Detection dogs smelling a cat-astrophe on farms

Detection dogs will be used to eradicate feral cats in the Wyangala and Reid's Flat areas near Cowra.
Detection dogs will be used to eradicate feral cats in the Wyangala and Reid's Flat areas near Cowra.

​Steve Austin, who once headed a federal quarantine operation and has used his dogs in ‘Search and Rescue’, is visiting Wyangala and Reids Flat properties to help control a feral cat problem.

The detection dogs are bred from a line of popular Working English Springer and Cocker Spaniel hunting dogs.

This week, Tommy, Emma, Beccy and Sally are helping Hovells Creek Landcare Group counter the catastrophic effect cats are having on native birds and reptiles.

In addition to narcotics, Austin has been training his dogs to detect feral animals and noxious weeds.

In recent years, he has noticed a growing feral cat problem. “I am spotting more and more cats the size of Border-Collie dogs. Cats this size can be dangerous to humans and to stock,” says Austin.

“The bigger cats are starting to hunt bigger animals which helps them grow. It is foreseeable they will become a greater pest to farm stock and pets, particularly pet dogs, chickens and lambs,” Austin said.

“Their claws are like hypodermic needles.  A scratch can blind or disease a dog with untreatable bacteria. There is also a zoonotic disease feral cats carry, called toxoplasmosis.  It can be harmful to humans.  Pregnant women must be particularly cautious around feral cats as toxoplasmosis is deadly to an unborn child.

“A bacterial infection is potentially catastrophic. I know a ranger who picked up a feral cat in a cage and accidentally got scratched. She is having ongoing problems with an infected arm,” Austin told the group.

Steve is a domestic cat owner. “I think cat ownership should be the same as dog ownership. I like the idea of all domestic cats being de-sexed and restrained within an owner’s property, the way dogs have to be,” he said.

“I respect their brains and their ability to look after their young in the wild.  Humans are the problem and I believe they have not been doing enough to look after our unique Australian wildlife over the past two hundred years.”

Austin uses his dogs strictly as detection dogs. “They just show us where the cats are located. They do not engage in hunting or killing the cats, or any other wildlife for that matter.”

“We are very happy with the work Steve’s dogs have been able to do. His dogs have shown us where cats are living on our property,” said Hovells Creek Landcarer, Linda Southwell.

Tracee Burke at Mid-Lachlan Landcare has supplied the Hovells Creek landholders with cat traps.

“We will be setting them at the locations Steve and his dogs have mapped out for us,” said Southwell.