In the wake of International Dog Day we're celebrating some of the region's hardest working hounds. We've discovered they're saving lives, finding hidden treasures and being a support for some people on their darkest days.
WHEN the memories of military service get to be too much for some defence force veterans, that's where Defence Community Dogs (DCD) step in.
This program is run behind bars at Bathurst Correctional Centre's Honour House with inmates training rescue dogs to become assistance dogs.
DCD managing director Leanne Kyle said the dogs help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and other mental health issues.
"They are taught specific skills to help a veteran manage their condition," she said.
"The dogs help veterans regain a normal life - they give the veterans confidence to deal with crowds, noisy situations and cope in public places that may trigger their condition. These common places are a normal part of daily life for many of us.
"Many veterans suffering from PTSD become isolated because they eventually avoid going out and withdraw from their community. This has a severe impact on individuals and their families.
"When a veteran gets a dog, they have someone who 'has their back' 24/7."
Honour House Overseer Kylie Fogarty said inmates involved in the program are equipped with practical vocational skills and it vastly improves their interpersonal skills as they interact with members of the general public every day.
When a veteran gets a dog, they have someone who 'has their back' 24/7.Defence Community Dogs managing director Leanne Kyle
"They learn how to work in a team environment with a common goal and develop many positive traits such as patience, consistency, commitment and problem solving skills," she said.
"For inmates who have served longer sentences it affords them a structured, safe and supervised way to gain confidence and integrate back in public situations, crowded places and the everyday community contact that we take for granted. This can be extremely overwhelming for someone who is released after a several years."
Helping victims and witnesses
VICTIMS and witnesses in a court can often feel anxious, but a recently-introduced program at Orange Local Court is have a 'pawsitive' impact.
The Canine Court Companion program involves volunteers bringing in therapy dogs to the court several mornings a week to spend time with victims and witnesses to help them feel less stressed and anxious before appearing in court.
They spend a lot of time in the safe rooms where they create a warm and welcoming environment for children and victims of domestic and family violence.
So far these dogs have had a huge impact on victims of crime, witnesses, lawyers, police officers and court staff.
Commissioner for Victims Rights Michelle Vaughan said the program had proved to be one of the most successful and cost effective initiatives the department had introduced to support victims and witnesses in courthouses around the state.
The studies show spending time with pets can significantly reduce stress and boost happiness, as well as providing comfort to those who are feeling lonely and scared.Commissioner for Victims Rights Michelle Vaughan
"There has been plenty of research over the years which shows the wonderful impact therapy dogs have on people who are feeling anxious," she said.
"The studies show spending time with pets can significantly reduce stress and boost happiness, as well as providing comfort to those who are feeling lonely and scared.
"So far we have found 96 per cent of interactions with the dogs being described as positive, which is great news."
Nose to sniff out hidden treasures
BUDDY and Bailey are not only among the region's most highly-trained dogs, they also have the best noses going around.
Truffle harvesting season runs from mid June to late August and this pair of pooches are contracted out, along with their handler Teneka Priestly, to farms from the Blue Mountains to Mudgee.
Buddy and Bailey are rescue dogs and they were selected due to their stable temperament and strong work ethic.
"The amount of times I harvest each property during the season varies on the size and amount of trees the property has - the bigger properties can have up to 5000-6000 trees which need checking weekly or fortnightly," Ms Priestly said.
The trees that truffles grow under are usually oak or hazelnut trees that were inoculated as small tube stock. It can take anywhere from four to seven years for truffles to start growing.
"Dogs, with their amazing sense of smell, can find a truffle underground from the size of a pea to something as big as a butter container," Ms Priestly said.
Dogs, with their amazing sense of smell, can find a truffle underground from the size of a pea to something as big as a butter container.Truffle dog handler Teneka Priestly
"The truffle can grow on the surface or to about 30-50 centimetres underground, depending on soil type and age of the tree."
When the dog smells a truffle it will indicate by tapping on the ground right where the truffle is located.
It is then up to the handler to smell the soil and determine weather or not the truffle is ready to harvest. When the truffle is found the dog is rewarded for a successful indication.
Dogs are really good at finding truffle due to their incredible sense of smell and trainability," Ms Priestly said.
In the past pigs were sometimes used to hunt truffles, but they would often dig them up and eat them.
Protecting lives in the paddock
THEY may be known as gentle giants, but these 40-kilogram balls of fluff have a very serious job to do - protecting lives.
Mother Clucker Eggs in Dubbo began production in October, 2016 and since then the free range chickens have been protected by a band of maremma dogs.
This Italian breed of livestock guarding dog is absolutely vital to the operation, founder Michelle Graham said.
"They are very essential as we do not lock our hens away at night," she said.
"Without the dogs working 24/7 the predators would destroy our business."
Ms Graham said not only will her group of six maremma dogs protect the farm's 1500 hens, they will also protect any other livestock on the property.
Without the dogs working 24/7 the predators would destroy our business.Mother Clucker Eggs founder Michelle Graham
"The dogs have always been a part of the business from the beginning - albeit we started with two and have grown our pack to six. These dogs work more effectively in a pack," she said.
Ms Graham said maremmas were a very specialised breed of dog and their training requirements were different to other working dogs such as kelpies.
"Maremmas are capable of and expected to work autonomously from their humans, meaning that they will think independently and make decisions while we sleep," she said.
"Farmers should not get maremmas without doing their research first. However once trained and established they are the best workers you can have."
A day in the life of a dog behind bars
- 6am: Wake up and go outside for toileting and stretch legs
- 6.15-7am: Hang out with my trainer in their cell while he gets ready
- 7am: Go to muster with my trainer
- 7.15am: Breakfast
- 7.30-8.30am: Free time playing with other dogs
- 8.30-9am: Walk in the back paddock
- 9.30-12noon: Community training visit - Bus trip and visit to community agencies such as a nursing home, disability serviced, high needs classrooms etc.
- 12-1pm: Back to the centre, free time and chill out.
- 1.15-3pm: Town training session to learn my assistance dog manners in places like a shopping centre, sitting quietly at the library or walking in busy streets.
- 3-5pm: Free time playing with other dogs
- 5pm: Dinner
- 5-8pm: Hanging out with my trainer in cell watching television and doing some short training sessions
- 8pm: Last toileting for night
- 8.30pm: Lights out, I'm exhausted!
The Defence Community Dogs program commenced in 2014 and so far more than 45 veterans have received a dog.
Once the six-seven month training program has been completed, each dog is matched matched with a suitable veteran and given to them at no cost thanks to the support of Defence Bank Foundation.
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