Report of the 6th National Conference

AMRIC/IFAW launch of the on-line resource manual “Conducting Dog Health Programs in Indigenous Communities: A Veterinary Guide”

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Dr Jennie Churchill

“I would like to first acknowledge the traditional owners, the Irukandjii, on whose land we are meeting today. Some of you already know of AMRRIC, which is Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities. I hope that by the end of the conference not only will you know more about us but you will have joined our small organisation. AMRRIC is, I think we can honestly say, the only independent organisation that is dedicated to sustainable animal management programs in Indigenous communities. However, it has some bigger visions as well. It supports research in both areas of animal and public health, and in fact is already a partner in a very significant ARC linkage branch program in these areas. We also have as our third objective, developing and implementing education training programs both for vets who are working in Indigenous communities, as well as for people in the communities who we hope will be able to carry on work, because sustainability is the most important thing to make them work.

Today we are really delighted to have the opportunity to launch an incredibly unique resource, the online manual that Shane mentioned, and it has been written by Dr Samantha Phelan who is a Darwin-based vet, with tremendous hands on experience running public health programs across the Northern Territory. It is especially important to us, and we are very grateful to the organisers that we can be here to launch it to such a relevant and important audience. I want to thank Xavier for the very special words he said about Phil Donohoe. Today is also another special opportunity because we can dedicate the manual to the memory of Phil and to the extraordinary passion and commitment that he had for AMRRIC’s work. It is true that only the good die young and those of you who know him (I didn’t know him personally, but I knew of him and have since certainly found out what a very special person he was). I want to thank IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare. AMRRIC, like all small organisations, is not for profit and we always need funding. IFAW stepped into the breach and very generously funded the writing and production of this online manual. We are very grateful to them for that support. It was really critical, and we are very happy to have them as partners in this project.

AMRRIC received its first ever funding in 2004 from Senator Amanda Vanstone, and our next speaker is the Federal Minister for Community Services, Senator Nigel Scullion, who many of you know. I believe Senator Scullion has been instrumental in maintaining the support through the Federal Department for Family and Community Indigenous Services for AMRRIC. We are small. We have a lot to do. We are just developing. However, we have tremendous potential for doing great work in Indigenous communities, and we are very grateful to Senator Scullion for his ongoing support and commitment. He understands the need, he really does, and we are very grateful. It is there with great pleasure that I invite the Minister to come to the stage”.

Senator Nigel Scullion, The Federal Minister for Community Services

“Thank you, Jennie. I would like to add my acknowledgements to the traditional owners of country and acknowledge everybody who is here. A conference of this nature is really valuable, especially in the networking, and the way you share information is an essential element in ensuring we bridge that gap between mainstream Australia and Indigenous Australia that Tom was referring to. Tom will know that I am a very conservative individual and I will be very restrained in my response to some of his remarks today. Tom and I are actually good mates outside of parliament. We are often found hotly engaging in the middle of the road stopping traffic on one issue or another, but it is the nature of that relationship that we get so much out of it. The guide that we are launching today deals very much with the relationships about communities, and that is a very important element.
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I honestly got involved in this particular issue well before I came to parliament. In fact, for those who don’t know, I was a commercial fisherman before I came to parliament, and Phil Donohoe and myself were sitting in a dinghy. It certainly wasn’t on the water. I am just trying remembering exactly where it was, but it was in a dinghy on a trailer. I think it was at Coconut Grove, and we had sent the kids off (they were a lot smaller at that stage) to go and get another bottle of red wine. We were pontificating on a whole range of issues. Phil was a very wide- read individual, and he was particularly passionate about the very close connection between violence and people who had been in jail who had been interviewed in the State. I don’t know where he got it all from, but he was telling me about this very close connection between casual violence against individual family members, being associated with an upbringing that had casual violence against your pets. We were sitting in this dinghy and Phil was going on about this stuff and about what we have got to do. Anyway, it wasn’t until 2004 when I had come to parliament and as Jennie said we were able to assist in the formation of AMRRIC, which has done so much fantastic work in dealing with that close connection.

