I’ve been writing about camp dogs in the Northern Territory for at least 10 years now and was most gratified to see them get a good mention by at least two MLAs during recent debates in the NT Legislative Assembly concerning the new Animal Protection Bill. The Bill has now been passed into law and it will greatly improve local animal welfare standards and protection—and will bring the NT up to scratch with similar legislation in other jurisdictions.

Here I take some excerpts from two of the contributions to debates on the Bill, the first from Minister for Education, Selena Uibo, the member for Arnhem and proud “mother of two camp dogs and a camp cat.” The second is from the member for Stuart—one of the largest electorates in the country—Scott McConnell.

I include some of my previous camp dog & related posts from over the past decade at the bottom of the page* for further reading. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments if you have any camp dog stories of your own.

And if you want to help and learn more about he camp dog cause, have a look at the great work AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities) does over at their homepage – they’ll gladly take your monetary or volunteer contributions.

Selena Uibo Member for Arnhem and Minister for Education and Workforce Training: I am happy to report that there are programs in place to teach children respect and responsibility for animals in remote communities. As Minister McCarthy spoke about, Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, or AMRRIC, runs educational programs in urban and remote schools—programs that complement each other.

AMRRIC partners with remote schools in particular to deliver education programs that teach students about dog and animal health, as well as engaging community liaison officers, parents, community members and animal management workers. AMRRIC is working hard to help communities understand the rights and wrongs of dog ownership as they believe the key to improving animal welfare lies in education. DEBATES – Tuesday 30 October 2018 31 I have met with AMRRIC twice in my role as the Member for Arnhem and have since learnt about the BAFTYD program, the Be a Friend to Your Dog program.

It reminded me, when I was teaching in Numbulwar, of some of the small and subtle lessons that I included in our everyday classroom routine. We had a food scrap box that I labelled ‘care for camp dogs’. Any food that was not eaten by the end of the day, and people were not taking home, scraps from the lunch menu, my secondary students were in a routine to put the food scraps into the bucket. At the end of the day, we would go to the back of the school and tip the scraps out. It allowed the camp dogs to have a feed, without wasting food.

I have unfortunately seen plenty of sad acts of cruelty to camp dogs. Two of the most horrific acts, in terms of camp dog health, was a camp dog that had been, I assume, cut up by a large sharp implement. The dog’s back had gaping wounds, a shocking sight. Knowing that there are no veterinary services every day, every week in a remote community, it is heartbreaking to see these offences occur. People have not been made responsible. This legislation is ensuring that we do have the mechanism to make people responsible, if they are committing acts of cruelty in the Territory.

The other horrific act that I learnt about was a camp dog that had been burnt by hot water, to chase it away from a house. Unfortunately, some of these images, you cannot wipe from your memory, but legislation like this provides the mechanisms for people to be held to account and to ensure that the community is supported, that these acts of cruelty are unacceptable in this day and age. AMRRIC and community education programs, which aim to achieve more sustainable dog management practices in conjunction with veterinary programs, are building awareness, understanding and the engagement of Aboriginal remote community members …

As an animal lover and, as I mentioned, the mother of two camp dogs, a camp cat and a domesticated cat I find it hard to comprehend how any person could be cruel, neglectful or mistreat animals in the Territory. Pets provide such unconditional love and trust, it is almost incomprehensible how any person could abuse that trust an animal provides.

Scott McConnell, Member for Stuart: There are some very good examples of animal welfare education already occurring in the electorate of Stuart. Often, they are community-driven initiatives which could always use more support. For example, at Yuendumu Artists they operate a dog health program. The also do similar work at Nyirripi.

They have received financial support and donations and sponsorships from galleries in Sydney and Melbourne. Gloria Morales, the assistant manager of the art centre is a key figure in this program. She has basically become the animal rescue person and every community needs to be involved in rescuing animals and caring for numerous animals, not just dogs but cats and goannas and all sorts of things.

The key purpose of this dog health program is to feed hungry dogs, manage ticks and care for sick or abandoned dogs. There is an important education component to this program. Staff often provide advice to community members on how to better care for their dogs. The art centre also has collaborative arrangement with the Central Desert Regional Council and GMAC, a community organisation that allocates mining royalties for community benefit.

