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Maremma Sheepdogs keep watch over Little Penguins
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Chickens
Chickens

The dogs aren’t obedience trained. For one thing, according to Williams, “the more obedient they are, the less they think for themselves.” This independence is vital, as the dogs are alone for long periods. For another, obedience could be harmful. Says Hartrick, “[Unfortunately] people are going over there. The last thing we want is for the dogs to respond to ‘sit,’ ‘stay’ or ‘come’ — to people trying to get them to come off the island. If they show undesirable behaviors, we use loud, abrupt vocal noises. It distracts them and they switch off from what they were thinking about.”

Another problem was evident from the start: Eudy and Tula occasionally left the island, possibly chasing foxes. An electric fence with solar-powered perimeter wire is now in place, and the dogs wear collars that emit warning beeps.

During the summer months, Eudy and Tula have two days off per week, which they spend at a bush block (a plot of undeveloped land covered with native vegetation) stocked with chickens. They’ve been there full-time since the end of summer and will go back to work on the island when penguin breeding commences. In the future, “the girls” will work year-round, and after six to eight years of guardian duty, will then help train their replacements. Hartrick believes the project could have benefits for other animals as well. “Dogs like this can be used for other native fauna that could use a helping hand.”

When I met Hartrick in February 2011, we visited Stingray Bay, from which Middle Island rises, sheer, stark and rocky. The tide was low and we took off our shoes and sloshed across the shallow channel. Together, we ascended the access stairway. Aware of a presence above us, I looked up: there were Eudy and Tula, doing their job, not letting me out of their sight.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 65: Jun/Aug 2011
Debbie Lustig is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She is a volunteer guide at a local penguin colony and enjoys training Timmy, her Corgi/Jack Russell cross.

Photographs by Dave Williams

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