Those people who have been in the business of environmental health feel very frustrated with those who don’t – people who just visit occasionally and don’t really understand, appreciate or do anything about making changes. I lived in Arnhem Land for some 20 years before I came here to this place. A lot of people visit. The seagulls, which come in and go at the same time. Often one of the things that shocks them is the state of the health of the animals. In some places they’d say ‘look at that dog, it’s got no hair’. It’s all horrific. Of course, the last thing they try to get in their heads is that it’s not ‘just ring the vet up and drop him off on the way to school’. For me it’s all very frustrating. Why is the first thing they thought of the state of the dog? Why isn’t it immediately apparent at the lack of services and lack of capacity in these places? If we had no veterinary schools or services in Brisbane, the dogs would look pretty sad in Brisbane. Therefore, it is really important that we continue to amplify to those who are not in the business and don’t spend a lot of time in communities, about the realities of those places. That’s one of the issues that this guide certainly does.

Before I talk a little bit more about AMRRIC’s work, I would like to acknowledge the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). I think there are great achievements in forming a partnership, and I am just delighted to see the International Fund for Animal Welfare involvement. I believe this is the first step in the journey of developing capacity and tools to ensure that Indigenous communities can further help themselves, and the animals within their community.

A lot of people outside the business really don’t understand the nature of the relationship (particularly in remote Indigenous communities) between the dogs and some other animals - but particularly the dogs and the people in those communities. These are very much members of the family, and for those people who own dogs (and I am a dog owner myself), they are very much a part of the family. They are not part of the family in the community in exactly the same way that we see them. They are just an essential part of everyday life and for some people - and particularly older women in communities, particularly in Central Australia - Cairns doesn’t often have three dog nights, but we certainly do in Central Australia. Therefore, it is not only companionship, it’s the warmth that those dogs give you at night. It’s the protection that is sadly but sometimes needed, and the confidence they have in those animals. Often I have been sitting next to a lady in an Indigenous community, who might have a couple of dogs. They say that all they really want is their painting, their dogs, and a cup of tea. Their needs appear to be very low, but the health of their dogs is of great stress to them. They talk to me about whether their dogs are a bit sick when I ask how they are going. That’s the first thing they tell me – it’s always if their dogs are a bit crook and they are a bit worried about their dog. In this sense it is an integral part of the community, and their closeness to the dogs and the stress that they feel for the animals connects the animal health with the health of the individual, which in turn affects obviously the health of the community.

I believe that for the first time we have now approached this issue with the frankness that it needs, and the practicality that it deserves. I think that this is one of the principles this actual manual provides. Sam, this is a fantastic contribution, but the only thing I noticed is that you got wrong is that on the front here it says it is a veterinary guide. I have to say that whilst it does deal very much in the context of communities and with dogs, I think this is more about the real things in communities – it is really about people. This guide is a fundamental guide about how to do business in Indigenous communities. Tom Calma talked a little earlier about how we communicate – the fundamental right of actually understanding what you are agreeing with, the fundamental rights of having ownership in what is happening in the community. For those of you who haven’t read this, you must.
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This is compulsory reading because it is about doing business in Indigenous communities. It is about empowerment and understanding, and it is leaving a legacy of an increased capacity to do things for themselves. I very much commend that actual aspect of the guide. Whilst this is a first step, we are at a point where we have now recognised now that there is no capacity in communities for such an essential element of community health. I hope - and I have spoken to many others in AMRRIC such as Jennie and Phil about the sort of place we need to end up – an end point where we have so much work to do in communities, so many capable individuals, and yet so many people who are unemployed. This is another area where we must put opportunity with capacity, and I can certainly see through AMRRIC that we can have people in each community where there is a need. There is a need in every community in Australia for people to be responsible - to get up every day and be responsible. We are lifting the capacity for people to understand about the health of their animals and to also be able to physically deal with and provide a veterinary service on the ground. I would see in the next couple of years that we will be in a position where there will be Indigenous AMRRIC officers in communities who are able to provide most of the services that this manual provides us with.

