Copious spring rains signal the beginning of winter's demise. Winter grits her teeth as her icy heart, pierced on Spring's sunny lance, pours forth life-giving water. Defiantly, she clenches her chilly fist around the Sanctuary until, strength ebbing, she releases her grip at last. Well, that's my view of the process. Guess I'm feeling reflective. It sure was a cold November!
Nevertheless, the cold has finally gone and the excellent rain and warmth have turned the grass into a seething, green monster. Bottlebrushes, brachycomb and a variety of other plants and shrubs are all in flower.
Sadly, this winter, Jarrah crossed the Shining Threshold and his voice will be heard no more in the Sanctuary. The recent surgery bought him but ten weeks and he now rests with Luke, Yindi and Kimba in the one acre paddock. Nothing marks the passage of time like death, does it?
Although we've been flat out the last few months, there is no major construction work to report. I don't think it hurts to have a cooling-off period to reflect on directions.
We submitted to the Bradman Corporation for consideration a quote for a disabled person's bathroom. This would give us sorely-needed extra toilet and hot water facilities in the meeting hall.
A new Dingo enclosure planned for the area below where Echo and Oola are currently running will replace the small one to be obliterated when the treatment centre is built, allowing us to move the back gate to the Sanctuary so the one acre paddock can open into an enclosed area.
The treatment centre is still on the drawing board where it will remain for the time being until we can raise more funds for it. This is probably not a bad idea as I am still having new thoughts as to how it should be done.
Fixing dripping taps, adding drinkers, cleaning out the freezers, tidying the end room of the meeting hall and office in reception, and other such mundane chores, have been the order of day around the Sanctuary in recent weeks.
Both our mowers chose the beginning of growing season to break down and when it was obvious that they would be out of action for some time, George Parker kindly brought over his own mower to tidy things up a bit and reduce the snake hazard.
Wollondilly Community Garden Awards
We win again! Well, we got second place, anyway. To have received awards for three years running is a great achievement.
Elizabeth, Roma, George and others working in the gardens have brought us important recognition in the community through their efforts and this is to be commended. The new competition which knocked us from number one spot this year came from residents of a retirement village who reportedly do nothing other than gardening! Hmmm ... a potential source of gardening volunteers?
OK, here we go - assorted anecdotes about our Dingoes, and company.
Spring has brought with it a number of niggly problems. Mosquitoes are back in force, and so are itchy muzzles which have to have fly repellent applied regularly.
Amber is flagging an ear. Teena and Mandawuy have also had some minor ear problems which have cleared up with treatment. Lasca's ear trouble is more serious.
Everyone had been Frontlined. Everyone is dropping coat. So lots of untidy looking dogs who all need a bath!
So, who likes scooping patrol? It's not on my list of most exciting things to do, but a very necessary task in more ways than one! Other than the obvious benefits of cleanliness, one can pick up (pardon the pun) a lot about health on the daily rounds. Oh, and for the non-doggy, you can probably guess from the foregoing that what follows is not exactly mealtime chatter.
For over a year, Humpty -Two's contribution to our scooping efforts has been above average, with variable consistency adding to the challenge for volunteers. On occasions, a mop would have been more useful than a scoop! Koori has similar problems from time to time, too. Neither dog improves with worming.
I suspect Koori's problem is psychogenic. Being poorly socialised as a puppy, he is nervous around people, though much better than when we got him about five years ago. Other than the intermittent tummy upset, none of the other Dingoes seems to have regular difficulties.
Sometime during the last couple of years, however, there was an outbreak of diarrhoea among the Dingoes. It turned out the manufacturer of the well-known commercial dry dog food we were feeding had changed the formulation, so we reluctantly opted to change suppliers.
So, the Dingoes have had several changes of diet in the time since, and, as I recall, this is when Two-ey's trouble started. I felt he just had a sensitive tummy which was playing up with diet changes and maybe he had a problem digesting fat. He never appeared depressed or lethargic at any stage. I made a mental note to perform some pancreatic sufficiency tests.
