Tuesday, 23 May 2017

So, You Want to Own a Dingo by Berenice Walters. Part 2

Many people today still think that owning a dingo is the same as owning any breed of domestic dog. This is just not the case and was a matter that concerned Berenice many years ago. This is the second part of an extract from her book “The Company of Dingoes: Two Decades with Our Native Dog” published in 1995 and based on her own experience over 20 years. 

Comments from experienced Dingo people are welcome.

Can Dingoes cross-breed with domestic dogs?

Dingoes can cross-breed with domestic dogs, especially when deprived of their own kind. In the wild, the dingo pair has a strong lifetime relationship if not interfered with by man or accident. The close social structure of the small group, or pair, protects the breed from mongrelisation. However, indiscriminate eradication programmes such as aerial baiting, poisoning, trapping, shooting, in wilderness areas, could deprive a dingo of its mate, and lead directly to cross-breeding, particularly in the case of a lone male. The death of a mature dingo could also lead directly to increased numbers through premature breeding by immature dingoes due to lack of parental control.

Domestic breeds of dogs have been bred for highly specialised work - for herding, hunting, heeling, protection, sledge pulling etc. for many centuries. In the dingo, we have a 'Jack of all trades, master of none (except perhaps, survival). Deliberate cross-breeding (or mongrelisation) of this superb natural, purest of pure breeds, cannot be justified, nor should it be tolerated.

When is the Dingo breeding season, and are they different to normal domestic breeds?

The Dingo has a single annual mating season that is restricted to the time of declining light, the Autumn/early Winter months when behaviour can become extreme. General restlessness at the onset of the breeding season usually starts late February, particularly if there is a cool change in the weather; quarrelling and scrapping can become a real problem, and some groups may have to be temporarily broken up. In the wild, the less dominant members of the group can keep away from the dominant members, but in captivity, an unnatural situation and frequently overcrowded and stressful; it is up to humans to protect the welfare of those who cannot protect themselves naturally.

The onset of the breeding season is particularly difficult with the young male dingo. Secure fencing, backed up with the discipline of such from puppyhood, is essential to prevent wandering. Desexed dingoes also react similarly at the approaching 'season' but are usually less assertive.

In the domestic environment, bitches must be protected during the breeding season as with other breeds. At the Merigal Dingo Sanctuary, where we have approximately 10 bitches, and a program of controlled breeding, we used to give the contraceptive Matenon, starting late February and through to July and had no adverse side effects. However, this has been taken off the market and we are currently using medroxyprogesterone acetate with care being taken when using it in older animals. For further information consult your veterinary surgeon.

The in-season bitch can stay attractive over a period of 6 to 8 weeks; the time of initial attraction can extend from the normal 10 to 12 days to 20 days and more. Frequently, the bitch will allow the male to mate with her once early in this period, possibly 10 to 14 days prior to the time of regular matings, as if nature was making sure of her male's attendance during the receptive period. There are also many reports of the Dingo bitch cycling twice within the breeding season, perhaps depending on the availability of a male.

Dingoes are very active during "process of mating”, and usually tie quickly after mounting, the period of the tie recorded at Merigal relatively short, 11-17 minutes. Matings early in the heat period are accompanied by excited calls and moans from the mating bitch, and screams and excited howling from the rest of the group; again, perhaps nature's way of protecting the mating pair at this vulnerable time with this ear-splitting barrage.
To be continued

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

SHEILA – Berenice’s Constant Companion

Photo by Fritz Prenzil

Sheila was a starving homeless stray in 1992. She had been taken to a vet to be euthanasia because she was a Dingo.  The vet was Jim Della-Vedova who was also the  President of the Merigal Dingo Sanctuary.

She was a very sick girl and severely affected by heartworm but Jim saw in her a beauty and gentleness. He contacted Berenice hoping she could take her in.

Berenice didn’t hesitate. What a sorry sight greeted her. The sad dingo was curled up in a tight ball with Jim's cat. Her only redeeming feature was her beautiful eyes.  She was also pregnant. Although her purity was doubted, she presented such a pathetic sight it was agreed to take her in.  Sheila received all the medical attention she needed.

At first, she was extremely wary and clung desperately to Berenice's side, day and night.

Surprisingly, she had been well trained and had impeccable manners.

Although still very weak, she obediently walked at heel, always waited at gates until told to come through; she sat, shook hands, stayed and dropped, came when called.  She slept on a trampoline near Berenice's bed.  Her manners were perfect.  She never jumped on furniture or Berenice's bed unless invited.  When Berenice had to go into hospital she insisted on sleeping in my her for comfort.

At mealtimes, she lay down with her back to the eaters and never begged for food.

During the night she would regularly check to make sure Berenice was there.  Berenice would hear her claws clicking on the tile floor, then feel breathing close to her face.  If she appeared asleep, Sheila would return to her bed; if she opened her eyes, Sheila slowly wagged her tail in greeting.  After a pat and a few words, she would go back to her bed.

As Sheila slowly recovered her strength, she accompanied Berenice everywhere. She loved to travel in the car, sitting up in the passenger seat as a human, staring disdainfully at the drivers of any vehicles they passed.  She would also raise her paw as they passed looking for all the world like the Queen.  Although she was still insecure away from home, providing she was beside Berenice she adapted well, but panicked if she cannot see her, even for a few moments.
One day she was fossicking in the driveway when he a member opened the gate to bring his car in. Sheila bolted through the open gate and in a flash was disappeared among the trees some 300 metres away.  Rushing to the gateway and standing in the clear, Berenice raised her arms and called "come" in a firm, but playful, manner, then got down on all fours as if to play.  Alerted, Sheila broke into a gallop heading straight back to the open gateway, and Berenice. In fact, she was going so fast she could not stop and shot straight past, then dashed straight back to her and sat.

