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Dog Health Program Guidelines

General Considerations

Respecting the cultural traditions of each community and the right of the community to manage their animals and animal programs. Where observance of cultural law and traditions would result in contravention of conventional laws and regulations, extensive consultation and negotiation is essential

Acting with integrity to build respect and trust with community stakeholders and community engagement in the program

Holistic approach
Recognising the Indigenous cultural perspective that dogs are integral to the fabric of remote communities and Indigenous culture; and that the health and treatment of their dogs is intrinsically linked to the health and well-being of the community

In the short term there may well be an urgent need to address the immediate problems of animal health and welfare, population numbers, public nuisance and disease. However, this must be done in a manner consistent with achieving the long term aims detailed above

Program Development

Prior to program implementation, consulting extensively within the community to facilitate the development of a strategic animal health and management plan guided by community needs and circumstances, rather than imposing a pre-determined program.

Building awareness of animal health and management problems and ownership of the effective management of these issues within the community. Ideally an appropriate working group is developed within the community to help with ongoing planning and delivery of the program.

Recognising that sustainability is only possible with strong community support, engagement and ownership.

Purposefully building partnerships with all stakeholders e.g. local councils, public health bodies, community agencies, elders and traditional owners.

Developing a program evaluation method that is acceptable to community members and other stakeholders in accordance with the animal health and management plan.

Program Components

The underlying principles of each program will be the same, but individual programs will be responsive to their particular context. Utilising available resources to meet immediate needs and situations generally requires compromise, flexibility, creativity and negotiation.

No procedures such as euthanasia or surgery should be performed without the owner’s informed consent (unless complying with lawful directive from authorities such as police). If the parties involved are not fluent in English an interpreter is present in all negotiations.

The objective is to provide a culturally sensitive and appropriate program of high quality. As far as possible within the practical and logistical constraints of the individual situation, every attempt should be made to ensure that the medical and surgical interventions and the service delivery meet conventional veterinary standards.

Health program
It should be a comprehensive program including parasite treatments, medical and surgical population control, other general minor medical and surgical procedures on community animals, euthanasia and pet care education and information. There should not be mass euthanasia without concurrent efforts to control reproduction, either by surgical (e.g. desexing) or medical (e.g. hormonal) means.

Community involvement
Active community participation in carrying out the program for employment, empowerment and capacity building. Dog health programs provide a way to proactively support and encourage community employment opportunities. Indigenous community members provide essential assistance with communications and animal handling, and can be trained to assist veterinarians and deliver treatments between veterinary visits. They are integral members of the team. Involvement in the program helps to build the knowledge and resource base necessary to ultimately enable communities to conduct their own dog health programs.

Data collection
This includes both the collection of data such as numbers of animals, houses, desexings, litters born, euthanasias, body condition and mange score, and provision of statistical information to AMRRIC to enable the development of a national database to track and inform Indigenous animal management activities. Analysis of data will enable the identification of success factors, quantification of the effectiveness of various strategies, and facilitation of the benchmarking of animal management practices.

There should be a continuous process of monitoring and assessment of the outcomes of the program. Working with the nominated reference group within the community, the results achieved (as recorded in the data collected) can be evaluated in reference to the previously agreed criteria. This ongoing collaboration and analysis of outcomes guides planning and service delivery and is central to the long term success of the program.

Maintenance of the program and key personnel is a vital consideration. Significant improvements in terms of external and internal parasitism, body condition and animal welfare can be achieved within a short time frame. However, given the extent of environmental contamination, if the program ceases then the condition of the animals will rapidly revert to their original state. Sustainability is only possible with strong community support and ownership. The aspirational aim is for the program to function continuously with decreasing reliance on external resources. This can only be achieved through the support and training of community members to confidently maintain elements of the dog program in between veterinary visits.

Community education
This is an essential component of the program in the long term as a means of changing attitudes and modifying behaviours in relation to issues such as animal welfare, preventative health measures, population numbers, animal behaviour and responsible animal ownership.

Communities should pay a reasonable fee for the program, and contribute in kind support such as Indigenous translators/dog wranglers/veterinary assistants, transport and accommodation. In the spirit of an open market place and to ensure sustainability, all veterinary services should be paid for at an acceptable commercial rate rather than given as charity. This ensures ongoing availability of veterinary professionals and helps to build community awareness and understanding of the economic realities of resourcing and delivering dog health programs, developments that are essential if communities are to ultimately deliver their own programs.

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Darwin NT 0801