Healing the Hand that Feeds you: Exploring Solutions for Dog and Community Health and Welfare in Australian Indigenous Cultures
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 investigates 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 are empirically evident. There was some to little knowledge of less apparent zoonotic risks. - Knowledge of the solutions was variable depending on the veterinary history of the community. - Motivation to improve dog health and welfare was uniformly high. - Accessibility to 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 more comprehensive public awareness of the major issues and their possible solutions though appropriate community education, as well as improving accessibility of veterinary services at the local level.