7th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference Kalgoorlie, WA

Launch of Dog Health Programs in Indigenous Communities: An Environmental Health Practitioners' Guide

Page last updated: December 2010

Julia Hardaker, Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, Xavier Schobben, Northern Territory Department of Health and Families

Xavier: My role is to introduce Julia and more importantly the work that is currently being undertaken by AMRRIC, particularly since the recommendations from Cairns in 2007. Its genesis was when AMRRIC came into being when it was launched in Terrigal in 2005. Since then AMRRIC has done a great job in advocating and providing dog health programs across most of northern Australia, WA and some parts of Southern Australia. Importantly, one of the recommendations arising from Cairns, particularly after some the great work that Dr Sam Phelan had done in conducting dog health programs in indigenous communities. The Conducting Dog Health Programs in remote Communities: Environmental Health Practitioner Guide was developed to provide an appropriate guide or a companion document to that original Samantha wrote (which was The Conducting Dog Health Programs In Remote Communities: A Veterinary Guide). We thought the Environmental Health Practitioner Guide would be a fairly comprehensive document which we thought would be 20 or 30 pages, or something like that, but you know Sam Phelan, it is fairly comprehensive and the page count is somewhere above 500. That’s okay, a lot of that will be very useful, the publication which Julia will extol the virtues of does contain some good resources.

Julia Hardaker: Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of Wongatha people, and thank them for having us here on their lands. Thank you to WGATSIEH for the funding that led to the development of this manual. Also thanks to the focus groups, who really told us what they wanted in this manual. And I think that when Sam first started too she thought it would be 30-40 pages too until she met with all you mob and everyone told her about what was needed to be in the manual and yes it is nearly 500 pages.

I thought what I would do is to take the liberty of introducing AMRRIC as I wasn’t sure if all of you know about us and I apologise to those who do know this information.

AMRRIC is a collective of vets, university staff, Indigenous community government councils, EHP’s, various government and non- government departments and really anyone who has an interest in supporting our work can become a member of AMRRIC. We are a not-for-profit organisation and the only organisation focused on the critical need of dog health, research and education. We do far more than benefit dogs and animals. We contribute significantly to improvement in community health and well-being. We use dog health as a model for human health. Our theory is that if people understand their dogs’ diseases and how they can be improved they will start to look at their own diseases as not insoluble. So a little about what we do. Sue Gordon has just told it all just like she did the first time I met her when I attended a meeting at FaHCSIA in Darwin. She just admitted she’s pushy! She invited herself into the meeting that I had with FaHCSIA. I sat down and just sat there, I didn’t have to say a word about what we did and what we’re all about. Sue launched into this big long spiel and part of it is what she talked about today. Sue made it was clearly understood why we have dog health programs. So thanks Sue, for making my job easier.

AMRRIC has a vision that communities are safe and healthy for people and their companion animals. In a very practical terms this means having fewer animals, healthier and better behaved animals and owners that take responsibility for the health and welfare and behaviour of their animal companions. Our objectives include

  • aiding sustainable dog health programs throughout the Australian states and territories
  • promoting and developing scientific research into improving animal management practices
  • conferences and other educational sessions to promote best practice
  • coordinating dog health programs for communities that request our assistance
  • supporting those communities in managing their dog health programs through veterinary support, public health support and Indigenous environmental health worker support.
Our dog health programs are focussed on the needs and wishes of local people regarding their dogs. And I emphasise wishes of local people regarding their dogs, we do not enforce ours on theirs.

Our programs are focused on building capacity for community ownership and them driving their own programs. Through the provision of veterinary services we provide desexing program expertise. We provide a means of managing large dog populations like these in the slide.

Education and training is one of our critical platforms. The sustainability of programs is achieved through training community members to maintain the elements of dog programs in between vet visits so they are acting as paravets. Our vets work alongside Indigenous community members as they are vital and integral members of the team. We hope to build a more formal school education program to raise awareness in children, especially around the treatment of animals. We aim to address cruelty to animals because of the established links between animal abuse and child abuse. We have undertaken some of those programs in schools in recent times. We have also hosted a number of highly successful conferences for vets and other practitioners.

