Progress with AMRRIC animal management worker program

John Skuja and Emma Kennedy in Townsville with the East Arnhem Shire agreement.

An AMRRIC program to recruit Indigenous animal management workers in several Northern Territory shires has progressed with the appointment of a project manager, whilE East Arnhem Shire has also formally confirmed its involvement in the program.

Veterinarian John Skuja has taken up the position of Project Manager with AMRRIC. Skuja has a background in emergency veterinary hospitals, as well as community development programs overseas with Vets Beyond Borders.

The agreement with East Arnhem Shire was signed by East Arnhem Shire veterinarian and Animal Management Officer Emma Kennedy, along with AMRRIC’s Executive officer Julia Hardaker, and Project Manager John Skuja in Townsville at AMRRIC’s recent annual conference.

AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities) is a not-for-profit organisation set up by veterinarians which aims to improve the health and welfare of companion animals and improve the overall health and wellbeing of people in Australia’s Indigenous communities.

Earlier this year, AMRRIC received $2.89 million in funding from The Northern Territory Aboriginal Benefit Account run by the Federal Government. The aim of the funding is to implement animal control programs in remote communities through the training and employment of local aboriginal animal management or environmental health workers.

Skuja said the key to the program success will be in the communities taking ownership of the animal management program, “It’s crucially important that the community gets involved because it essentially is the community’s animals and so we need people’s participation, consent and understanding of what we’re trying to achieve”.

He said that a dog population control program needed to have the majority of the dog population de-sexed to have any effect, “So we want to engage the community in this strategy as much as possible, we don’t want a dog program to be something imposed on the community from an outsider – the control of the program can be held by the community themselves who then use the services of the veterinarian to then come and do what they feel is best for their community, so it’s about educating people from the community in how to best use those tools”.

One of AMRRIC’s main aims is to educate people about the risk of zoonotic diseases.

Skuja said:, “We are taking aprogram to different parts of the Northern Territory where we are training animal management workers, so indigenous people from remote communities gain skills in all aspects of dog health programs and dog management programs, so based on sterilising animals and de-sexing animals to stop out of control breeding and to stop overpopulations of dogs which can then lead to the worsening of the environmental health problems associated with dogs that can have an adverse effect on the community, both through zoonotic diseases and other factors”.

AMRRIC hopes to employ Indigenous animal management workers who would be based in the communities, and Skuja said people they hope to attract into the positions must enjoy working with animals, “I guess it’s fairly important they like dogs, it’s pretty important they like people and like working with the community because working with dogs will put you in contact with a wide range of people from throughout the community.

“Part of the training we’re hope to put the participants through is a Certificate III in Environmental Health, and there’s potential for them to study further beyond that course and do a Certificate IV in Environmental Health, and train to become an environmental health officer,

The AMRRIC 2011 Conference in Townsville last month attracted speakers and participants from Australia and overseas. Those attending including academics, veterinarians, environmental health and animal management workers, and representatives from the Federal Government and local shires.

Conference highlights included a presentation by visiting speaker Liz Murchison, from the Cambrid University’s Wellcome Trust, who collaborated with AMRRIC President Ted Donelan to present a session on canine transmissible venereal tumour. Other sessions covering topics in animal behaviour, animal management programs in Queensland and Western Australia, exotic disease surveillance in northern Australia, cross cultural education, advances in wild dog control, and a demonstration of the use of a blow pipe to safely sedate aggressive dogs.

Another speaker was Rick Speare from the Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University, who is one of Australia’s leading experts on zoonoses in Indigenous communities. He explained how despite the significant volume of data and anecdotal evidence pointing to the impact of animal diseases on humans in remote communities, the number of peer reviewed papers published in Australia was low.

Speare said that more complex, quantitative and dynamic studies were required to understand the impact of zoonoses and to create a solid evidence base – and that AMRRIC dog health programs were an essential and critical part of that process.

For more information about the work of AMRRIC or to find out how to volunteer on one of their animal health management programs, visit: www.amrric.org

PHIL TUCAK