Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MADISON EASTMOND

OFTEN referred to as the ‘crazy dog lady’ no matter where she goes, Bronwyn Welsh, 62, has dedicated 30 years to the veterinary industry, and has spent a lifetime concerned with the welfare of animals across rural Australia, and beyond. 

After practicing as a RSPCA Cruelty Inspector in country NSW for 15 years, and years working with and euthanising surrendered dogs at shelters often due to a lack of training and development of unruly behaviour, Bronwyn saw a desperate need for education surrounding animal behaviour.

Beginning her Mildura business ‘Delta Dogs’ in 2004, Bronwyn has enjoyed immense success.

Now with seven official staff, and 13 training sessions a week, the retired Veterinary Nurse is still determined to raise awareness and teach some manners to any local dog that comes her way.

Born and raised in 1950s Broken Hill, Bronwyn said her childhood had offered up some interesting experiences regarding animal welfare.

“For the 100 years Broken Hill had been in existence, not once had there ever been a vet,” she said. “It stayed that way for the entirety of my childhood.”

Because of the lack of desexing and vaccinations, the population and rampant disease of cats, and especially dogs, was completely out of control.

“I grew up thinking packs of 30 dogs, or more, roaming the town was normal, the job of animal control was up to the police and their paddy-wagon,” Bronwyn said. 

Known as the ‘hit-man’, each neighbourhood had a designated person to take an injured or diseased animal to be euthanised.

“Our local ‘hit-man’ happened to be my father as he owned a rifle,” she said. “We always had people knocking on our door.”

The lack of services regarding animals created some confronting situations.

“We had no kennels either, so at Christmas when all the mines closed down, people would put their animals down, and get a new one when they came back and so on,” Bronwyn said.

“I suppose I grew up in a hard school of what owning a pet looked like, and it took me a while to realise this wasn’t common practice.”

In the late 1960s, Mildura’s own Dr Neville Japp began visiting Broken Hill to provide limited services to the town once every three weeks.

“He would make the trip up and have a day desexing animals non-stop, often on someone’s kitchen on a table,” Bronwyn said. “Dr Japp also used to fly up to grazing properties as well, but there was still very little veterinary services for the community as a whole.”

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the Australian RSPCA intervened and built a shelter and permanently supplied the clinic with vets from Sydney.

Bronwyn’s career in animal welfare began when she started with the Australian RSPCA in 1977, while completing her veterinary nursing course in 1979.

“I took on a role as inspector, or an honorary inspector as they called them in those days,” she said. “Working with the RSPCA showed me the other side, the even more horrible side, of owning animals and pets.

“It was during initially taking on this role, and seeing some of the treatment that went on, that I realised the only way to prevent these situations was education.

“Educating people on animal behaviour, animal needs and providing resources to do so.”

In 1988 Bronwyn’s husband, a miner by trade, was transferred to Papua New Guinea.

Making their way to Bougainville Island, Bronwyn worked with a shelter funded by the English RSCPA.

Previously without the service of a vet, the islands animals were out of control.

Desexing programs were put into place, and a focus management of breeding, disease and education was a main focus.

“I saw some things, especially as a animal lover, that made my hair curl,” she said. “Because you see, the dogs were not pets, they were packs of stray and feral dogs that roamed and cleaned up villages.”

Coming back to Australia a year later to the small town of Cobar, Bronwyn once again found herself in a community without a vet.

“Word soon got out that this ‘dog lady’ was in town, and I soon had people knocking on my door,” she laughed. “I began to work with a vet from Dubbo, who was three hours away. 

“Similarly to how Dr Japp worked in Broken Hill, this vet would visit every three weeks and spend one day in Cobar.”

During her time in Cobar, Bronwyn also started a RSPCA shelter in her backyard, taking in more than 300 dogs a year, and volunteered to mange the population of dogs at the pound.

“The job at the pound, as a dog-lover, it really did my head in,” she said.

Before Bronwyn arrived in Cobar, the problem of animal control and putting-down animals was solved with a rifle.

“To me, getting rid of a dog with a rifle is very traumatic,” she said. “Most of them were sheep dogs, so they knew what a gun was all about… I just couldn’t let that keep happening.”

Bronwyn worked with the RSPCA during this time, being supplied with the necessary drugs, and completing the weekly task of euthanising the animals. 

“I did it for nine years,” she said. “People ask me all the time, how did you do that job? I didn’t want to do it, but someone has to, and often it’s someone who loves animals.”

Over two years, Bronwyn also completed her advanced nursing in 1996, every six weeks making a 13-hour trip to the town of Tamworth to live as a resident for one week at the local practice.

After those nine years in the mining community, Bronwyn made her way to Mildura in 1998, where she has spent the past 20 years.

“I did as much as I could in Cobar, and I think it’s a better place when I left as far as animals were concerned,” she said.

When Bronwyn arrived, Mildura’s RSPCA was already running a shelter, so she joined, becoming secretary of the committee, also starting at the Mildura Veterinary Clinic with Dr Japp.

From there, Bronwyn’s training unfolded.

Establishing Delta Dogs 15 years ago, Bronwyn initially started her business as a small puppy school back in 1998.

“When I came to Mildura, no one had even heard of a puppy school before, so I asked Dr Japp if I could start one, and he said yes,” she said.

Due to the number of animals with behavioural problems coming into the clinic, which was happening more often than not, Dr Japp eventually wanted, along with a puppy school, for Bronwyn to train  new staff at the local clinic on handling difficult animals. 

“Most young vets are very well trained at university, but they don’t understand or experience behaviour,” Bronwyn said. “Most can’t handle aggressive or nervous animals, even though they’re meant to do it every day.”

Soon Bronwyn was asked if she could take on clients from the general public.

“I completed my Behavioural Trainers Course with the Delta Society in 2003 and  everything just seemed to evolve from there,” she said, 

Now, in 2019, Delta Dogs has seven staff members and 13 training sessions running throughout the week.

“The training we provide is different because it’s positive training,” she said. “It’s not meant for competitions, it’s simply to have a pet with good manners.”

The other side of Bronwyn’s job involves the education of behavioural training, working hand-in-hand with welfare groups such as SARG.

Due to the rising fatality of dog bites to children, Delta regularly visits local maternal health units, meeting with young mothers to raise awareness.

“Most young parents know that you don’t leave young children with dogs, but they still don’t understand how to read their dog,” she said. “It’s about education of parents on how to read the signs and intervene before a fatality occurs.”

Bronwyn, after working with animals for more than 40 years, has been recognised for her efforts through Life Membership by the RSPCA NSW for services to the Society, and received an Australia Day Award in 1997 for her services to the community in the animal welfare area.

“I’ve been known as the ‘crazy dog lady’ wherever I’ve lived, but I don’t care,” Bronwyn laughed. “It’s my passion, and I’m lucky I’ve got a long suffering husband who’s put up with it for 43 years. ”

Taking all ages, temperaments and behaviours, Bronwyn said there is no dog that will be turned away from Delta.

“We still have a long way to go to understand and deal with animal issues, but I’m hopeful, I think we’re on the right path,” she said.

For more information on Mildura’s Delta Dogs, email bronwynwelsh@milduradeltadogs.com.au, visit www.milduradeltadogs.com.au or like  ‘Mildura Delta Dog Training’ on Facebook.