised manner.  As Sheila had a trampoline bed in Berenice’s bedroom, space for a second trampoline had to be made, and the two of them religiously kept to their own beds - and their own chairs in the lounge room.

At first, Kalang started to relate more to Berenice as she was with her most of the time – her constant shadow.  Berenice learned the hard way not to turn quickly (and fall over her) and became very aware that wherever she was, Kalang filled in the space behind her.  It was really only after her death that she became fully aware of this unique closeness, and grieved deeply over her untimely death.

Kalang never imposed on anyone; she was there but never intruded - an ever faithful and trusting companion.

Kalang always had a sense of fun - and duty.  Like Meri, she was an ever-alert predator killing several lizards, birds and probably snakes.  She was constantly 'predating' on the irrigation hoses for practice, biting them, then flicking to break the neck of the imagined prey.  The siren, alerting us of a blockage in the system, would suddenly wail and we would all sprint from the house usually finding a kink in the hose and resignedly exclaim "Oh, no!  Kalang is fantasising again."  She was practicing killing a snake.

As a treat, Margaret used to cook sausages for all the dogs which they adored.  There were some left over one day and next evening Berenice gave all the dogs a sausage with their meal which they gobbled up greedily - that is, all except Kalang.  She sniffed her sausage and looked up to the front gate, obviously thinking of Margaret.  Carefully picking up her treasure she quietly made her way out to the gate peering down the street before retiring to the garden to savour her treat, thoughts of her beloved humans obviously uppermost.

Although Napoleon and Kalang were so human orientated, they were still very predatory when it came to wildlife.  Napoleon killed many parrots that became confused when they hit the capping on the fences.  Actually, he killed nine feral cats that ventured into the house yard as well.

When Kalang had her first litter, two males and one female were whelped, the female only surviving three days.  The pups’ eyes were open at 12 days and they were already quite active, staggering around on wobbly legs in their large box.  Kalang was extremely possessive and relished the role of mother.  Berenice handled them everyday and nursed them as part of early socialisation and they responded wonderfully.  By four weeks of age they are running around on the grass, chewing shoe laces, and generally responding well to handling.  However, the four weeks had not been without incidents.

One morning Berenice arrived to move the pups into their day quarters and was sickened to find a cold dead body.  But it felt strange.  Quickly lifting it out she discovered it was a very dead young Currawong Kalang had apparently killed and 'fed' to her pups, no doubt preparing them for a wild existence.

On another occasion, after completing the morning chores Berenice heard a pup scream.  She rushed to the rescue.  There was no sign of Kalang but the pups were in their box - plus another Currawong; but this one was not dead. It was very much alive, and it had fastened onto the skin of one terrified pup that was trying to escape.
Kalang encouraged birds to come near.  She then ran at them and all too often in their confusion they got trapped under the lip of the fence and she caught them.  To avoid this, Berenice started to collect all left-over food and place it on top of the fences to discourage the birds entering the dog enclosures.

One morning, Berenice noticed that Kalang was still in bed.  When she examined her, she felt clammy and was weak.  Kalang and Sheila had made a sudden exit from the house during the night, and Berenice wondered if Kalang had fallen from the veranda and hurt her back.  Aside from appearing frail, Berenice could not locate any other definite sign of illness so decided to watch her closely for a few hours.
As Kalang did not appear improved next day, the opinion of the veterinarian was sought. Her red blood count was down to only 10%.
Next evening, Kalang became too weak to walk and collapsed in the garden in the early hours of the morning, her pitiful cries alerting Berenice.  Unable to lift Kalang, she covered her with a rug, but Kalang leapt to her feet and Berenice slowly managed to drag her up the ramp, onto the verandah then guided her onto her bed.  After making sure Kalang was comfortable, Berenice found she was then too weak to get up.  It was freezing cold.  Over an hour later her mother finally heard her calls for help and with the aid of cushions Berenice was able stand and return to bed.
As soon as she received Berenice’s phone call on the Sunday morning, Margaret set off for Bargo to help. On arrival, she settled down next to Kalang on the trampoline, and slowly Kalang's expression changed from one of uncertainty and pain, to peace.  Margaret's presence gave tremendous comfort to Kalang and she slept beside her that night with her arm touching her. 
Next morning, Kalang was so weak she could not stand and with Margaret driving and Berenice cradling her, they returned to the vet for help.   Her heart and kidneys were deteriorating, the blood test had not shown anything definite, so the dreadful decision had to be made to euthanise her to save her from further stress and agony.  If Berenice had been healthier and stronger perhaps she could have persevered, but, even if there had been a slight hope of recovery, and this was questionable, she knew she could not face a repeat of the night she collapsed on the grass.

When they returned home, Sheila came galloping through the house calling excitedly to her friend.  It took many weeks for Sheila to recover the loss and for a long time was rather solitary. This was quite uncharacteristic for the normally high-spirited and demonstrative Sheila.
Ten days later, Berenice’s brother, investigating a putrid smell coming from the tree under which Kalang always rested, found the decomposing body of a large red belly black snake.  "Yes" said the vet. "Poison from this snake could have accounted for Kalang's sudden collapse and resulting symptoms."
Poor Kalang had died in the line of duty, in her own way defending her human family from a poisonous intruder.  Perhaps because it was winter they never thought of snake bite.
So many of the frequent visitors continued to asked after the 'quiet little Dingo'.  Kalang may not have been demanding, but there was a radiance about her personality that was felt by all.  Kalang's devotion will never be forgotten.
Kalang will long live in our memories.  Other personal traits of hers that were not so evident early include her very short temper. For instance, the doggy door on Berenice’s house only opened inwards. Both Sheila and Kalang soon learned how to bounce the door so that it opened enough for them to get their noses in, then lever it open.  Sheila, the essence of patience, quietly took her time, but not Kalang.  She usually approached the door with vengeance, grabbed it and 'threw' it shut, then straight through.  The butterfly clip broke many times thanks to Kalang.  Berenice was sitting in the office typing one day as she crashed through, and the head of the clip whizzed past her ear.  After Kalang’s death it never broke again. 


  1. thanks for this story on a wonderful couple and their interaction with the dingoes, dingoes need more stories like this in teh media.

    1. Thank you. I agree we need more positive dingo stories so people can understand just how wonderful they are and the special relationships they develop.