Thanks to a team effort and long-term vision, changes are afoot for animal and community health and wellbeing at Cherbourg.
Cherbourg is an Aboriginal community in southeast Queensland, on land that is the home of the Wakka Wakka people. For a number of years, community members and Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council (CASC) had recognised that dogs were a problem for the community. The community were troubled by the number and health of the dogs, packs of dogs were regularly harassing neighbouring farmers’ livestock, and community dogs’ impact on local biodiversity was also a concern given the large area of conservation land adjacent to the community. Many residents within the community owned dogs, however many dogs were unconfined and freely roamed the community and surrounding farmland and forestry. With large numbers of non-desexed dogs and limited restriction on their movement, uncontrolled breeding had resulted in the birth of many litters of unwanted puppies, and subsequent health and safety concerns resulting from dog overpopulation.
In rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, animal management is typically a responsibility of the local regional council. However, with no existing dog management plan, CASC were unsure of how best to humanely and sustainably address the community’s animal management concerns.
Following a request for assistance, since mid 2015, AMRRIC, has been working to assist CASC to address the community’s dog population issues. Recognising that a veterinary provider would be required to sustainably and humanely manage Cherbourg’s dog population, following consultation with CASC, AMRRIC invited the University of Queensland (UQ) School of Veterinary Science to join the collaborative project. The benefits of involving a university veterinary school as veterinary providers are many including:
Students gain a better appreciation of life in an Aboriginal community and are given the opportunity to communicate and develop relationships with Aboriginal community members;
UQ’s School of Veterinary Science gains access to large numbers of entire animals that need desexing, thus giving students the opportunity to be involved in a large-scale desexing program;
CASC receives a low-cost veterinary service;
CASC and animal owning community members are assured of a high-standard veterinary service where highly-qualified UQ veterinarians supervise (one-to-one) all aspects of student involvement, and;
UQ is able to demonstrate and publicise its commitment to community development and support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
With extensive collaboration, the stakeholder team (AMRRIC, Queensland Health and UQ) assisted CASC to identify the issues associated with companion animal management at Cherbourg, and then develop a documented plan aiming to address these issues over the coming years. Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council has recognised that addressing companion animal management challenges requires a long-term approach and laudably, have committed to contributing funding towards veterinary and education programs for the next five years.
The first integrated education and veterinary program was delivered by the stakeholder team at Cherbourg in October 2016. Funding for the 2016 project was provided by CASC and UQ, with in-kind contributions from AMRRIC, Queensland Health and UQ, as well as generous donations of product and consumables from veterinary pharmaceutical company Merial and veterinary wholesaler company CH2.
The program’s education component saw AMRRIC Education Officer Melissa Pepper working with CASC’s Environmental Health Worker and Animal Control Officers, as well as UQ staff and students, to demonstrate the delivery of school lessons around caring for dogs. Throughout the training, a total of 131 Cherbourg School students participated in reinforced learning experiences from AMRRIC’s Be A Friend To Your Dog school package, focused on animal needs, empathy for dogs’ feelings, safe personal behaviours around dogs and the relationship between dog and human health. An AMRRIC Education Resource Kit – provided to CASC for ongoing use thanks to funding from Four Paws Australia – was heavily utilised during the lessons. The training aided in building the knowledge, skills and confidence of CASC staff to deliver ongoing school lessons, which ultimately aim to bring about community-wide attitude and behaviour change, resulting in increased understanding of responsible pet ownership and owner responsibilities that contribute to the wellbeing of dogs.
The veterinary component, delivered by staff and students from the University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science, provided basic veterinary services to community members who had registered their dogs with the council. CASC environmental health and animal control staff liaised with community members and transported animals to and from the temporary veterinary clinic, and AMRRIC and Queensland Health staff provided additional coordination and logistical support. Throughout the program, 59 dogs (approximately 1/5th of the total population) were surgically desexed resulting in a significant reduction in the overall reproductive capacity of the population.
The 2016 Cherbourg Community Dog Management Program was a wonderful example of a successful collaboration that benefited from the wide-ranging experience and inputs from collaborators and supporters. Integrating the veterinary and education components of the program was extremely effective, as knowledge and momentum built through the education program resulted in a high level of engagement with the veterinary services on offer. While there is still considerable work to do at Cherbourg in relation to companion animal management, the support and long-term commitment demonstrated by all the stakeholders sets a strong foundation for further improvement.