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Article  •  30 November 2017


On the chase

Laura Greaves introduces a dog with a somewhat lofty title.

Image: Adrian Snelling/Australian National Maritime Museum

‘If dogs could talk, the phrase “I can’t be bothered” would not be in their vocabulary,’ Laura Greaves writes in the introduction to her book Dogs with Jobs. ‘Working dogs are on call 24/7. They will do their jobs in the middle of the night if we ask them to. They will show up and work whether they’re tired, hungry or not in the mood. They are consci­entious in the extreme. If Employee of the Month awards were open to all species, working dogs would win every single time.­­’

From inspirational moments of bravery to dogs doing the jobs that no one else can, in Dogs with Jobs Greaves reveals the extraordinary, heart-warming true stories of dogs pulling much more than just their own weight. Here we meet Bailey, Assistant Director of Seagulls at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Think of a mighty warship’s natural enemies and tempestu­ous weather likely springs to mind. Corrosive sea salt is a problem, too. And nothing challenges a military vessel like the raw, unpredictable power of the ocean itself.

Well, almost nothing.

As it turns out, one of the most relentless foes a naval fleet may ever face is not a stormy sea or even a hostile combatant. Those things are generally temporary and can be conquered. The thing that arguably poses the greatest risk to a ship’s integrity, because of its sheer persistence both far from land and in safe harbour, is the Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae.

That’s a silver gull, to you and me. A bog-standard, chip-stealing, squawking Aussie seagull.

For the Australian National Maritime Museum, based at Sydney’s iconic Darling Harbour, these pests of the sky are a constant problem. To be more specific, their poo is a constant problem – because it’s everywhere, all the time, and it causes significant damage to the museum’s wharves and twelve heritage vessels, staining their paintwork and varnish. It’s also a health risk and creates a slippery, revolt­ing hazard for guests.

‘Seagulls are a major issue in terms of the mess they leave. It creates a lot of work for our shipkeepers because they are constantly having to clean it off. The birds cause the lacquer on the boats to peel because of the acidity of their poo,’ says Adrian Snelling, the museum’s Head of Security.

For vessels like the 61-year-old destroyer HMAS Vampire, for example, repeated exterior damage can lead to corrosion and rust, not to mention requiring regular expen­sive repairs. The birds are a particular problem at night, when they roost on the wharves and there is no human activity to spook them.

Clearly, the museum needed a strict no-seagulls policy – and fast. Museum staff tried a number of creative anti-bird tactics, but quickly discovered seagulls are cannier and bolder than they’d given them credit for…

Enter Australian Working Dog Rescue pooch, border collie Bailey: three bird-chasing shifts a day for the meagre rewards of food, lodging and a quick play with his tennis ball. And the results speak for themselves.

‘We were getting all our pathways high-pressure washed once or twice a week before Bailey arrived,’ Snelling says. ‘Now it’s been six months since I’ve had to wash them. Our fleet guys had to wash down the wharves every day so people could walk on them, otherwise it was too slippery, but they haven’t had to do that since Bailey’s been here. We’re saving a lot of time and a lot of money.’

And that cost saving isn’t just in terms of maintaining the historic fleet and museum infrastructure; Bailey himself has been quite an economical investment, it turns out. It can cost up to $70 000 for an agency or institution to buy a fully trained working dog. Bailey’s adoption fee was just $350.

Dogs with Jobs Laura Greaves

Extraordinary true stories of some of the hardest-working dogs in the world.

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