This is the first step, and an essential first step. However, there are other elements in terms of the technical aspects. Again, Phil used to always remind me that there is no unique solution to any Indigenous community as if there was, they would all look the same and they don’t. We need to ensure that in the framework provided in this veterinary guide, we recognise the differences and demographics of all the Indigenous communities. As long as we apply the abiding principles that Tom spoke so passionately about and the principal thread of Samantha’s guide, I believe that we will do very well, and we will be able to make a fundamental change. It is very frustrating, not being around non-Indigenous affairs but living around Indigenous communities for so long. The pace of change is frustratingly slow. However, I think the nature of capacity- building that’s a common thread and a single element of not only the document, but also the way AMRRIC is working, is really the way of the future, because it will have an enduring legacy. It won’t be ‘touch and go’ - wherever AMRRIC is, I think the relationships are the basis on which the operations rely - those relationships are enduring relationships. If you move around Arnhem Land you will see that - whether it is Steve Cutter or Phil or Sam’s work - that everybody actually understands what they are there for.

I met a retired police officer by accident in Melbourne the other day. He told me about when he was in an Indigenous community in the Northern Territory and how he fixed the dog - he shot 20 dogs, fixed the problem and
it was all better. I didn’t remind him of it as he was an old bloke and he was having a good day so I let him go, but the enduring legacy that is left from those sorts of activities in the communities is an enduring legacy of mistrust. Therefore, I think it is incumbent on all of us to remember in the seemingly continual steps of experimentation in Indigenous communities, no matter what we do we have to start getting the fundamentals right, and that’s about ownership and trust and all these things. I am just delighted to see the veterinary guide that I am so proud to launch today is a fundamental element of that. In closing, thank you all again for participating in this conference – your work in EH is an absolute fundamental about bridging the gap between mainstream Australia and Indigenous Australia. These are probably the most important fundamentals of health and wellbeing. It’s very hard to be a rocket scientist or go to school or build or develop if your fundamental wellbeing is altered. So thank you everybody who’s been involved with this, particularly thanks to Sam Phelan. It’s a bit of a beacon in terms of the process. This is not about a veterinary guide, but about how to do business in communities, how to communicate with communities, how to get ownership in communities, and how to leave an enduring legacy of change that is very much accepted in those communities. So with that it is my very great delight to officially launch Conducting Dog Health Programs in Indigenous Communities: A Veterinary and Community Guide”.

Michael McIntyre, Australian Director, IFAW

“I, too, would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this country, Minister, colleagues and Jennie from AMRRIC. It is my pleasure to be here as part of this very important launch of this manual. IFAW is an international organisation based in 15 different countries around the world including here in Australia, and we work towards making the world a better place for animals and people - whether that be wild populations of elephants in Africa or companion animals such as dogs and cats. That is why IFAW is so proud to be part of this resource manual. It is written in our mission statement at IFAW that we will promote policies that advance the wellbeing of both animals and people - both are very different from a lot of other conservation groups, because it is very much in our mission that we want to promote the advancement of both animals and people. So they are fundamentally linked in our eyes. We have a track record working across the world on different issues, working with companion animals. Whether it is in our dog program in Johannesburg, South Africa, or in some of the poorest communities of the world in Soweto where we have a program working with the communities on dog health issues, whether it be in China where we have a program in Beijing which is connected to laws of Chinese, or whether it be a mobile vet clinic that we run in Bali – I want to point out that the common theme of all these programs we run around the world in helping with dog health issues is the same - people care about their dogs and cats.
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I was listening particularly to the comments of Minister Scullion, when he said (and I support those comments) that if we saw mangy dogs around the cities of Australia we would question what services are available. These are our findings, as well as in these communities around the world. It is often about the lack of resources, but it is also about the extraordinary successes we have had in the basic understanding of what care is needed. Therefore, it was a perfect fit for us to look at how we can help Indigenous communities in Australia. We knew that there were a number of vets who wanted to do work on these issues in Indigenous communities, but there was such a lack of information of what to do in communities. We were very lucky to find people setting up AMRRIC – in particular Phil Donohoe, and others. We found AMRRIC in its infancy, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to join with AMRRIC to look at ways we could help with this.

