Tuesday 27 March 2018

To Julie with Love by Berenice Walters

Julie, the little Dingo placed with us will always be remembered with love and affection. She seemed to roam through life with a perpetual smile on her face, but she was not always so happy.

In mid May 1980, I had a phone call from Vicki enquiring if we could give a home to a little female Dingo who was being held at a Wildlife Park that was closing. Julie, along with other animals, was to be shot.

"Please give her a home", pleaded Vicki.

We were later to learn that Julie had been a much loved companion of a young boy and had lived as one with the family, never having been restricted to a yard. Inevitably, she got herself into trouble killing poultry, and was finally kept on a chain which was welded to her neck. 

She howled miserably in her sadness at this sudden rejection, causing neighbours to complain. Finally, she was given to a wildlife park which did not really want another Dingo and was confined to a small shed where she continued to cry out in her grief. Vicki, who worked part time at the park, was overcome with the suffering and loneliness of this little Dingo, and in her own time took her for walks and spent as much time with her as possible. Julie never forgot Vicki's kindness.

Then another disaster occurred. The park had to close, and Julie was to be shot. At this time, we received Vicki's her phone call, and she brought Julie up to Bargo to visit us. She won our hearts and we agreed to take her in, sponsored by Vicki.

It is usually very difficult and time consuming to introduce a new Dingo to a resident colony. However, L'il Jo had been returned to us recently after being lost in the city for five months, and she was a very gentle, unaggressive and submissive Dingo. The two settled in well, Julie taking a motherly interest in her very timid companion, encouraging and protecting her. I vividly remember the first time I saw the depth of Julie's compassion, her sensitivity, and her strong reasoning powers. We were experiencing a severe hail storm which created a deafening roar on the iron roofs of the kennels. Terrified, L'il Jo bolted out into the storm. Julie instantly raced out after her and gently herded her back into the kennel. After standing together miserably for a few seconds, L'il Jo again dashed out into the storm, and again Julie went out after her friend and brought her back. The third time L'il Jo took off, Julie and sat and watched her hopelessly, her beautiful face showing the deep concern she felt for her companion, and her helplessness in being unable to calm her fears.

Julie had the same depth of understanding and caring with people. She was delightfully gentle with children and babies and could be relied upon always to be amiable. However, her extraordinary understanding of the needs of a blind visitor was uncanny. Mrs Joan Hodges belonged to the Royal Blind Society in London, and she had read about our Society in a publication which was printed in braille. She vowed that when she visited Australia, she would also visit MERIGAL. She duly arrived on a glorious sunny day, the pleasant anticipation of meeting our Dingoes seeming to light up her whole being. Julie was running with her two ten-month-old pups, Minki and Kimba at the time, and as we entered their enclosure, Julie very quietly approached Mrs Hodges in an obviously fond greeting, and then never left her side, not pressing against her legs, but gently touching so that she knew where Julie was always. She knew Mrs Hodges was blind. At one stage Minki and Kimba had a noisy quarrel and I was concerned that our visitor may have felt vulnerable, but the smile never left her face. Although she could not see, she knew there was no threat to herself. I was so proud of Julie and once again so overwhelmed at the depth of understanding and concern that this beautiful animal displayed.

Shortly before Julie's untimely death at nine years of age, she accompanied me on visits to two hospitals where she was, as always, the star and to a display in Sydney. We had received an invitation from the Animal Welfare League to participate in a "Parade of Dogs of the World" to be held in Martin Place, Sydney, as part of Animal Welfare Week. A Dingo was invited to represent the Australian breeds. 

Naturally, it was Julie who was selected to go. Margaret Fulton and Michael McKeag met us in Martin Place, and the following is their recount to our Committee of the occasion -
"We were proud to be in Martin Place with Julie, representing Australia. I wish you could all have been there. As the dogs assembled and the lunchtime crowds gathered, there was an air of excitement and anticipation.

"Michael and I found Berenice and Julie. Berenice was wearing her brand new sweatshirt showing Kimba standing at the alert. Curious passers-by were circling to read its inscription, "Dingo - An Original Australian". And there was Julie; beautiful, lovable, intelligent, friendly Julie.

"Berenice asked me to help parade Julie. I was delighted. We were the third to step out - the dogs were shown in alphabetical order by their country of origin.

"The Dingo - Dog of Australia" rang out the announcement. Up went a great loud cheer from the crowd. There was no doubt about how they felt about THEIR dog. Julie, like a true thoroughbred, walked with such dignity. She seemed to know she was showing her birthright, her right to be there in her land, representing her country.