Then, just a few months ago, it became evident Humpty-Two was seriously unwell. He began to lose weight rapidly. His coat looked dry and dead. Suddenly, he began to stumble into bushes and occasionally would walk into a wire gate.
The most obvious thing at this stage were the wide-open eyes and permanently pricked ears. Something was critically wrong!
Alarmed at his startling decline, I took him to colleague, Louise Ferris, for further examination She quickly confirmed Two-ey's loss of vision which was occurring as a result of cataract formation and pointed out these are often secondary to another disease process.
Yep, He's Got It ... :(
Louise decided to start with a simple blood glucose test, whereupon the cause became evident ...
Instead of a delicate, olive green and buff, the test strips turned dark green and a deep, malevolent red. Humpty -Two's blood glucose test, which should have returned a reading of 4 - 7 mmol/l, was 26.4 mmol/l. His problem? Raging diabetes mellitus.
When blood glucose begins to rise after a meal, for example, as sugars and complex carbohydrates are broken down, insulin, produced by special cells in the pancreas, tells the cells of the body to take up the glucose from the blood so they can use it as fuel.
Sometimes these special cells become exhausted and conk out, meaning glucose levels in the blood can continue to rise until glucose begins to appear in the urine.
To cut a long story short, loss of glucose results in a cascade of detrimental changes as metabolic processes collapse. Energy lost as glucose in the urine eventually must be supplied from body tissues such as fat and muscle. In essence, I guess, the animal is dissolving from the inside and washing away in its own urine.
Excess glucose enters the lens, too, where abnormal processes occur, converting it to insoluble substances resulting in cataracts.
Our only options were to treat, or euthanase.
So Humpty-Two is currently receiving 26 IU of insulin subcutaneously once daily. It took a bit to stabilise his blood glucose - too much and he could go into hypoglycaemic convulsions and coma, too little and the unhealthy processes of diabetes start up again. But I think we're there.
His coat is shiny, he has put on weight , and his demeanour has returned to normal. The dry dog food has been removed from his enclosure, and he and Wattle are on scheduled meals.
Thinking back, I can't imagine Humpty-Two was a diabetic for well over a year. I do wonder if the abnormal faeces indicate he had some form of pancreatitis over that time which may have progressed until insulin-secreting cells there were wiped out. Usually this is associated with a lot of pain and obvious illness and we did not see evidence of this. However, Two-ey does seem to have problems handling fat. We'll keep you informed of his progress.
Lasca's ears have been troubling her again. Add to that an itchy muzzle and a black and hairless tummy and one formerly very fine native dog looks moth-eaten, indeed.
The other day, I was trying to medicate her ears. The whole thing was degenerating into a rodeo and as Lasca's stress increased, so did mine. When this happens, I get cranky, so it was a good time to change tack.
Lasca's ears have never been so sore. It was clearly more than the usual, summer itchies and time for an outside opinion.
At the veterinary hospital, Lasca was her usual, calm self, in stark contrast to her behaviour when she is introduced to visitors at the gate of her enclosure. Go figure.
Of course, that changed when Louise attempted to insert an otoscope into an ear. So she gave Lasca a sedative and while that was taking effect, I headed off into Camden shopping centre to fill in a bit of time.
Finally, Lasca was ready for an ear swabbing, then an ear-cleaning. The swab was to see what bugs were growing in her ear and what would kill them
It must be a remnant of some ancient grooming urge passed down from tree-dwelling ancestors, but there is great satisfaction to be gained in turning pusy, waxy ears into shiny, pink leathery hollows. Lasca still complained, but must've felt a lot better after having them done.
The swab results were unsettling. Lasca's ears were like a sewer with a mix of opportunists and primary pathogens. We currently have her on a couple of drugs which will hopefully clear the problem up. But why is she so susceptible? She really seems to be becoming Ms Allergy.