Just to touch on some of our current partnerships. They include the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy through DAFF. We have just been given some money from them to develop an educational DVD that will actually accompany this manual. So it will give some of the three-dimensional and other parts that can’t be told in a flat book.

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We are a lead partner with The Australian Research Council linkage program. Queensland Health which brought us over to Queensland last year to provide veterinary training workshops. That great mob in Queensland including our friend over there, Clayton, who is on our AMRRIC board. Clayton did a fantastic job on the cultural awareness program. We are partnered with James Cook University, Menzies School Of Health Research, Cambridge University, UK as collaborative research partners. NT Environmental Health through the development of this manual, various education institutions, assisting NT Shires to develop their animal welfare and control strategic frameworks. And we have international connections through Canadian and Bali dog programs and other programs we support with policies and ways to approach government funding.

Some of our key resources include: our web-based manual for vets that Xavier talked about, which is free to all members, the manual that we going to be talking about today, multiple online papers and documents and resources in our resource library. Most of those are available to the general public, some are member only access. And we have a series of zoonoses fact sheets online.

We know that history has shown that short term strategies for dog health programs only have short term effects. Community developed control programs offer a real way forward. Many of you are already doing that but we don’t see that in every area that we work in. As Sue alluded to, the older forms of treatment of culling don’t work as a stand alone measure and unfortunately that’s still going on. Just in the last month Tiwi Shire decided that they would kill 413 dogs in a community which they did to enforce a dog policy. People told us this that they didn’t know what was happening and that the vet spoke to them rudely. That’s what the Shire said was going to happen and that’s what happened. It’s a typical example of historical approaches which have failed to change the situation. These methods have not worked:
  • knee-jerk reactionary models
  • white fella top down dictatorial approach
  • culling that never works as a one-off
  • poorly planned and spasmodic vet visits
  • no community ownership
  • no community involvement
So we need new approaches and as I said, this is not reinventing the wheel. We not telling you anything that many of you don’t already do. So we are not being arrogant here. We must recognise past failures and have culturally sensitive bottom up approaches that are directed towards population control and training local people and focussed on education and dog health, well coordinated visits to achieve the shift from perceived pests to pets.

We all know that the best solution to achieve sustainable programs is undertaken by you, the EHPs, and we have had the pleasure of working with some of you. So as a result of all of you, and the goals that you set at the last conference, here we are launching the manual.

So I thought the person that really should be setting the scene is Sam Phelan who cannot be here today as she has a brand new baby. But in between breast-feeding and a load of other kids, and with the pile of dogs and chooks in the back yard we have a video message from Sam to play.

Same Phelan: Hi everyone, I’m a vet who has worked with AMRRIC for the past 6 years. Some of you may know me from my work in the Katherine region. Other people may know me because I presented the Vet Manual for Working in Indigenous Communities at the last conference held in Cairns. It was really as a result of that veterinary manual that I wrote and also a promise that Xavier made at a conference we are launching the manual. Xavier came out and shook my hand on a $10,000 promise to produce a manual for environmental health workers. And that’s what we are launching today. It’s exciting, even though it’s not quite done yet, but it is at the printers. So it’s closer!

The origin of that manual, as I said, was the work done on the previous vet manual, which was really a guide to how to work in Indigenous communities as a vet; what you will need tools of the trade and also how to get around communities. When it came to doing an environmental health workers manual, we needed to consider both working from an ESL perspective and also working from a perspective of people that can’t read English easily. It looks at running a vet program from a person living in a community’s point of view. The work you are required to do isn’t rocket science. It is solid, good and relatively simple to work, but translating that information to make it seem simple is quite difficult. I had recruited my sister, who became the illustrator for the environmental health worker manual. And then we looked at how we were going to present the material in the best possible way for environmental health workers who may not speak English as their first language, and who may not read English very well. The process of developing the manual was by holding two large focus group meetings, one of them the students from Batchelor. Both groups were incredibly generous with their information. The goodwill surrounding people’s intellectual property that they gave to the manual was incredible. And I thank both of the focus groups for making it the manual that it is now, because without their help they just it would not have been what it is today.

