I’ve always had a soft spot for working dogs who –- guided by talented, compassionate humans –- are allowed to do what they were bred to do. Nothing thrills me more than to watch a terrier execute a perfect barn hunt, a narcotics-detection dog make a find, or a sheep herder move a flock. All seems right with the world because the humans have a real need for the assistance, and the dogs do what their owners cannot.
It is beyond maddening, however, when these dogs land in shelters (or worse) because their working drives get in the way of being what most people want in a pet. Enter the good folks at Australian Working Dog Rescue International (AWDRI), founded by Carey and Di Edwards.
The Edwards organized the nonprofit a few years back and have since rescued and rehomed more than 5,000 working dogs. They give them the lives they were meant to have, training and placing the dogs on farms and ranches where they become invaluable to their new owners. I recently interviewed AWDRI co-founder Carey, and I hope you will agree with me that this group is doing a fabulous job saving true working dogs. Bravo to the Aussies!
Dogster: How did AWDRI get started?
Carey Edwards: Di and I decided to reinvent an organization we already operated, the Australian Pet Registry, and dedicate it to rescuing Aussie working breeds.
Our first working breed dog was a rescue, a little Border Collie cross, who was saved in 1986. We currently have three dogs of our own: an Australian Kelpie cross named Bud, age 14; a Kelpie named Nimble, who is an AWDRI ambassador, age two; and an Australian Cattle Dog named Pudding, who is 18 months.
What breeds do you rescue and what part of Australia do you operate in?
We rescue Australian working breed dogs, being Australian Cattle Dogs, Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dogs, Australian Kelpies, Australian Koolies, and Border Collies. We claim the Border Collie as Australian, as the standard for the breed was written in Australia, even though the heritage traces back to the Border regions of Scotland. We operate and rescue from all states and territories in the country. If we can get there, we will endeavor to rescue!
How many working dogs do you save each year?
Last financial year, we saved just under 1,500 dogs, a couple of cats, and a horse.
What attracted you to working dogs?
The drive, the endless enthusiasm, the unwavering loyalty, and the fact that they can be, and usually are, much more work than the average canine pet.
How difficult is it to find appropriate homes for intense working dogs?
As we get larger and more well known, it is actually becoming increasingly easier. At first it could be quite difficult, and many dogs spent quite a while in foster care. Our advertising mechanisms have evolved and grown to assist our efforts, so where a generic dog rescue might have difficulty in both handling and rehoming a working breed dog, our specialized approach to these dogs makes it relatively easy to find appropriate homes for them.
What do you wish people knew about working dogs?
That one or two walks per day, or tossing a ball for 20 minutes, is simply not enough for them. It’s not all about land size or space. They require constant mental challenges through the day, not a big backyard.
How can people in other countries help your nonprofit organization?
As with most charities, AWDRI relies on donations, and people all over the world can donate money or goods such as dog collars and leads to our cause. Even more important, though, is word of mouth. Support us and what we do, for the person you talk to about us might just be the next person to adopt a dog and save another life.
Please talk about the cost of saving one of these working ranch hands vs. the dollar amount these great dogs add to a working farm.
Our common public statement is that $300 saves a dog’s life, but when put up against the work just one dog can do on a farm, the cost is miniscule. One dog can do the work of three men, and he won’t take a day off; won’t complain about the heat, the rain, the dust, or the terrain; and will work all day for a pat, a bit of praise, and a meal you don’t even have to cook.
How often are dogs flown to their new homes? Are the pilots volunteers?
At present, we have dogs flying every other day on planes to go to their new homes. A pet transport company, JetPets, assists us with all flights and donates many flights per month to assist in getting death-row dogs to their foster families.
Can you briefly talk about the different ways each breed works sheep or cattle?
Kelpies are typically the dogs most think of for moving sheep. They are gatherers of stock, so they will typically run around the stock to the opposite side and guide them all back to the handler, essentially “bring the food to the farmer.” They have the ability to work above and below the stock, too, due to their superior balance, hence you see a lot of photos of Kelpies on the backs of sheep.
Cattle Dogs are more of a droving, or driving, type dog. They stay in the general area of the handler, behind the stock, and force the stock to keep moving forward. They often nip at the heels of the stock to make them move, hence their nickname “Heelers.”
Border Collies and Koolies work more in the manner that Kelpies do. All the working dog breeds can be trained to work in similar fashions, and there are also dogs who work better in paddocks and others who work better in yards or loading trucks.
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About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with her everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Phenix generally leaves her six donkeys at home on the ranch . . . but she is thinking about clicker training those little hairy hee-hawers as well.