Breeding Season Aftermath
Breeding season 1999 has been rather a disappointment. After the three bitches we bred failed to conceive, we had pinned our hopes on Nardoo, who managed a mating late in the season despite an earlier contraceptive injection.
I was elated when Elizabeth Smith tapped on the door to tell me that we had a li'l, furry visitor, but not for long. For some reason, Nardoo would not settle to rear the pup.
I examined the puppy carefully for any sign of deformity which may explain why Nardoo would not suckle it. There were none. Finally, I took the puppy away to attempt to rear it myself, however, she died before I could try to feed her. She is buried near Jarrah's tree in the Sanctuary gardens.
Thoughts on Diet
So, plenty of disappointments this year. Admittedly our residents are all aging. Lowered fertility and health problems are to be expected, but I find myself thinking about diet.
For the last few years, we have been free-feeding a commercial, dry dogfood, supplemented with raw, meaty bones. For the most part, everyone has done well on this régime, but it's not ideal.
Constantly available food encourages rodents, whose control requires continuous effort. Recently, we've had problems maintaining a supply of the dog food our residents are eating. Furthermore, just how much are individual dogs eating? With two in most enclosures, it is difficult to pick up changes in appetite.
Members have been so generous in donating raw food in the form of meat, meaty bones, chicken necks and the like, that one day recently I found that I could not fit it all in our three, large freezers. It was a bit silly continuing to feed out more dry food while stockpiling a mountain of raw food in the garage, so I've decided to increase the amount of raw food in the diet.
There've been some good reports on totally raw food diets, and one side effect I am hoping for is a boost in fertility (for the Dingoes ).
At this stage, I am not entirely sure how we are going to handle feeding the vegetable component. I'd say we'll need a commercial food processor and some connections in local supermarkets to source some of the aging vegetables. Add some liver, some flaxseed oil, brewer's yeast, pureé the lot, and freeze it into blocks. Apparently we could probably get away with feeding it once a week which would save labour (thanks Yassie). What do you think?
Meanwhile, keep those food donations coming. And a big thanks to:
Lawrie Winney, Jan Eymann, Margaret Fulton, Peg Balderson, Margo Press and John Mackie for all the food donations!!
New Kid On The Block
Humpty-Two has diabetes (which helps explain the disappointment with Wattle and lack of puppies this year). Snowdrift is getting on. And when visitors look at sire and dam on the plaques on the Dingo enclosures, they remark, "My, that Snowdrift has been a busy boy, hasn't he?"
Yes, we need a new, unrelated stud male. And now we have one, or will when 'Birra grows up.
Earlier this year, the National Trust surprised us pleasantly, reporting they'd approved a $2 000 donation and a puppy sponsorship. Yay!! They first made the offer in 1998 subject to further consideration. When we heard little for about twelve months, I resigned myself to the fact it must have fallen through.
Now, with the offer approved, we suddenly faced a scramble for a puppy. But we didn't want just any puppy - with concerns about hybridisation, we needed to have some confidence, if not certainty, we could verify ancestry.
Stock of doubtful ancestry (IMO) has been entering wildlife park breeding programs recently, so this wasn't as easy as you'd think. Finally, however, we were able to source a suitable puppy from Featherdale Wildlife Park.
The National Trust wanted a name which meant something along the lines of "custodian". The closest we could find, thanks to the office of our local MP, Peta Seaton was Wirrimbirra, which means "protector", in Wiradjiri. To avoid confusion with nearby Wirrimbirra Sanctuary our new puppy gets called 'Birra for short. Happily, this means "young man" in a local dialect
'Birra was born on 27 July 1999, and is growing fast. It seems he is going to be a rather dominant adult. And, typical puppy, he is mouthy!! Like some other dogs I've known, he likes to trawl, mouth open with a crocodile-like gape, for assorted items - usually human arms or legs. "Oh, look, your hand/leg/arm just happened to appear in my mouth. Mmmmm, tasty!!"
Nevertheless, 'Birra seems to want to fit in, and once he learns his limitations, I think he will be well-behaved.
