Hounded by feral dogs
KATY STEWART used to be able to walk through the forest backing on to her property at The Pocket and see wallabies and other nativeanimals.
These days the animals are gone, and that short walk would put her at risk of being attacked by one of up to eight packs of feral dogs terrorising the region.
Residents say the packs – some numbering up to 13 dogs – are devastating local wildlife and killing stock, working dogs and pets.
The packs of feral dingo-Alsatian crosses have also been known to attack people and are said to have surrounded and terrorised a boy waiting at a bus stop at Main Arm.
The dogs are able to avoid baits and traps, and cover an area stretching from Goonengerry in the south to Burringbar in the north, and residents have had enough.
Ms Stewart is a farmer and acarer with native animal rescue service WIRES.
Until recently, she had cared for animals as diverse as wallabies,quolls, possums and pademelons. These days she restricts herself to a few varieties of tree-dwelling possums, because any ground dwelling animals released near her home face a swift and brutal death.
She said the dogs were smart and they liked to kill.
Ms Stewart said a friend had watched a pack chase down a wallaby using sophisticated tactics before tearing it apart and abandoning its carcass.
The dogs used a relay system, where one dog would chase the wallaby for as long as it could. When it tired, another dog would take over the chase. That tag-team system would continue until the wallaby collapsed with exhaustion and the dogs could easily kill it.
Another resident at The Pocket, Merlene Gibson, said she had been forced to clear part of her property so she could see the dogs coming in case they attacked while she was hanging out her washing.
Ms Gibson said the bush around her property had become a favourite breeding area for the dogs, making themintensely territorial and a danger to any human or dog in the area.
Ms Stewart said the number of dog packs was growing steadily. In 2008 there were four packs, last year – when she wrote to the National Parks and Wildlife Service on behalf of local residents – that number had grown to six.
Yesterday she said there were now about eight, and the number continued to grow.
There was a single feral dog that hung around her house, after being kicked out of its pack as a pup, which she classed as a new pack in waiting.
“It’s a large Alsatian-cross and sooner or later a female dog will come around and he’ll pick her up and that’s the start of another pack,” Ms Stewart said.
It was not clear where the original dogs had come from, but Ms Stewart said irresponsible pet owners appeared to be a large source of the problem – people who failed to de-sex their dogs or let them roam, so they either abandoned their owners for the feral packs or ran with them at night.
“Some farmers have shot some of these dogs and they’ve had collars,” she said.
One farmer, who declined to be named, said he and some other farmers had taken to shooting the animals after traps and baits failed.
“They won’t go anywhere near the traps,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how many bones I put in there, even if I spray it with bitch scent, it doesn’t even attract them. They’re very cunning.”
Ms Stewart said another resident reported seeing the alpha dog of a pack attack and chase off a female from the same pack to stop it taking bait.
The only answer Ms Stewart could see was to send in hunters to shoot the dogs. A local gun club had been supportive off that idea.
However, because the dogs roamed so far it was difficult to say where and when the hunters should go.
Ms Stewart said the residents being terrorised by the dogs needed the help of an agency such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service or the Livestock Health and Pest Authorities (formerly the Rural Lands Protection Board) to co-ordinate the cull.
A spokeswoman for the Livestock Health and Pest Authorities was last night finding out what help the organisation could offer the residents.
A spokesman for the National Parks and Wildlife Service was not available for comment.