We started with focus group meetings at Batchelor and that was great because the range of Batchelor students included people with a lot of history of working and running dog programs in their own communities, right down to students that had just come in. I think they were Cert II students, some of them Cert III students, so a bit of a mixture there, some people with pretty limited knowledge of what the work could entail. They put together ideas about the best way of presenting that information to a non-English literature or non-English speaking audience. So the use of illustrations Julia will talk about later, evolved from the focus groups at Batchelor. The second part of the focus group meetings were hosted by Queensland Health, who brought together what they call their ‘top gun team’ of environmental health workers who were already working in the field delivering dog health programs in their own communities. And this group really redefined the content of the manual. What problems they had faced what information they wanted and how that information could be best presented was all covered in two-days of focus group meetings in Queensland. With all of that information we came home and nutted it out together, my sister and I, going through how best to present the information in a pictorial fashion. It was three-step delivery, in that they have the information that’s with stand alone picture, then you have an overlay of information for a semi literate audience, and then you have a large selection at the back of each chapter, with more detailed information in a written form. It’s still relatively simple but we worked very hard to ensure that there wasn’t any information left out. If people really knew this manual they will know everything they need to run a dog program safely and effectively in their own community.

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We sat down and wrote the manual over a period of six months, and then it went out to peer review. It came back from peer review in dribs and drabs, but by the end of February this year we had most of it back and we made the changes we needed to make. The focus group participants all reviewed it as well as additional people working in education or working in health fields or working in environmental health. And at this stage it is with the printers. I cannot wait to hold it in my hand in one piece. I hope that you have a great rest of the conference and enjoy Kalgoorlie.

Julia Hardaker: So let’s explore the manual. Sam uses the term EHP (Environmental Health Practitioner) as a broad term to include EHOs, EHWs, AMOs, AMWs, and really anyone who is into running a dog program, and in some places that may be a clinic sister in a remote community. It really could be anybody. As Sam described, each of the drawings are really beautiful, and you will get to see them featured throughout this presentation. We were asked to design the manual in this fashion, where the overlay tells the story, the colour picture, actually tells the story even without the words. The black-and-white drawing behind it is designed as an education tool that people can actually write on in their language to tell their story and can be used for educational tools in schools for kids to colour in and to tell their stories.

So what does the manual include? Obviously I can’t tell you all of it so it’s going to be a brief overview. It covers:
  • dogs, EHPs and dog programs, their cultural and spiritual significance of the story about dogs, why people have them and what their roles are
  • planning a dog program, dog germs and immune systems, germs that cause diarrhoea
  • common skin problems in dogs
  • parasites, how to treat them, worms in dogs that can get into people, what to use to kill parasites, getting rid of mange, worms and common dog sicknesses
  • top watch programs and other exotic diseases
  • a chapter on dogs are not dingoes, and all that means
  • dog breeding, stopping dogs breeding
  • putting animals down, ‘finishing them up’ or euthanasia
  • dog bylaws, dog bites, the law and the EHP
  • animal welfare, running a pound, record-keeping and program evaluation and what the shop can stock
The manual constantly emphasises the key role of the EHP in animal welfare and control programs. It acknowledges you as the most important component of any dog program and a team that runs a well planned dog program can address over population and make dogs stronger and healthier. Many problems can be fixed with only a little bit of outside help - which is great news because so many times we see Shires and people are just bringing vets into the communities as the sole solution to dog problems so there is a huge emphasis on dollars when it need not be.

