Camp Dogs

The dogs. Oh so many dogs! That’s one of the things I’ve found really confronting being in a remote community – the dogs. I’m an animal lover by nature; all of our dogs have been rescue dogs. Even that RSPCA television ad with all the animals with bandages running across the screen (you know the one, and you’re probably humming the music in your head right now) makes me cry. I’m a vegetarian (yep – an Aboriginal vegetarian. Albeit a bad one lately) I only buy palm-oil or certified palm-oil free things – and I do a few other token things that assuage my guilt over not being a true animal rights activist, like buying free range eggs and ‘pole and line tuna’ So seeing these dogs – these starving, skin-and-bone creatures, some of them with no hair, riddled with tics, missing eyes. The females have bellies and nipples that drag along the ground (not unlike me if I’m honest) because they’ve had countless litters of pups. I was forewarned of this before we came, and told not to feed the camp dogs because “it just makes things worse! They’ll be on your doorstep in hoards and if you ever stop feeding them, they’ll get aggressive.” So I psyched myself up. I told myself I’d just ignore them.  And I’ve largely succeeded. Largely. We tell the kids not to pat the camp dogs, that they might bite them -and this is certainly true. So day to day we’ve walked past them, and I’ve turned away, mentally closing my eyes. The fact is, that even though it might not show – the Anangu love their camp dogs. They all have owners. Except perhaps for Gerald. When we first came, on our first night I was in the kitchen unpacking and I called out to Matt: “Matt, there’s a dingo on the doorstep!” And there was. Just at that moment Min walked past; “oh yeah – that’s just Gerald”. I looked at him quizzically, but he didn’t offer any further explanation. Perhaps he’s some kind of dingo whisperer. This dingo named Gerald would appear, seemingly out of thin air whenever we left the house or returned. He has this creepy spirit-dog shit about him. Like the coyote on that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is on a quest to find his soul mate and gets high from eating Guatemalan Insanity Peppers (obscure reference, I know). He stares right at me like he’s boring into my soul. Either that or he wants to eat the baby on my back. He’s really friendly though, happy for a pat, and a little aloof – like a cat, it’s all on his terms. It’s taken all of my energy not to feed him and so far I’ve succeeded. Often I’ll come out and he’s asleep on top of our car, or on the doorstep. We have no idea how he gets through our locked gate. Our dogs completely ignore him – which adds to my spirit-dog theory. But my biggest camp dog hurdle has been Muddles. 

Muddles was asleep on the doorstep one day when we went outside one day – curled up next to our two dogs. You know those documentaries about Orangutans where their faces just look so human and and when you look at them, behind zoo bars, it just makes you think about your own humanity – it makes your heart hurt? Yep – muddles has those eyes. And he’s skinny as a rake and tic-ridden. This is another one of those dogs whose name is a miraculous concoction of Mins. “Oh yep – that’s muddles!” Okay – right you are. So lately, whenever we went walking, muddles would appear. He was so skinny he’d just squeeze himself under the gate. Even when Matt made the gate bigger he still managed. “Don’t you dare feed him!” Matt was totally right. And to my credit, I haven’t fed him. But gosh it’s been hard. Matt was worried about him biting one of the kids – which is a completely legitimate concern. I genuinely don’t think this guy has it in him, but it’s not really a risk worth taking. So again, like with the others – I turn away, closing my eyes and biting my fist. I know what’ll happen if I feed them. One of the service providers up here fed the dogs, and quickly obtained the reputation of “crazy camp dog lady” – where you couldn’t walk to work without fear of a pack-attack. She told me that when she first came here, she went to the shop, bought a bag of dry dog food, came outside, slit a hole in the bag and walked home. I totally and 100% empathise with how she must have felt. 

Gerald and Min 




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