"Julie, Berenice and I took our place at the edge of the ring as the others paraded. The unbelievably long, lean Borzoi from Russia, the giant St Bernard from Switzerland. A strange, long-haired swisher from Hungary swept in, rather like a black silk mop polishing the floor. A pampered, shampooed poodle from France - they are very intelligent, I am told. There were thirty dogs representing as many countries. They came in an amazing array of shapes and sizes. Their grooms making sure they looked their best, fixing a pink ribbon bow, a last minute brush, and tease of the hair. Oh, my! What a world separated them from Julie.

"As we sat watching the parade, Julie gently muzzled between an elderly couple who were surprised to find that the soothing nose belonged to a Dingo. But Julie's air of quiet confidence was catching, and they relaxed with a smug exchange of glances and a gentle pat for Julie who by this time had snuggled between them to share their rug.

"Berenice and I were intrigued with what we were seeing and hearing as each breed of dog was announced, and its country of origin. The reality of it swept over us. Here, among this wonderful parade of beautiful pampered, cared for, cherished dogs was one dog that was different, our dog, our Dingo, our Julie.

"Not only did Julie show herself as a pure dog - perhaps the purest of dogs (not too big, not too small), she was the one so right for Australia. BUT ... she was the ONE who could have been SHOT ON SIGHT. What a sobering thought.

"Julie and her breed have only known what it is to be trapped, hunted, poisoned. Denied a place to live, have a mate, raise a family; watch with pride their litter grow in their footsteps. A Dingo knows the chances are slim of its offspring living to become the noble, graceful, highly intelligent animal it is, taking its rightful place in its own land.
"Berenice and Julie had risen early to be in Martin Place for the Parade. Michael, Berenice's daughter, Christine and I went to a nearby out-door cafe with Julie for a cup of tea and sandwich. We got a hot sausage for Julie. The lunch time crowds and the waitresses accepted us as Julie settled under the table. We were all so contented, happy and proud. 
Thankful that we had Julie to show the people of Australia their very own dog."

Everyone who saw Julie that day will never forget ... and Julie, we miss you so much."
As Julie was so outgoing with strangers, we thought it would be beneficial for her pups to run with her beyond the normal five to six weeks, when pups generally learn so much from their parents, including to be wary of strangers.

We were wrong. Although Julie accepted people as her own, beneath that facade was the typical Dingo cautiousness, and she aggressively forced her pups back from the fence preventing them from accepting friendly advances. This has been very detrimental to both Minki and Kimba, as the distrust implanted in those formative weeks can never be erased.

Although Julie was a gentle mother, she was a strong disciplinarian and instinctively tried to instil in her pups the necessity of self-protection, teasing them, goading them on to fight back. She never could accept Minki's submissiveness and constantly harassed her, her sharp teeth making deep scratches into the delicate skin on the inside of her thighs. To protect her from further and more serious injury, Minki had to be removed from the group. Julie taught us a lot on family behaviour relating to both Dingoes and people.

Despite her early unhappiness, Julie adapted well to life here at MERIGAL, but we were always aware of a sadness in some elusive way. She made the best of circumstances as they were, and immensely enjoyed her turn to run in the house yard. When she thought we were heading in that direction, her step would quicken, head drop, and tail come up. If she was mistaken, she would show her disappointment only momentarily, and transfer her interest to wherever we were going. She was a real optimist and I imagine that is how she survived so well.

During Julie's six years at MERIGAL, she only strayed from "acceptable" behaviour once when she dug her way under a fence that had no footings, and into the fowl yard and killed three hens. It is unimaginably hard to capture a Dingo excited by a chase, even within the confines of a small yard. If the hens squatted, they were no longer prey and were of no interest. Those that flew in panic were the targets. On another occasion, she and her two half-grown pups "escaped". They had dug along a drain after heavy rain, but within ten minutes she and her pups were panting and calling at the back gate to be let in.

Julie never forgot Vicki who visited MERIGAL at least every three months with friends taking Julie for a BBQ down at the nearby Nepean Dam. As soon as Julie recognised Vicki she would scream in excitement and leap up the fence demanding to be with her. How she enjoyed the visit and the trip to the dam. When the time came for Vicki to go, Julie would howl and cry mournfully, looking longingly down the road where she had gone - not just for an hour or so, but for days. Irrespective of how much love we could lavish on Julie, Vicki was always her first love.

I look back on the years Julie shared with us with a great deal of happiness, thankful that she was given the opportunity to mix with people, to live closely with us; thankful to our Dingo walkers who have given so much happiness to Julie and her Dingo friends each weekend.

Julie passed away while still in her prime, at the height of her beauty; we will always remember her happy and smiling face, her generosity, compassion, and understanding - so much more a human than most humans can ever hope to be or become.
Does anyone remember this song from 1983? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2zYXKL2Zec

It is the censored version but if you don't want to watch the whole FF to 1:04. That lovely little dingo with the lady dressed as Ayres Rock and carrying a blanket is Merigal Dingo Julie. They received a very friendly greeting and Julie thought it was all for her and lapped up every minute of it.

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.