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Real Life

REAL LIFE STORY: Meet the woman fighting for dingo rights

''My blood ran cold as I realised my mistake.''

By Laura Masia

Lyn Watson, from Toolern Vale, Vic, shares her story

I listened to footsteps and muffled conversation overhead as I crouched beneath the stone bridge.
Above, spectators glanced around the enclosure, keen to catch a glimpse of a dingo.
"I guess they're all sleeping," one man said, disappointed.
He's right, I thought, patting the dingo resting his head in my lap.
I first saw these gorgeous creatures when I was seven years old. My uncle had brought me and my siblings to the animal sanctuary for a treat. The moment I saw these beautiful pups, I was transfixed.
I cheekily climbed over the fence to get a closer look when my uncle wasn't looking. The dingoes were apprehensive but soon, they snuggled up next to me.
After that, every time we visited, I'd sneak in and we'd huddle under the bridge together.
''Please can we get a dingo, or even just a dog,'' I begged Mum and Dad later, but they always said no.
My grandma was terrified of dogs, and didn't want me anywhere near them.
Some of the cute pups at our sanctuary. Image: Take 5
But my uncle could see how desperate I was, and bought me a fox terrier, Chips, for my ninth birthday. It was a dream come true. My parents weren't pleased, but they could see happy I was.
Chips and I were instantly best friends and I became fascinated with dogs.
As I got older, I dreamt of becoming a vet.
"No granddaughter of mine is doing that," my grandmother said, refusing to help me pay for uni fees.
Instead, I became a secretary at a bank and later got married.
It wasn't my dream career, but once I left my family home, I could have any dog I wanted!
First, I got a beautiful pure bread Pekinese, Kimmie, and we started competing in dog shows.
Over the years, I owned a range of pure breeds, and learned everything I could about them. But it never quenched my desire for a dingo.
As my marriage ended, I became an internationally recognised dog show judge, the elective vice president of the Victorian Canine Association and a representative in the Australian Kennel Council.
Me with the dingoes. Image: Take 5
One day, I met the organisation's president, Peter. Naturally, we both loved dogs, but like me, he also had a particular passion for dingoes.
Peter and I started dating and married a few years later.
Often, we'd talk about what a bad rap dingoes had. They were Australia's native dog but were sadly viewed as pests and often killed.
''If you want to legally own a dingo you need to change the laws," Peter encouraged me.
I wrote a plea to the council to recognise the native dingo as a dog breed and to help save it from hunters.
At the next national meeting in Darwin, the state delegates all agreed with my case and within a month, the dingo was officially allowed as a pet.
Peter and I were stoked.
We instantly purchased a pair of pure-bred dingoes for our kennels.
They settled in quickly and I spent two weeks studying their behaviours.
Peter was as passionate about protecting dingoes as I am. Image: Take 5
I soon noticed something was off. They had incredible flexibility and were more agile than any dog I'd ever seen.
Like cats they used their whiskers to hunt their prey by feeling for tiny vibrations.
It made me feel uneasy.
As I went to sleep one night, a chilling realisation suddenly washed over me. Dingoes aren't dogs, they're more like giant cats.
I'd spent years studying all breeds of dogs, and dingoes just didn't fit. They were a whole different species.
After working so hard to have them legally classified as dogs, the realisation made me sick to my stomach. For weeks, I couldn't sleep from the guilt.
"What have I done?" I lamented to Peter.
"We just need to do right by them," he replied.
We decided to fight for dingoes to be moved off the pet list and onto the threatened Australian species list instead.
Our dingo sanctuary is the biggest in the world. Image: Take 5
It's important to have dingoes with pure blood lines to maintain the conservation of the breed, but they aren't domestic animals.
We began searching for a property where we could create a sanctuary for dingoes and set up the Australian Dingo Foundation to continue our work.
After five years, we found a beautiful 40-acre property next to the state forest and it became the largest pure dingo breeding and rescue sanctuary in the world.
Sadly, 10 years later, Peter passed away from a heart attack and I discovered that we were in a huge amount of debt. Suddenly I'd lost my soul mate and almost lost our sanctuary.
Thankfully, with hard work and the support of our community and volunteers, we made it through.
Still, I'd often pray to the universe to give me a sign that I was doing the right thing.
One day, a vet called me.
"A puppy's just appeared in a family's yard,'' he said. "We think it was dropped by an eagle. It looks like a dingo but we're not sure."
"Send me a picture and I'll let you know," I replied excitedly.
As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a pure-bred dingo.
To be sure, I asked the vet to send a swab for DNA testing. Two months later, it was confirmed and he later came to live with me.
It's hard to find pure male dingoes for breeding in the wild and I felt like the universe had dropped him as a present from the sky.
We named him Wandi, after Wandiligong, the small Victorian town he'd landed in, and matched him up with a young female named Hermione.
It took him a while to learn how to socialise with the others but soon, he was happily frolicking around.
To find out more about Lyn and the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary, Research and Education Centre, click here.
WATCH BELOW: Meet the wild dingoes of Fraser Island.

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