The origins of Aussie Desert Dogs
Gloria Morales, a conservator from the National Gallery of Australia, moved to Yuendumu in 2003 to assist in the running of Warlukulangu Artists. Disturbed by the number of hungry and sick dogs in town, Gloria soon decided something had to be done to improve their condition and well-being. Dogs are historically very important to the Indigenous people and their culture, dating back to when they lived with the Dingo. However, the Dingo mates for life and each pack has only one dominant female who produces one litter per year, making this relationship much more sustainable and manageable. The white man introduced the domestic dogs which breeds prolifically, so in remote communities most homes would soon have an increase of 20-30 dogs, none of which had come from a pet shop or breeder.
Initially Gloria enlisted the help of Dr Honey Nelson who understood that establishing trust from the people was essential. In the past someone would be sent to these communities to shoot as many dogs as they could, leading to distrust and rejection of outside help. There were too many dogs for one vet to start surgically de-sexing so Gloria and Honey began by using birth control implants. Gradually the people said they could not keep all the dogs and agreed to some euthanasia's. This sad but necessary intervention to was conducted so humanely that the dogs would be eating and not notice the sedating injection given.
In addition to this, Gloria would make countless trips to the RSPCA in Alice Springs 350km away, transporting 133 puppies in one 6 month period. Eventually the team from AMRRIC was introduced who began surgical de-sexing. They are lead by the very experienced and also culturally aware Dr Stephen Cutter, and assisted by many volunteer vets and vet nurses. Gloria also raised funds to subsides the cost of dog food in the community and provide regular parasite treatment.
The other side of this program was to "aid family health, comfort, safety and social standards". In 2007 the "Desert Dog" adoption program began. A volunteer noted how appealing the dogs were and that there were many people in the cities wanting a puppy. Due to greater awareness of puppy farms and back yard breeders people were looking for rescue puppies. Thanks to a donation from the family of a volunteer the puppy kennels were built. Gloria uses these not only for puppies but sick dogs, and other animals which have included cats, foals and calves. She also cares for Joeys, birds and reptiles. Gloria estimates approximately 500 puppies and dogs have been re-homed outside of the community.
This is an un-sung Indigenous success story. The people now ask when the vets are coming to de-sex, seek parasite treatment for their dogs and constantly ask Gloria for medical help if their dogs are sick or injured. Unlike in the cities where our pounds and rescue groups are constantly over flowing, the indigenous people are adopting dogs from within the community. Cecilia Alfonso manager of the Warlukulangu Artists consistently supported Gloria's program by providing financial support. One of a variety of projects supported by the Art Centre. There have been many people who have helped Gloria but a particular mention must be to Roz Elliot and her family who re homed countless puppies often taking 7 at a time.