James Roach and his son Robert of Casino use howling to attract wild dogs when they are hunting.
James Roach and his son Robert of Casino use howling to attract wild dogs when they are hunting. Cathy Adams

Job's a howling success

WE ALL need to have a good howl now and then.

Jim Roach of Casino and his son Robert go out into the bush in the hours before dawn to make a (very modest) living out of it.

They are dog howlers, and farmers pay them to call up, and shoot, wild dogs that are attacking their cattle or sheep.

It's an old skill that Jim learnt from his father when he was growing up in Bonalbo.

He also learnt how to set traps, which he still does, but he prefers howling.

"My dad could howl dingoes out of the quarry - they'd come right up to him," Jim told The Northern Star.

"Now they come right up to us, as many as a dozen at a time."

And there's more to it than just the howling.

"We'll have a big cuddle with our own dogs before we set out, so we smell good to other dogs," Jim said.

"We probably don't smell all that attractive to people, but it works for us!"

The pair goes out armed with bottles of dog, and especially bitch, urine, to spray a scent that will attract wild dogs.

But it's the mournful, long drawn-out howls that bring the inquisitive animals right up to within shooting range.

Both men have an uncanny understanding of the ways of dogs.

While they love and respect them and take great care of their three (domesticated) wolfhounds, they also understand that wild dogs and valuable farm stock are not a good mix.

So they go out into the night, into the bush, with just bottles of water, some chocolate bars, rifles and a licence to shoot, and they sit.

And they howl, and they wait.

They might wait up to five or six hours, calling into the chilled air before the sun rises.

"Mountainous country is the best for howling," Robert said.

"The sound echoes off the hills.

"Wherever you are, the bush talks to you, if you listen.

"You get to hear the different bird calls and sounds of the wildlife, the farmers' dogs howling back at you, and if you wait, the wild dogs will start to respond."

Jim hesitates to use the word "dingoes" as many of the dogs that run wild in the hills are dumped domestic pets and half-breeds.

It's been estimated by National Parks and Wildlife officers that less than 70% of wild dogs would have a pure dingo bloodline.

Jim reckons his son is better at howling than he is, and able to make sounds that are recognised by wild dogs as enticements to mating.

They can even differentiate between the responses they get from their howling: the wild dogs might be replying "Be careful!" or "I really want to meet you".

There are no bounties on wild dogs in NSW and farmers don't pay much for this unusual service, but you get the feeling there is a satisfaction in the work that keeps the pair going out.

They don't believe in setting poisoned baits as the death is too protracted and cruel.

They are both good shots. They never miss.

"It's quick and clean," said Jim.

"When a farmer is losing thousands of dollars worth of sheep or cattle to wild dogs, it's the only option there is."

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