The more the EHP team fixes, the more dog owners like the program and engage in it and then the cheaper it will be for the community.

Now, I think that ‘deadly mob’ from Queensland helped Sam come up with this model for community engagement and planning, which is a brilliant model. I won’t go through the whole model, but basically it’s a very systematic way of going about working with the community to plan and manage the problems as they come up around issues concerning dogs. It doesn’t suggest doing it all at once, but rather tackling the issue one at a time.

So it looks at what the community can fix, who’s going to do it, what resources they need, what budget will they have, which is sadly often limited, how do they get training and what outside help will they need. Then it looks at how they going to go about doing that work.

Some chapter highlights:

Look at Chapter 3 for instance; dog’s germs and immune systems. This one looks at what germs are and how germs can build up in the environment, how they get into us, how the immune system fights germs, and tables of germs that people and dogs share. A big focus of our work is on healthy dogs healthy communities. We are constantly looking at zoonoses that are germs that move from dogs to people and make them and us sick. This manual covers that extremely well.

It covers germs that cause diarrhoea, how dogs get diarrhoea germs, how they give these germs to people and how the EHP stop dogs and people sharing germs. It describes how to work with the clinic, and all about the germs that people and dogs share. An example of this is how dogs spread diarrhoea and germs to people. In the picture in the manual you can see dog licking kids, sharing bowls of food, faeces in water that people are swimming or bathing in, flies moving from faeces to food and by not washing hands.

In Chapter 5 it covers common skin problems in dogs and parasites in the skin. So, it covers things like mange, ticks, fleas, lice, ringworm, sores on dogs and people. And of course, it covers all the ways in which you identify them, how they are to be treated and things that you can do to prevent those things from spreading. The entire manual is not just drawings, but throughout the body of the text and behind each of the set of diagrams which lead into each chapter there is a significant amount of text and it’s highly illustrated.

It covers worms in dogs that can get into people, round worm, hook worm, heart worm, hydatid tape worm, Strongyloides. There is a chapter on what is used to kill parasites and mange and worms. It’s really beautifully illustrated.

It covers using Ivermectin programs, the dose rates, safety in handling, planning those programs to get rid of mange, ticks and heart worm. It covers other common dog sicknesses, like TVT trans venereal tumours; which is a sexually transmitted cancer, parvovirus and how to treat it, how to heal dog fight wounds and how to run awareness campaigns and get rid of TVT.

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Chapter 9 covers top watch and exotic diseases. So that’s about working with quarantine for rabies is obviously applicable to people working in the top end. The manual talks about how the environmental health practitioner can work with quarantine top watch program to make sure that we don’t get rabies and screw worm fly into our country.

Chapter 11 is about dog breeding. It covers normal breeding cycles, problems with breeding, taking care of puppies and a number of other issues. It covers stopping dogs breeding. So why do we want a stop dogs breeding? Desexing operations, chemical alternatives such as covinan and planning the desexing programs. I have here a quote ”Desexed dogs make better pets, they also cause less humbug, undesexed dogs are more cheeky, they also cause more humbug, desexed dogs have fewer worms this keeps the dirt in their yards cleaner”.

It covers putting animals down, ‘finishing them up’ or euthanasia. It covers reasons why you may need to be putting dogs down, ways to put them down humanely, through lethal injection and shooting. It covers giving lethal injections and what the implications are for that community and what they need to do to administer lethal injections. It also covers the appropriate disposal of carcasses.

The next chapter covers dog bylaws. How they are made, how to enforce them and planning a dog registration program. In the chapter ‘dog bites, the law and the EHP’, we look at how you can avoid being bitten. First aid, dog bites, the types of biting dogs; fear biters, dominant biters, the law and biting dogs, choosing the right dogs for your community are all covered. It includes sedation and planning how to stop dog bites in your community. It also has in one of the sections a school program; teaching kids how to stay safe in your community and not be bitten.

