Healing the Hand that Feeds You: Exploring Solutions for Dog and Community Health and Welfare in Australian Indigenous Cultures

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The overpopulation and poor state of dog health in many rural and remote Australian Indigenous communities (RRAIC) affects not only animal welfare but human social welfare. Dogs are an integral part of Australian Indigenous cultures and impact on human health and welfare through zoonotic diseases, and mental health concerns such as worry and shame about pet health, and sleep deprivation from incessant dog fights.

This study investigated the factors that contribute to poor animal and community health and welfare in RRAIC, focusing on four main factors: community awareness of dog health and welfare issues, knowledge of the solutions, motivation to access the solutions, and the accessibility of the solutions.

Semi structured interviews with local indigenous and non-indigenous residents in four RRAIC were conducted to explore these factors. This qualitative data was then linked to quantitative dog health and welfare data to compare community and scientific perspectives. The following results were observed:

  • Knowledge of animal health and welfare issues was high, but restricted to the issues that were empirically evident. There was some to little knowledge of less apparent zoonotic risks.
  • Knowledge of the solutions was variable depending on the veterinary service history of the community.
  • Motivation to improve dog health and welfare was uniformly high.
  • Accessibility of the solutions was poor when taking into account the remoteness of the communities, cross-cultural differences, the cost of veterinary services and its low priority in health and governance circles, the frequency and duration of vet visits, and the residents’ mobile lifestyle.

Improving animal welfare in RRAIC requires a multifaceted approach involving raising a more comprehensive community awareness of the major issues and their possible solutions though appropriate community education. In addition, there is a need to improve accessibility of veterinary services at the local level to support the increased community awareness.


Keywords: Cultural Studies, Education and Social Welfare, Community Health, Indigenous Health, Animal Health, Developing Communities
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Healing the Hand that Feeds You


Dr. Sophie Constable

PhD student, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
Camden, New South Wales, Australia

Dr. Sophie Constable is currently working on dog health education in Australian Indigenous communities for her PhD as part of the “Healthy Dogs Healthy, Communities Project” through the University of Sydney. She completed a Masters of Educational Studies, focusing on Indigenous Education, at the University of Newcastle in 2006. Sophie is a veterinarian and an education coordinator and presenter for the AVA/RSPCA CAWS (Community Animal Welfare Scheme).

Dr. Graeme Brown

Post Doctoral fellow, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


Dr. Roselyn May Dixon

Lecturer in Special Education, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong
Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Dr. Rose Dixon is a special education lecturer at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She has published in the areas of social competence and people with disabilities. She is also involved with Early childhood intervention for children with special needs. She is part of a large research team that is examining culturally relevant education programs in rural and remote Indigenous communities. Another research interest is the application of Social Comparison Theory and Social Cultural Theeory to children with special needs.
Dr. Dixon is the Undergraduate supervisor of Special education and the Deputy Director of the Early Childhood program.

Dr. Robert John Dixon

Sub dean Animal Welfare, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
Camden, New South Wales, Australia


Ref: I08P0489