The neighbourhood I currently drive in for the interviewer job is down a long no-through road that branches into a network of curvy, secluded no-through roads on the edge of bushland. The suburb is semi-rural with paddocks with grazing horses, cattle and sheep as well as stretches with bush and forest, and no street lights after a certain point. Evenings are dark and quiet apart from the sounds of birds and insects in the forest alongside the road, and the air smells dry and fore-sty.
Image from Australian Bush-apes
When I drive out there after dark I actually keep my car doors locked*. I have a strong LED torch handy and have finally unpacked the pocket alarm I got from my employer to carry it with the work equipment. What do a female Scandinavian like me know about Australian stranger danger… The bush is a deep unknown space where people can disappear without a trace**.
The houses sit on large blocks of land behind long driveways and large rugged front lawns; often fully fenced. It doesn’t look like a rich suburb despite the large properties; many houses look old and wooden with DIY extensions, and some have caravans and rusty cars huddling around them.
Here are my assumptions about people who have chosen to settle in this type of neighbourhood:
- They like nature and serenity
- They prefer to be left alone by people
- They have big guard dogs to protect against intruders
Guard dogs is the real potential danger; a highly unpredictable variable. Here are my strategies for minimising dog risks:
Dog Danger Avoidance Strategies
From the perspective of a resident dog, everything is wrong with the presence and behaviour of me entering its territory. Trespassing, snooping around, being a stranger, even nervous (although I try to hide it)… It is its job to keep me out.
For that reason, I’m armed with dog treats when I enter an unknown property (hoping that all dogs take bribes). Before I enter the gate of a fenced property, I whistle and call to lure potential dogs out in the open, and if I see any, talk to them with my most friendly, light-pitched, gentle voice. I continue to whistle and call calmly as I walk up the driveway to show potentials dogs that I am unworried and not trying to sneak up on anyone.
So far it works, but I haven’t yet had to enter a property with rottweilers or one of the humongous sized Neapoletan Mastiff-type dogs I have seen.
Stray dog dramas
On the first few days driving in the area a different type of dog drama came up:
On the second day a couple of stray dobermann crosses appeared from the bush and followed my car. I was driving slowly, looking for addresses with open windows, music in the radio and dog treats in the driver’s door. They disappeared into the bush again after a while.
The next day, when I stopped the car to write an address in Google Maps, a Staffy X-like little dog came over. It had severe Mange with almost half of the fur missing on it back and was underweight, shy and very hungry. I gave it some treats and tried to grab the collar so I could see if there was a name tag (there wasn’t), but it was scared and bolted when I reached out***.
Then suddenly there was two of them. The second dog was super friendly and jumped on me to get treats & pats; he looked well fed, happy and old, and wore an anti-bark (shock) collar with no name tag. He also seemed to have mild, beginning Mange on the tail root. I presumed the right thing to do was to get a ranger out to pick them up so they could be treated and their owners could be found, so I called the authorities I thought were relevant:
- The police.They said ‘call the council’.
- The council. They were closed.
- A dog pound which’s phone number I happened to have. They said it was not their area.
- The local dog pound, after I found their number with Google. They were closed.
I gave up and decided to continue working, but the little dogs followed and circled my car so I had to stop frequently (they liked that). When I left the car and walked onto a property, they walked happily by my side as if they were my dogs. The old dog sat next to me while I knocked on a front door (luckily there was no one home) and all in all the workday was becoming exceedingly complicated, so I decided to call it a day and drive home.
To get rid of the stray dogs I spread a fistful of treats in the grass to keep them busy while I jumped in the car and drove off. A glance in the rear mirror further down the road revealed that the old dog still followed my car. When I approached the end of the no-through area and was about to drive onto the road with traffic, the dog still ran after my car albeit lagging 10-20 meter behind, panting heavily.
Handing a stray dog in to the pound
I finally concluded that it was my problem, stopped the car, opened the door and said ‘OK – You can come’. The dog clumsily climbed in, enthusiastically wriggling and tail wagging, and settled down behind the driver’s seat. I figured it would be too risky to take him home because I have 2 big dogs, so this time I called:
- A vet. They said that they did not take stray dogs in, but they gave me the phone number to the vet that works with the local pound.
- The vet that the vet mentioned. They said ‘No worries, bring him in!’ Yay! Problem sorted!
So I found the address and plotted it in on Google Maps, and off I went to the clinic. After I explained the situation and filled out a declaration stating that it isn’t my dog, the vet put a leash on the dog and told someone in the clinic to ‘put this one in a cage’. She told me that the pound would not be open until the Tuesday because it was a long weekend; a tiny bit of information which should have turned on a warning light already.
Pound kill rates and second thoughts
Then I came home, did some research and found out that the local pound is pretty much one of the worst in the state.
It is notorious for, above all, its high kill rates. Last year, apparently less than 10% of unclaimed pets came out of the facility alive, and that was after the pound had been subject to hefty community rage the year before when it disclosed its kill rates in its annual report. I don’t want to go too much into details because I don’t want to give away the location, but the failings of the pound entails many of the points on this list: Things that Kill Pound Pets (savingpets.com.au).
