I’ve been away for a few days this past week, attending the biennial South Island Conservation Dog Hui at Raincliffs Scout Camp near Geraldine. It was a bit of a mission to get there and it took me about 10 hours from home to the venue. Of course not all that time was spent driving, but a fair proportion was.
It was raining extremely heavily when I left home and I wasn’t even certain I’d make it to the first town; Westport. Having my car break down wasn’t much help and I was blessed that it happened near the Base for my work and the Company’s mechanic was able to come and help me out – Thank you Nigel – You’re a star! 🙂 The way I get to Geraldine is over Arthur’s Pass and then down the Inland Scenic Route.On Tuesday the access from the Pass road was closed for tree felling, so I had to make my way to the State Highway 1 and come down through Ashburton. By the time I reached this part of the country the sun was out and the atmosphere definitely felt Spring-like.
I arrived at the venue just after 6pm. Before too long the car park area began to fill up and there were dogs, handlers and administrators meeting and greeting. New acquaintances made and old friendships re-kindled. Not all handlers take their dogs to the hui, but it is great for those who choose to. There wasn’t any planned activity for Tuesday night so I went for a nice walk along the river that runs nearby.
The night’s sleeping arrangements are bunk rooms – women on the left and men on the right. I was the first in my room and left my gear on a bunk while I socialised. When I went to bed there were another four sleeping bags laid out. Not giving my room mates much more thought I climbed into the top bunk, read for a bit and went to sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up during the night I realised that my room mates weren’t all women! Sleep noises gave hints to what was hidden in the dark of the night. I got up early in the morning, but as the morning progressed realised I was the only female in my room! “Just like a hut in the bush”, one of my fellow dog handlers remarked. I’m glad I was able to contribute to his sense of authenticity.
Both days of the hui were packed full – speakers, work shops and each handler had the opportunity to share a ‘5 minute gem’ summarising their work / year / and other points of interest. Some had powerpoint presentations, videos or other media streams to share while others shared a few words. It was a fantastic time; inspiring, challenging, innovative, thought-provoking and humorous. It was wonderful to meet our new sponsors; Kiwi Bank, they seem really focused on the support and partnership to the programme. We learned about social media ( Hi Kurt!), Health and Safety (thank you Guus), met new handlers, had a session led by the Ministry of Primary Industries Dog Handling Team – (Cheers team), dog behaviour training (thanks again Guus), introduction to using a surrogate species for training purposes (thanks James) and received an introduction to the new Best Practice Manual for Kiwi Practitioners. Phew!
PPT – dog hui 2017 – link to the PPT I shared at the hui
And that’s not all … there are two branches to the Conservation Dog Programme; pest detection dogs (rodents, mustelids, cats, argentine ants – to name a few) and protective species dogs (kiwi, whio, wrybill, kea, kakapo – and more). Conversations were rich; handlers shared, encouraged, learned, admonished, laughed and commiserated with each other. New friends and contacts were made and many stories told.
It was time to leave for home on Thursday afternoon and again the long drive back. It was great to have time to reflect and ponder over all that I had gained and gathered over the days. Many thanks and acknowledgement must go to: Karen, Fin, Andrew, Pete, Miriam, Max, James and others. I feel better equipped and encouraged to continue with my mission in my own sphere of work and play. Mica the kiwi and whio dog and Pearl the Interim trained dog will continue to help with the preservation and protection of the species they are trained to indicate.