Sadly, the group of Dingoes we sent to Taronga is still suffering internal conflict. This time, Jill, the bottom of the pack in the tropical group is being picked on for the third time and we have received several calls from Taronga in recent weeks to inform us she is back in the vet block recovering from the latest attack.
Clearly we can't let this continue, so we are taking her back. More on this, later.
In contrast to earlier years, the lead-up to DingoFest this year was pretty laid-back. I began to feel concerned. Were we promoting the day hard enough? Was it all going to flop?
The day drew closer. Someone pointed out, with dismay, that Picton Show had been scheduled for the same weekend. Were we worried about the clash? Well, not so much. Afterall, concurrent activities can bring visitors who would not come to an area for one event alone.
We were worried about rain! As everyone knows, it always rains for Picton Show!
Preparations continued. Barbeques Galore delivered us a brand new, four burner barbecue which I dutifully cured. Volunteers erected displays in the meeting hall. Under the direction of this year's DingoFest Co-ordinator, Luci Ellem, garden furniture was moved, shade umbrellas erected and rope barriers laid out.
Finally, the big day dawned greyly. A light drizzle was falling. The ground was damp from the night's precipitation. I sighed with resignation. But things began to get better.
By the time we were ready to open, the weather was decidedly on the mend. The rain stopped, but conditions remained calm and mild. What an improvement on last year's effort with its gusty westerly winds, heat and dust!!
Inevitably, the rest of the day was a bit of a blur. Margaret Fulton sat for photoes and signed books. As usual, NANA representatives were there with a variety of rescued native animals on display. Richard Bjork from Creatures On Call was also present with some animal TV stars. Luci Ellem officiated and Peta Seaton, our State MP gave a very nice speech.
The usual teams supplied the tucker - my parents, Ian and Marian Steward, and George Parker on the shiny, new barbie, and the Devonshire Tea crew in the meeting hall.
Mary Faulder looked after merchandise sales, Danielle Babb took photoes, Margo Press assisted with co-ordination and Karen Press collected entry donations. John Mackie also helped out on the day.
On the downside, member and sponsor, Paul Silato, who was looking after face-painting , had to leave when he received a 'phone call to say that his old dog had become ill yet again. Sadly this episode was serious enough that his dog had to be euthanased and on behalf of all of us here at the Sanctuary, I extend our condolences and kind thoughts.
National Trust Visit
Electing to give ourselves no let-up, we agreed to scheduling the National Trust visit for the Sunday following DingoFest. The weather for this one was set to be even more of a challenge.
Three days earlier, I had picked up visiting friend and Society member, Monica Shifflet from Kingsford-Smith airport. Assorted weather forecasts had promised her at least one day of decent weather, but predictions for the weekend looked gloomy.
Well, I think she got two good days before the ghost of Hurricane Floyd, which caused devastation on the east coast of United States recently, was resurrected in fury over the Sanctuary. It must have followed her on the 'plane.
On Sunday morning we put a tarpaulin over conjoined Enviroshades in the picnic area. Copious quantities of cold rain streamed from a grey sky. A flukey wind tugged at our efforts from a variety of angles. Then things got rough.
Trees suddenly bent at alarming angles as the wind picked up. The tarpaulin flapped and billowed as the Enviroshades strained against the pegs holding them into the ground. We both hung onto their frames desperately as they began to tilt and sway.
The fury of the wind increased. Rain raked the picnic area while wind-driven clumps of leaves whipped across the Sanctuary grounds. Water streamed down the slope and collected in swampy pools underfoot. I groaned inwardly, positive that the day would be a wash-out.
Mary Faulder arrived, decked out in rain gear, paused briefly for introductions, then sensibly holed-up in the meeting hall with a cup of coffee. After a while, as the wind began to subside a little, we were able to do so, as well.
There wasn't much more to do except wait to see who would be insane enough to brave the savage conditions. I went to the kitchen end of the meeting hall to make a cup of coffee.
