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How Nimbin's Martin McKenna became The Dreadlocked Dog Man

DOCTOR DOG: Australia's top dog communicator Martin McKenna sits with Firefly and Eliza Jane who he feels he can aid their owner.
DOCTOR DOG: Australia's top dog communicator Martin McKenna sits with Firefly and Eliza Jane who he feels he can aid their owner. Marc Stapelberg

HAVING already penned three books about dog behaviour, Nimbin's Martin McKenna has now written the story of his life and how he came to be known as The Dreadlock Dog Man.

Born in Ireland, Mr McKenna escaped a life of family violence by running away and living in an abandoned barn for several years with a pack of stray dogs.

The experience gave him a unique opportunity to learn and understand the psychology of dogs. In later years he shared that insight as a guest on talkback radio in Australia and overseas.

"So many people have asked for it (the memoir), to tell my full life story," Mr McKenna said.

"When you go back to try and make sense of it, you have to honestly look at your life and ask 'do we go back to the past and make tears or go back and make laughter?' I chose laughter.

"(Given what happened) you would think I'd be terminally broken but children are adaptable, they're survivors. You may think something is big in your childhood but it might just be that you were small at the time."

The forward for Mr McKenna's memoir, The Boy Who Talked to Dogs, has been written by Malachy McCourt, the brother of Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt.

"He read the book and thought it was an astonishing story, so he has kind of endorsed it," Mr McKenna said.

While the book focuses on his life, Mr McKenna said it offers a look at Ireland in the 1960s.

"It was a time of big change. The reason I did the memoir was not so people go 'Oh, poor Marty, let's all sob along with him'. But there are characters worth remembering," he said.

"It's a patchwork quilt of a time that was and is gone and will never be again."

The memoir is Mr McKenna's fourth book but he revealed he still struggles to read and write.

"I definitely can't spell. I have to yell out to my family all the time for help, it's quite a madhouse," he said.

"It's amazing to me that you can take 26 letters and make 10,000 words. The act of writing is like magic to me."

Mr McKenna has also taught himself to play music and hopes to release his first album Acid Spangled Banner sometime soon.

"I'm addicted to writing poetry and music. It's opened me in ways in I can't explain," he said.

Mr McKenna still offers advice to dog owners via his blogspot page, The Dreadlock Dog Man.

"I get a nice feeling from that," he said.

"I don't take money and I still help condition dogs from rescue groups. I'll take them on for a while and teach them, give them back their confidence. About 10% don't make it but I like to give back to dogs because they have given so much to me."

Topics:  dogs, nimbin



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