Therefore, this has been very much a cooperative effort between us and AMRRIC, and something of which we are very proud. I am very heartened to hear the words from the Minister today for AMRRIC to go to the next step, because this is a fantastic resource and a fantastic guide, but obviously the next step is the implementation of the information in that guide and the resources needed to do that. The other thing that needs to be pointed out is that this is a ‘world first’. I remember Margarite from IFAW telling me this morning that when she was working with Sam (who you are going to hear from after me), they were doing something so new when writing the manual - nothing like this exists anywhere in the world. From an IFAW perspective, we are certainly going to be using this in our other programs around the world. It is unique, and a world- first. There are plenty of people I would like to recognise for the work on this manual, particularly Phil Donohoe and his passion for making a difference in this area, to the Federal government for allowing the process to happen through AMRRIC, and my staff, in particular Margarite Young, who has put in lot of effort, and was there at the beginning, and Dr Phelan. We hope that more vets will be able to work on this issue and be able to use this resource. We do want to see resources put into taking this to the next level, and thank you everyone at AMRRIC for the opportunity to be here to be part of this very exciting launch”.

Samantha Phelan, author of AMRRIC/IFAW launch of the on-line resource manual ‘Conducting Dog Health Programs in Indigenous Communities: A Veterinary Guide’

“Thank you. I would like to acknowledge the Irukandjii People of this country and thank them for allowing me to stand here today. As you heard, I am a vet and I used to work in the Katherine region. I supplied services for about five years to large areas across to Borroloola. Not all of the work I did was perfect, and I went into it in a relatively na´ve form. However, things progressed, and I improved my practice and my methods of communication. I provided sustainable dogs programs to some very large communities in that area, and did so without the violence of culls. I think the take-home message today is that we don’t need to cull dogs to advance dog health. In fact, if you are culling dogs to improve EH, you are not winning – and you won’t win in the long term as it is the perpetuation of violence that has been around this country for the last 200 years. The link between human and animal violence - in some cases it is actually the vets perpetuating the violence - and we need to be very mindful of that when we look at service delivery.

Lajumanu, for example, was one of the places I went to first. This was part of a veterinary team combined with a health team that had gone in and thrown meat off the back of a back of a truck (and we are talking 1993).
They shot every dog that came in to get meat, in public view. I know that this also happened in Borroloola the year before last, so the idea that this is a long time ago isn’t the truth, and we need to address that from this point forward. AMRRIC is certainly a vehicle to do that. The problem with that style of program and without planning (Tom, thank you for your comments in terms of planning) is that you can create a really wonderful capacity-led capacity-building program by establishing from the outset a decent planning mechanism, using the community. People know what they want – it’s just a matter of tapping into what they want and a veterinary service provider can help them get what they want. You cannot have a dog problem as a result of that. If you just take out numbers of dogs because they are a problem, what you end up with is just more sick dogs. You are not addressing the health issues of the dogs. You also end up with a lot of puppies, and puppies are the ones from an EH perspective that are shedding worms all the time. Therefore, until they die they are shedding gross numbers of worms into the environment – and that’s where your true EH problems lie - with the pups. If you are always just peeling off the top layer and leaving the cute ones, you are continually contaminating your environment.

Therefore, the way I went about it was mostly with a surgical desexing program (though not always), which leaves a middle- aged dog population, which are usually hairy, happy and friendly - not always friendly, but that can be overcome once you have community participation. I agree with Senator Scullion that the Veterinary Guide was probably a bit of a misnomer. It was called that because in AMRRIC’s vision we will also be developing an EHW guide. From a perspective of how it can be utilised in a community at this point, certainly it has a section on how to plan a dog program, how to engage a community, who should be there and how to sit down and talk this stuff through to get everybody singing from the same hymn page. So from a CEO Council perspective, that’s a very valuable area to come from. For EHWs there is also a section on zoonosis, on population control options, and on drug protocols. A lot of the drugs can be bought from Elders and from stock and station agents, and are not scheduled drugs in the NT. There is different legislation in Queensland but in the NT you have to operate with a vet. However, with adequate training EHWs are quite able to use these drugs safely. So from an EH perspective it is actually a really good resource on what truly are zoonotic diseases that can move from people to animals and vice versa. What are these zoonotic diseases, because there are a lot of myths around them and I think that is probably largely what leads the ‘cull mentality’. In some cases there is a lot of misinformation about what those zoonotic diseases are. Yes, they are there and they do exist, but there are effective ways to manage them without killing dogs. So I hope you all become members and enjoy the anual. Thank you”.

For further information

Julia Hardaker
Executive Officer AMRRIC

Phone (08) 8941 8813 Mobile: 0428485436

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