As I peered out the window, a patch of blue caught my eye. The wind had settled and a line of blue was advancing from the north, followed by some ruffled, white, innocuous-looking cloud.
Finally, the sun emerged from behind the veil of black, just in time for our visitors. First to arrive was Barry O'Keefe, President and probably better known as former head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW.
I was busy moving dogs and covered with mud from head to foot when Danielle tried to make introductions and had to disappear for a moment to change. How embarrassing!
By the time everyone had arrived, the ground was drying out, the sun was shining and a gentle breeze was blowing. While the formalities were proceeding, my parents, Ian and Marian were cooking and the delicious smell of barbequed onions drifted across the picnic area. Formalities over, we were all able to settle down to a great meal with Chardonnay and Shiraz.
My, how the Dingo's image has changed, from hated pest to an important part of our native fauna. With the real threat that we could lose Dingoes in the wild through crossbreeding, I guess people are becoming more aware of the value of this important part of Australia's natural heritage. Let's hope we are not too late to do something about protecting it.
Regulation Review Committee
No rest for the wicked. The following Thursday, our organisation had been invited to send someone to a meeting of the Regulation Review Committee at Parliament House. The meeting was to look into a proposal by Barry Oakman that Dingoes again be regulated for a variety of reasons including that they are by nature unsuitable as pets.
With due respect, isn't this the same person who, only a few years ago, was cavorting around Parliament House with Democrat Senator, Richard Jones, and Dingo puppies, extolling the Dingo's virtues as a domestic pet?
The most exciting part about attending the meeting was getting there. To avoid parking hassles, I went to Mary Faulder's place after she kindly offered to drive me into Sydney. With all the changes for the Olympics making driving in Sydney quite a challenge, we ended up going to Parliament House via Government House and the Sydney Opera House, which made for an interesting and scenic drive!
Nevertheless, thanks to Mary, I was there in good time, with no parking hassles, and after being diverted through the inevitable metal detector, was in the House.
Mr Oakman made his submission, followed by submissions from a variety of interested parties representing agriculture, Crown land management, companion animal management and others.
My impressions are that most present really did not understand that the differences between Dingoes in the wild and dogs in domesticity have something to do with nature, but much more to do with nurture.
Our Organisation does not want to see Dingoes become popular pets, and always emphasises the Breed's tendency to be wary and less adaptable to change than other breeds. But with suitable socialisation from an early age, Dingoes can fit into a domestic situation. They share many behavioural characteristics with sighthound and spitz breeds already kept in captivity which would not have been regulated under the proposal. Where do you draw the line?
Sadly, the Committee focussed on the practicalities of identifying Dingoes, rather than whether there was any need to regulate them at all. And yes, identification would be a problem. Sure, we have a DNA test, but are we to hop over the fence of everyone who has a yellow, Kelpie-sized dog, and draw blood to check they are not illegally keeping a Dingo? And, of course, Dingoes come in a variety of colours anyway.
Finally, as I pointed out, quite a number of our Dingo rescues are coming from Queensland, where there are very strict laws on owning Dingoes. It seems that there, at least, special regulation is not the solution, it is more the problem!
There are existing resources in the community in the form of knowledgeable trainers, behaviourists and breeders. As they become experienced with the Dingo breed and people use them, I am sure the standard of Dingo care will improve. Dingo organisations can assist by locating these people, helping them become experienced and directing clients to them.
In the long run, Dingo organisations have to provide real benefits to members rather than depending on licensing to prop up memberships. It's late in the year, membership renewal time is coming up, and no one is more mindful of that presently than I am.
As the month progressed, the weather continued to get worse. On the Saturday following our submission to the Regulation Review Committee, the APDT had organised a visit to the Sanctuary. With black skies, buckets of rain and generally miserable conditions, I did not expect anyone!
So I was pleasantly surprised to have a small and intimate group to chat to, and enough of a break in the weather to show people around. After the tour, we talked and talked. I can't remember what it was all about, but it can't have been too boring, because everyone stayed until it got quite late, then we all stumbled up to the carpark in the dark.