To be fair, it has improved and has now opened up for release of animals to approved community rescue organisations. It still has no proper marketing of individual animals, lousy photos (one per animal, which looks like it has been taken in a rush), very little online information about each animal, irregular website updates, refuses to use volunteers, has inconvenient opening hours, charges relatively high prices for the animals and doesn’t include services usually included in the price of second hand animals, such as desexing.
So I felt terrible for having handed such a friendly little creature over to such a terrible institution and put him into a sad and potentially deadly situation.
Visit to the pound
A week later, I visited the pound to check on the dog. It was the first time I ever visited a pound. I was prepared to take the dog as a foster if it had been surrendered by its owner, and had talked with a lady from one of the rescue organisations approved by the pound, who said she could approve us at short notice if necessary.
The good news is that the dog wasn’t there. I had a guy in the office check their records, and he said the dog had been collected by its owner the previous day.
The bad news is that there were plenty of other dogs, most which were not even advertised on the website despite being urgent. None of the pound staff I saw seemed customer friendly or welcoming to visitors in any way or displayed any sort of interaction with or interest in any animal.
The kennel facilities were outdoor, and clean. There was a row of kennels with ‘lost dogs’, and a row with ‘dogs for sale’, which also included a few kennels for cats (there is currently one cat advertised for sale on the website). The kennels were being cleaned with a water hose while the dogs were in them, and an old dog startled and jumped to avoid the water jet just as I came over. A sentence from their website’s section ‘we are implementing recommendations’ (in response to community critique) flashed up in my head:
Our cleaning process involves taking the animals out of the kennels while they are being cleaned (where safe to do so). All staff are aware this is the endorsed cleaning practice.****
Yeah right… Not happening.
The staff seemed indifferent – everyone I met appeared to be the ‘do my job and get the hours to pass so I can go home’ type of employee. Apparently that is the workplace culture.
The homeless dog look
There were all sorts of dogs in the kennels, young, old, affectionate, apathetic, active, big, small. What most had in common was a misplaced, confused, insecure expression (expression meaning their behaviour overall including moves and response to contact).
I suppose most of them had experienced a deroute from family members to abandoned impounds; some as surrenders and others simply because their families never found them. Apparently lots of people don’t think of contacting pounds when their dog gets lost; and apparently there is no central coordination of information about found dogs; meaning that families whose dog gets lost actually need to contact every single pound where their dog can potentially be.
Image from Working Dog Rescue
Rehoming done right
Just to end on a positive note, here are two organisations that do rehoming marketing exceedingly well:
1. Renbury Farm Animal Shelter
- Each individual animal for sale is presented through series of great photos taken by professional pet photographers***, and notes written by volunteer carers (who handle the animals) about each animal’s personality, behaviour, manners and progress.
- Impounded dogs are tested with different sizes of dogs plus cats and other animals, and their responses added to the notes.
- The albums on Facebook give an overview over dogs and cats in each stage of the impounding cycle.
- Important standard information is stated next to every photo, such as: holding periods, the pound’s contact details and opening hours, rules for adopting, link to a list of rescue organisations (for those who want to be foster carers) and other bits of info that enables the reader to act immediately.
A great example of effective marketing of impounded pets.
2. Desert Dogs
Desert Dogs rehome camp dogs from a village in the Northern Territory… dogs that have never seen a pound or kennel. Roz, the organisation’s Sydney arm and foster carer, has rehomed hundreds of dogs through her zealous marketing effort mainly via Desert Dog’s facebook page, where she posts a relentless stream of updates and great photos.
(I wrote about Desert Dog’s marketing strategies earlier, in: Desert Dogs – A Social Media Success Story*****).
While I wrote this post, a cute little dog with no collar followed my husband home when he walked our dogs, and came into the house. Our dogs behaved surprisingly well (albeit pushy and playful) but the little dog started to get bitey, and they are all females, so we decided it was wiser to not keep it here overnight. As it is too late to go around and ask the neighbours, we just put the dog back outside and closed the door.
It is now a few hours past midnight, and the dog still sits outside and barks from time to time. It is a well fed, well taken care of and well loved little cutie, so hopefully it will soon get bored and go home. In the worst case it will still be there tomorrow, and we may face the dilemma of whether to drive the dog to the pound if we can’t find the owner. Apparently this is the season for lost dogs.
*Except when I enter or exit the car, obviously
**Total bullshit, but I felt like dramatising. I record every single place I go, so I can’t easily disappear ‘without a trace’. My sudden paranoia may (once again) come down to having seen the Australian horror movie ‘Wolf Creek’
***Work-ethical note: before I even approached the first dog I wrote down the time in my note book to exclude the dog hassle time from my work hours
****Rephrased to protect anonymity
*****Update: unfortunately Desert Dogs is no longer on Petrescue due to a controversy, both otherwise still going strong