They bring vets to the community to monitor the health and the number of dogs, birth control and de-sexing of dogs etcetera, on as many dogs as possible. This program has helped to reduce and control the number of dogs in communities like Yuendumu and Nyrripi and also improve the health of remaining dogs. The unwanted puppies are often removed and taken to the RSPCA in Alice Springs, (inaudible).

Other unwanted dogs have been re-homed across the country. Gloria has personally taken care of many dogs. It is quite famous that there are former camp dogs as they are colloquially referred to from Yuendumu that are now living on the leafy north shores in Sydney or living in some of the better suburbs in Melbourne and all over the country. The work that Gloria and her team does for Yuendumu and Nyrripi is quite amazing.

Gloria is not alone in her love for dogs. Dogs have played a role in many people’s lives in remote areas. Many of my constituents still have working or hunting dogs as well as companion animals.

When I was a kid every family at the community that I grew up in, Laramba, had a hunting dog. The most memorable hunting dog I can remember that belonged to a family I grew up with was called Lupo for some reason. Lupo was a very large bull mastiff looking dog that was white, except when as kids one time decided to dye him blue or purple with gentian violet … Maybe he was the Boundless Possible dog.

In fact, it would be quite unusual to visit a station or a community that does not have dogs. Whether the dogs are companion animals living in a modern built environment or not people need to take responsibility and care for the management of these animals for both the health of the animals and also the health of the people that live with them.

Warlpiri people often treat their dogs more like friends, like another adult. Dogs are often free roaming and allowed to make their own choice where they stay and who they stay with. There is a deep spiritual connection between people and dogs. Education about how to best keep dogs health and happy should be in close collaboration with the way that people already relate to their dogs.

We cannot come with a top down approach of trying to get people to manage dogs in the way that people from another culture would. We have to respect the culture that there is around dogs and manage within those frameworks. Another organisation that deserves some credit is AMRRIC, which is the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities.

This is an organisation doing great work throughout the NT and into South Australia to support Aboriginal communities to improve companion animal health and welfare. AMRRIC has been supported by numerous grants, donations and sponsorships, including the NT Government, INPEX and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. I agree with AMRRIC’s belief that the key to improving animal welfare lies with education and employment of local community members.

AMRRIC invests in this vision through providing both community education programs and school education programs. The community education programs focus on supporting the veterinary programs to achieve sustainable dog management practices within the community, and at the household level. This involves building the understanding and engagement of Indigenous community members in animal care and management. Where possible, AMRRIC has developed a resource in the local language and in a way that is culturally appropriate, so that greater understanding can be achieved.

AMRRIC’s Animal Management Worker program has made significant strides in community education. This is a program initially funded through the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) Grant Funding. In partnership with East Arnhem, Barkly and Roper Gulf Regional Councils, this program has trained and employed at least 48 local Indigenous workers from remote communities in the territory, as the primary liaison between the community, the veterinarian and the regional council staff.

The animal management worker role is a significant one in providing advice and information, as well as encouraging greater stakeholder participation and community input. It has been demonstrated that there is real value in having these positions for animal management workers embedded in the staffing structure of our great regional councils.

This program is important, I hope it can continue and spread into other communities. Regional councils have been proactive in this space and will reap rewards for having a safer community and healthy environment. AMRRIC also work with local schools to engage students in the idea that dog health is linked to animal health. To do this a number of educational resources have been created included: Be a Friend to Your Dog, Staying Safe around Animals and Caring for Dogs, Community and Country.


Further reading

Dog of the week – Sole – 28 September 2008

Dog of the week – Valiente – 5 October 2008

A Plague of Beautiful Dogs – 13 November 2008

Camp Dog of the week – Fluffy – 19 June 2009

(Cutest) Camp Dog of the Week – Mr Fluff – farting through silk on millionaires row! – 1 October 2009

Camp dog of the week – Miku Ganambarr-Stubbs – 19 October 2009

Interview with Jan Allen, AMRRIC Program manager – 23 December 2009

A tribute to my “plague of beautiful camp dogs” – 8 December 2009

“I will have the Police shoot your Dog” – animal management in the NT – 11 August 2011

Camp dog of the week – Bung-eyed Basil – 16 May 2012

Camp Dogs of the Week: AMRRIC’s Kalumburu Vet and Education Program needs your doggy donations – 14 April 2016

Dingoes and Dogs in Indigenous culture – 29 May 2014

Ben the Dingo’s excellent Christmas Holiday adventures – 18 December 2017