With a number of interstate APDT members likely to pass only three minutes from the Sanctuary on their way to the Ian Dunbar seminars in February, I hope we will have some more visitors then.
Our Dingo sponsorship program continues to be a tremendous success thanks to a lot of generous supporters. It is an immense boost to morale to know that when health problems occur such as for Humpty-Two and Lasca, the range of reasonable treatment options is not squeezed through lack of funding.
Oh, and a big thankyou to all who remember their sponsorship anniversaries so well! More sponsorship news on the back page!
The genetic research is continuing, although my formal study is coming to an end. It's worthwhile looking back on what has been achieved in the last four years. The microsatellite work has been very successful, with a good number of useful loci (sites on the DNA) to work with.
As I said previously, microsatellites are junk DNA - short segments containing apparently meaningless, repeating base sequences spread throughout an organisms genome.
Because they do not code for anything, microsatellites both mutate rapidly and are highly variable. This is useful in looking at very closely related animals such as Dingoes and domestic dogs which are essentially only varieties of the same species.
We can pick up sequence variation through size differences which become obvious when we run microsatellites from different individuals on gels under an electric current and then use an agent to stain the bands of DNA, or cause them to fluoresce. Longer sequences move more slowly through the gel.
What we have been looking for are, preferably, loci where size differences in Dingoes are always different than those in dogs. We can also use loci where there are large differences in the frequencies of microsatellites in domestic dog and Dingo populations.
With only a proportion of the available microsatellites examined, we now have many promising loci and these have allowed us to draw some conclusions about Dingo populations.
Microsatellites seem to be useful in differentiating Dingoes from domestic dogs and it appears that we have the basis of a test for ancestry.
The variation in Dingo microsatellites seems to be much less than in dogs, and so Dingoes in Australia may well have been descended from a relatively small founder population. It would be interesting to compare this with the variation in South-East Asian Dingoes.
Other promising results have come from work with mitochondrial DNA. This DNA is found in special compartments in cells called mitochondria, rather than in the nucleus like genomic DNA. One region, called the D-loop, is very variable and can be used for comparing closely related groups of animals.
The mitochondrial DNA work seems to confirm suspicions that Australia's Dingoes may have been descended from a relatively small founder population. None of the work has at this stage indicated that there are detectable genetic differences between Dingoes from different localities, however I am now at the stage of looking at results and patterns may become evident with further study.
The latest news is that the National Parks and Wildlife Service is interested in developing a field test and hopefully there will be a research assistant working on that in the near future. This would mean that Dingo populations with minimal gene flow from domestic dogs could be identified in the wild without expensive capture procedures and a case could be made to preserve them from control efforts.
Memberships are due from 1 January 2000. Please consider paying NOW. By doing so, you ensure we have much needed funds to get started on projects next year. Furthermore, your membership gives us a real MORALE BOOST - I know it really helps me, working unpaid fulltime, when I see such tangible evidence of support!!
Finally, if you pay now, you WON'T FORGET. Each person who pays immediately saves us inconvenience and stress, and your organisation significant expense. Time and effort we don't have to spend sending reminders we can put into the Dingo cause, and our Dingoes!
But Wait - There's More! No GST!
OK, no free set of steak knives, but subscriptions are yet again only thirty dollars. What a bargain!! And there will be no GST.
Because we receive generous donations from a lot of our members (and all our workers are voluntary!), we are able to continue to operate without continually putting up subscriptions. This is good, because if we ever do have to collect a GST, donations are GST-exempt, so we can keep the potentially taxable part (subscription) minimal.
Finally, don't forget, donations are also TAX DEDUCTIBLE. Instead of the tax-man hitting you, you can hit him! Yeah!! It may hurt now, but it sure feels good at tax time when you can make those deductions!
OK, I'm done! Just a final THANKYOU to all our members and supporters this year. We're getting there bit by bit. Stay safe, stay well, and have a peaceful and happy holiday season!!