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What are the health and welfare issues for dogs in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities find it hard to get essential veterinary services. Many remote communities have access to a vet for only a few days every six months, and the local shop may not stock good dog wormers and flea treatments. Without veterinary desexing services, population control is a real and ongoing challenge, and many communities struggle with dog overpopulation.

Overcrowding means there’s less food to go round, diseases are shared more easily, and there’s more dog fights and dogs hit by cars. These are some of the reasons why skinny dogs, mangy dogs and untreated wounds are often seen. While diseased dogs may be the most visible, there are often many healthy dogs living out of sight in people’s homes or yards.

How does improving dog health improve community health?

The close relationship between dogs and people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities mean that dogs influence not only physical health but mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing too.

Dogs can impact human health through zoonoses (the transmission of diseases from animals to humans). In Australia there are almost 100 pathogens that can be shared between dogs and people, and for some remote Indigenous communities living in poor conditions, the likelihood of animal to human transmission is much greater.

Dogs are close companions and their suffering naturally distresses their owners. But the cultural and spiritual importance of dogs in some communities also means that sick dogs can bring a spiritual suffering for some people and shame to owners and their communities.

We work to improve animal health, knowing this improves community health too.

Why are dogs important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and spirituality?

The cultural and spiritual significance of dogs vary across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Some communities have dog / dingo totems, and many communities include dingoes in their Dreaming creation stories. Dreaming stories differ from culture to culture with many of the stories including sacred elements. Some people see dogs and dingoes as spiritually equivalent whereas others see them as distinctly different. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures dogs are seen as necessary protectors from both physical and spiritual threats, warding off evil spirits and death.

How does AMRRIC improve animal health in a culturally sensitive way?

At AMRRIC, we are committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and stakeholders in an inclusive, respectful and culturally sensitive way to achieve lasting improvements in animal and community health. Our programs involve consultation, two-way education and capacity building of remote communities. We are guided by the goals of our Reconciliation Action Plan.

How can I support AMRRIC?

You can support our work by donating or by community fundraising, check our Get involved page for more ideas!

How can I volunteer with AMRRIC?

To find out about volunteering with AMRRIC.

Does AMRRIC only work in the NT?

No, we have participated in dog health programs all over Australia. AMRRIC will work wherever it is funded to do so.

How can I access AMRRIC resources?

AMRRIC has many resources available at Our resources are free to use. 

What kinds of animals does AMRRIC work with?

AMRRIC works primarily with domesticated animals in remote Indigenous communities. To date, the biggest need has been around dogs, so many of our resources and projects have focused on dogs. However, other pets such as cats and horses, as well as livestock, and wildlife can also be important in some places. In future we aim to address their needs as well.

I have an injured / dangerous animal in my backyard / house – can AMRRIC help?

We can’t assist you with this but if you’re in the Darwin area, you can call:

Wildlife Rescue: 0409 090 840
Ark Animal Hospital: 08 8932 9738 or after hours callout 0407 391 543
Darwin City Council: 08 9300300

I have seen some dogs with terrible mange/injuries/too many puppies in a community – can AMRRIC do something about this please? Isn’t that your job?

AMRRIC works where we are invited to work and if funds exist for us to do so. If you’re concerned about specific cases of animal cruelty or neglect, please contact the Regional Council offices as responsibility for Animal Health and Welfare lies with them. You can also contact the NT government’s Animal Welfare Unit on 1300 720 386.

Do Aboriginal people really get extra benefit payments for owning dogs?

No, this is an urban myth (we have clarified this with Centrelink).

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Ph: 08 8948 1768
Fax: 08 8985 3454              

Mail address
P.O. Box 4829
Darwin NT 0801