Respect at the Heart of Dingo Care

David Charlesworth

Media by Bernadette Ong

Exhibiting a major overload of cuteness three dingo puppies, not yet two months old, tumble over and nip each other in their enclosure. Yet for all the abounding fuzzy cuteness, their care is a huge responsibility even beyond that of dogs, which many owners desiring to take one in aren’t prepared for.

Wildlife carers Ann and Warren Painter have been caring for dingoes since 1974, receiving them from rangers, pounds and rescues. While they are magnificent animals, Ann said, people are taking them in without fully understanding that they are not just another type of dog. Through Crossroads Dingo Rescue, Ann and Warren care for nearly a dozen adult dingoes as well as the puppies, supported through community donations and their Go Fund Me page.

“I was involved in caring for injured animals and wildlife, and caring for a dingo never entered my head,” Ann said.

“Then I got someone on the doorstep at 10 o’clock at night asking me to take on a seven-month-old dingo brought in from Queensland.”

“It was a learning curve with him and after that more dingoes were coming in.”

Ann faced significant opposition from landowners and the State Government when she took in her first dingo as it was illegal to keep them at the time. After a lengthy legal and media struggle, Ann was granted the first permit in Australia to keep a dingo.

There has been some controversy over the categorisation of the dingo and whether it is a separate subspecies to wild dogs.  The WA Government classifies dingoes as native fauna, but also as a subspecies related to the same species as feral and domestic dogs, due to cross-breeding and hybridisation. Categorised as wild dogs, dingoes today are a declared pest in WA.

Since 1992 through an exemption order in the WA Biodiversity Conservation Act, dingoes are able to be owned without requiring a permit. Through her more than four decades of experience, Ann said she has learned that dingoes possess very different behaviours and have very different needs. Owners need to be prepared and dedicated to caring the dingo in the long run as they are not easily rehomed.

While cute and cuddly when pups, dingoes undergo behavioural changes as they grow, Ann said.

“[Those pups] they’re only eight weeks and they’re already not trusting and wary, and could potentially be a problem if in the hands of uneducated people,” she said.

“They won’t go to anyone uneducated.”

 “They are so routine, they familiarise, they get all upset,” Ann said.

“You can’t change what they know.”

Dingoes are also extremely sensitive to negative behaviour both vocally and in body language, which can have a permanent effect on owners’ relationships with them.

“You want to say please or thank you because that goes a long way. If one of them goes onto the table and I just tell it to get off, it will stand its ground,” Ann said.

“If I say, come on hop off now, good girl. Okay no problem.”

They are also extremely sensitive to changes in their environment which can trigger behavioural reactions from them. This includes introducing new people to them, renovations or moving home, long periods away from them or even just moving the location of their bed.

Dingoes also have an extraordinary jumping ability and can leap two metres high, requiring very high fencing.

Finding homes for the dingoes she cares for is extremely difficult, Ann said, as prospective owners need to be educated and aware of their responsibilities before she would put the animal in their care. This is for the safety of both dingo and owner.

With so many dingoes already in her care, Ann can’t always take in animals offered by owners. However, she will talk them through the problems with their dingoes and try to figure out what is causing the issue.

Since the change in legislation allowing ownership in WA, Ann said she is troubled by the number of domestically bred dingoes. She believes domestic breeding with dogs has had a major effect on the health of dingoes coming into her care. Her mixed dingoes have exhibited a range of birth defects including spinal bifida, short tails, hip displeasure and heart problems, she said.

“I’ve got other dingoes that are five and six years old that have got heart disease,” she said.

“That’s not normal, it doesn’t happen in the wild. The wild kids never have any medical problems but these domestic bred ones do.”

Ultimately, dingoes should be considered wildlife and not as pets, Ann said, but those keeping them are able to happily and safely live with them.

“They are a uniquely Australian animal. If you want to coexist with it then by all means coexist but do it on their terms and not yours,” she said.

“If you want obedience, if you want a trained animal, if you want it to sit on demand, get yourself a dog because these won’t do that, but you can coexist amicably with respect.”

“Don’t take for granted that friendship that’s offered. They need patience, understanding, respect.”

“If people want them, they will have one, but first get the education.”

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