I first thought about running a dog health program when my cousin on Mornington Island talked about how bad the dog problem was, I thought I might be able to go up there and help but after a few phone calls I realised that it was more complicated than just going. For the last 3 years I have been working towards running a dog health program on a community. It was suggested that I get in touch with Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities. I went to the Darwin AVA conference to learn more about the concepts of Dog Health Programs and to meet Jan Allen AMRRIC Program Manager and Julia Hardaker CEO. From there I went to Maningrida as a volunteer with Ted Donelan and the following year I organised a weekend workshop in Canberra on cultural awareness. After this it was a case of waiting for the right opportunity. Urapuntja Health contacted Jan and asked for help with the dogs in Utopia and Jan identified this as an opportunity for me and my crew from Canberra. The first trip was run by Jude Mulholland in August 2011 and Michael Archinal and I went as volunteers to see if this project was something we would like to get involved in. After this trip we adopted the project and ran it for the first time in March 2012.
The best things about our work in Utopia is experiencing working within an indigenous community, seeing immediate improvements and having the opportunity to contribute to animal and human welfare. The amount of support that we have received from individuals, industry and colleagues has also been amazing and inspiring.
The remoteness of Utopia provides some challenges as far as getting equipment there and the fact that it takes us a full day to get there and back. The fact that Utopia is made up of many outstations also provides many challenges as we have to travel a lot to pick up animals and return them after desexing. We set up a central clinic and work from there.
My partner in the project is Michael Archinal who is one of my business partners in Canberra. We plan to share the trips and responsibilities for planning each trip. Other than us, the teams will vary from trip to trip. We include both nurses and vets from our veterinary hospitals as well as taking a few independent volunteers from our region.
Utopia has had 2 visits so far with a third planned for September this year. Already we can see an improvement in the general body condition of the dogs and the general scabies score is much lower. The nurses have also reported that they feel less threatened by the dogs when they enter each of the outstations.