Chapter 16 looks at animal welfare laws, what they are, how are they made and who enforces them. It covers the EHP and animal welfare laws, making animal welfare in your community better and school education. Running a pound, types of pounds, and reasons for having them, things to think about before a community gets a pound and all too importantly record keeping and program evaluation is included. Why do we keep records, what do we keep, what sort of records are there for each dog, census forms and drug usage record forms are there too. It looks at what the shop can stock. We’ve been working with outback stores in the Northern Territory, trying to get them to get some of these products pictured into the stores. There is a lot of criticism out there about the state of dogs and people say, ‘Aboriginal people aren’t responsible pet owners’ so we try to get them to get products into the shops so that we can have responsible pet ownership. This is something that the EHP can take a big part in.

Q. Owen Ashby, Department of Health WA: Can you comment in relation to how the manual may affect the WA dog health program? And secondly I hope the emphasis on the community and the environmental health worker is going to be maintained, so they going to be responsible for the dog health and vets will not come in and want to take over the program.

A. I will answer the last one first. Obviously, we don’t work in all the community and we don’t have a say in what vet’s do. I guess I can only talk on behalf of AMRRIC affiliated vets and on behalf of the work we are currently undertaking in the NT Shires where we have been brought on board as consultants to write up animal welfare control frameworks. So here we are having a direct influence on policy and in the way in which vets come and work in communities. We can influence the Shires regarding vets who may tender for programs or those they may just keep who have been working in a community. Those vets are going to have to meet a certain set of requirements and to work in a particular way and probably to be AMRRIC members be working to the AMRRIC philosophy. So at that level are looking at a very big change so that we can change some of those horrible practices that we have seen in the past. As for the other States, at this point, we don’t have that level of influence at government level, but it’s something that we are working toward. And we certainly hope that this manual, and also the fact that FaHCSIA have just asked us to scope the need for the development of a national best practice guide and management to see whether guys like you Owen, feel that there is a need for a document like that we have a chance to set benchmarks around those animal welfare practices. Of course if it’s coming from us it will have a really huge focus on the EHPs as the key to the program on the ground. So that partly answers your first question as well. How that will influence your work directly, I can’t answer that. How it may influence the work of people on the ground I think it’s fairly self explanatory. It’s such a user-friendly tool such a broad range of people can use it. We think it can have a very powerful effect on the way in which dog programs are delivered. Each of the states and territories are at different places in the way in which programs are delivered. We are aware of that some of this information in the Manual many of you already know of this, but it also provides a whole education and research tool as well as being a very hands-on approach to be able to run programs. So we hope that the manual will put government organisations and others in a stronger position to be able to push through the importance and the need of dog health programs as a key component to improving environmental and human health. We really noticed it in Sue Gordon’s speech, when she started straight into dogs as key components to improving community health. And this is why your contribution to this is so valuable.

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Q. Thad Naggus: Apart from Clayton Abreu, is there any other Indigenous representation on the AMRRIC Board and, if not, are you willing to seek a greater presence of Indigenous people on that board?

A. The answer to the second part of the question, absolutely. We really do want to build Indigenous representation. We have had predominantly vets on the board in the past. And one of the things that I was keen and others are keen on when I came on board a few years ago was to get Indigenous representation, so Clayton was our first and we are currently seeking people who might be interested in being part of the Board. We also just applied to FaHCSIA, but got knocked back, for funds to establish an Indigenous advisory board to AMRRIC, so that group will directly guide our policy development so we hope to get the funding next time.

Q Michelle Major, Kowanyama Queensland: We are a member of AMRRIC. I haven’t seen a vet in the last two years. How many times does the vet have to come into the community?
A. That depends on the size of the community and the number of dogs and what’s been done there before, so it really has to be planned with the community and the vet to look at those things needed to establish a program.

For more information

Julia Hardaker
Executive Officer
PO Box 1591, Nightcliff, NT 0814
Ph: 08 8941 8813 Email: juliah@amrric.org