Sheila proved to be a great ambassador for her breed - even if she is not pure.  When tourist buses arrive they would be asked if they would like to pat one of the dingoes.  Unsure, many would retreat slightly as Sheila came out of her yard. Then, followed by admiring 'ahs' as she sat in front of them and offered her paw.
Because Sheila needed constant attention when she first arrived she was never far from the safety of the house and became quite spoilt. Even if put in a run for a couple of hours, she would stare appealingly towards the house. If this didn’t work she would start a raucous barking. Of course, everyone felt guilty.

Sheila demonstrated her strong reasoning powers many times.  A 'doggy' door put in for the house dogs, Kalang, Jarrah and Sheila.  It was set so the dingoes could not get in, but could get out.  Sheila soon learned the trick of patiently bouncing the door till they could get a claw, then their nose in under the flap, and 'hey presto' she was in.  The first-time Sheila managed this she dashed in roaring her pleasure at having overcome yet another obstacle.

Sheila had so much love to give and she obviously came from a loving home where she has received dedicated treatment.  Something dreadful must have occurred - perhaps her owner died, she was stolen or became lost.  Whatever the reason she became almost neurotic in her fear of losing her home again.

Of an evening as soon as Berenice sat in her reclining chair, Sheila would sit in front of her, her beautiful face alert, eyes full of intelligence and love. She would gently lift her paw 'begging' to be invited to jump up on to the chair with Berenice where she would curl up in a ball like a large cat.  On several occasions, Sheila would be sitting alone in the garden when she’d suddenly lift her paw with a happy expression on her face.   We believe she was thinking of one of her loved ones.

When visitors arrived at Merigal, Sheila would race out to the front fence to welcome them with a mixture of barks, and howls then turn to let Berenice know there were visitors. The sound she used on these occasions could only be described as a roar; a vocalisation that is deafening and one which is described by Lord Medway as common in dogs of Asia.  Japanese visitors also describe a similar vocalising from their native breeds.
Sheila with her special friend Margaret Fulton

Sheila had been Berenice’s constant companion for over 11 years when she appeared to be having a small stroke, one eye changed and started to swell. Thanks to the television show, Animal Hospital, Sheila was taken to see an eye specialist.

During the interview, prior to seeing the specialist, Berenice became very emotional about the thought of losing her beloved Sheila. At the time, Berenice was suffering the later stages of motor neurone disease and it was Sheila who gave her quality of life.

The preliminary examination indicated she may have a tumour behind the eye, forcing the third eyelid up. It wasn’t a good prognosis. The television show arranged a special taxi that could take Berenice’s wheelchair so she could accompany Sheila for a biopsy. It was discovered to be an abscess and treated with antibiotics.

She was the most loving of dingoes and all she asked in return was to be loved. As part of the PR team, she became a veteran of television performances, having appeared on several shows including Totally Wild, Good Morning Australia, Derryn Hinch, Midday Show and Talk to the Animals.

She was very well-mannered and greeted visitors with a shake of the paw. When her special friends arrived, she always roared in pleasure and excitement and rushed in to tell Berenice.

 Shiela was Berenice’s last dingo companion.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

All in a Night's Work

L'il Jo

There was never a dull moment at the Merigal Dingo Sanctuary.

One February morning in the early 1980s Berenice was woken at 3am when the Dingoes started to scream with excitement, the sound bursting on the quiet of a brightly moonlit night.

There was a full moon, and stopping just long enough to slip on working boots, she rushed over to the kennels and yards.  

The noise roused no one else in her house but she mentally noted lights coming on at neighbouring properties on further down the road on. The noise was explosive - something was very wrong.

She ran through the main enclosure, desperately looking for the cause of the excitement. Peter Pan was screaming a challenge at something in L'il Jo's adjoining yard.

As she raced into L'il Jo’s yard, the excited dingo rushed up to her, then hurtled back down the end, with Berenice in hot pursuit. A young ginger cat, bristling and trying to protect himself on fronts, was 'holed up' near the fence.

Having no lead with her, Berenice had to lift and carry Jo out of her yard, as she was likely to attack the cat if she managed to pick it up.

Back to the cat.  It was trapped in the enclosure and with all the fences capped a terrified cat could inflict serious injury if picked up. Berenice looked around but there was nothing around to protect herself in trying to get the now panicking animal safely over the boundary fence. She gently touched the cat's back with a stick. It didn’t seem to alarm it. But, knowing it could suddenly panic again she needed something to protect herself from a potential clawing. She used the only thing available – her nightdress.

Quickly removing it, she draped it carefully over the cat, and with a quick movement scooped it up in the nightdress. Running down the fence line she threw the cat as gently as possible over the outside fence. He landed in long grass. The nightdress obligingly fluttered down on her side of the fence and her nakedness was quickly covered.

A few days later she related the story of the poor cat's predicament to Vice President Ailza Green. She roared with laughter. She reckoned if anyone had seen Berenice prancing around in the moonlight naked, holding a cat aloft, they would probably have thought she was indulging in some strange rite - not rescuing a cat from the Dingo yards.

By a strange coincidence, the cat belonged to Ailza. It was used to jumping in the yards with her collies who played with it.  What a shock he must have received on that nearly fateful night.