Dog owners’ frustrating excuse after three iconic animals attacked

Dog owners are continuing to miss two key issues that can turn their puppy into a predator.

Three separate images of a koala, kangaroo and a wombat after being treated at Hepburn Wildlife Shelter following dog attacks.
A koala, kangaroo and a wombat were all attacked within a single week. Source: Hepburn Wildlife Shelter

A koala, a kangaroo and a wombat walked into a paddock. The line has all the hallmarks of a classic joke, but there’s nothing funny about what happened next.

All three animals separately fell victim to attacks from pet dogs in a country town over the last two weeks. Sadly the common excuse many pet owners give after attacks such as these is frequently the same.

“I never thought my dog would do that,” is what wildlife rescuer Gayle Chappell is frequently told when she arrives at a property to pick up the pieces and clean the wounds after an attack.

“That’s what they always think… until their animal attacks. Because people don't like to think that their dogs do these sorts of things,” she said.

Chappel estimates there’s one dog attack on native animals everyday in the wider region where she operates her Hepburn Wildlife Shelter in central Victoria.

Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Yandoit are all popular resort towns just 90 minutes from Melbourne, and city-dwellers who or are holidaying in the area or have made a permanent tree-change will often delight in letting their dogs run free in the open paddocks.

But an ordinarily placid dog that’s used to city life, can quickly change personality and become a killer after it experience two simple changes:

  • Exposure to the natural world and wild animals.

  • Joining up with other dogs to create a pack.

Even when the dogs are caught attacking animals by their owners, they often miss how bad the damage is.

“Most of the damage is done underneath the skin. Dogs crush and they shake. They tear muscle tissue that you can't see,” Chappell said.

“And if we don’t get the animal straight away, clean up the wounds and get them on antibiotics, infection sets in. And in the summer, the maggots get in and it’s just horrendous and there’s nothing we can do.

“I’ve seen 80 kg kangaroos that have been attacked around the neck. It’s often weeks later. They’re in so much pain and we often can’t save them.”

Close up of a wombat's wounds at Hepburn Wildlife Shelter.
The wombat's wounds were almost impossible to see under his thick fur. Source: Hepburn Wildlife Shelter

Of the three dog attack victims Chappell recently took into care, the outcomes are mixed. The koala, which she describes as “beautiful” and “in his prime” initially appeared like he would pull through.

“There weren't many penetrating wounds or broken bones, but there was a lot of tissue damage,” she said.

“We decided to try and manage him but the following morning, it became clear we weren’t going to be able to manage his pain. So we decided we’d need to euthanise him.”

Chappell’s biggest concern for the wombat now is infection and if he recovers the process could take months.

The prognosis for the kangaroo is better. “He's surprised us all. And we're confident that he's going to make it. But you never quite know what residual damage has been done,” Chappell said.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.