28 March 2024

DAS volunteer devotes 20 years to caring for dogs

| Sally Hopman
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Woman kneeling with dog

Di Johnstone has been a volunteer at ACT Domestic Animal Services for 20 years, caring for dogs like Arthur who has been in care for 100 days. Photo: Sally Hopman

About 20 years ago, former diplomat Di Johnstone retired and was looking for something to fill her days.

An animal-lover all her life, she went to the RSPCA to see if she could volunteer but there was a long waiting list. For this former top-level public servant, waiting was not on the agenda.

The RSPCA suggested she try ACT Domestic Animal Services (DAS).

“So I went over there, told them I was there to volunteer, and they gave me a lead,” she laughed.

Today Di, 73, is marking her 20th year as a DAS volunteer. These days she’ll spend around two hours a week walking the dogs on the trail through bushland on the Symonston property or with them in the play yards.

In the beginning “when I was younger”, she’d spend up to 12 hours a week with the dogs.

“When I started here I saw so many dogs, I wanted to walk them all. I tried to but we weren’t as organised as we are now,” she said.

“Back then you’d just turn up ad hoc and walk the dogs. Now it’s all organised. We have a wonderful volunteer coordinator, Keda Southwell, who does all that work.”

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But back in the day, Di said she lobbied everyone she could, from then ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope down, to help find the dogs homes.

“We needed better promotion back then so people would come here and see the animals – and adopt them,” she said.

“I started up a newsletter to let people know about the dogs, saying they were adoptable. We just had to get the word out.”

For Di, walking and playing with the dogs is a gift. She has always had them herself, but knows that the ones at DAS, usually through no fault of their own, don’t always have the best opportunities in life – and that no animal should spend all day every day in a cage.

“They deserve so much more,” she said.

Two of her own dogs came from DAS – “One of them I took into care for the short-term to care for his wounds. But once I had him, I knew I’d have him for the rest of his life”.

Two women with dog

DAS volunteer Di Johnstone with volunteer coordinator Keda Southwell and Arthur. Photo: Sally Hopman.

“Then I had this other one, a staffie, Bella, who had everything possible wrong with her. She had hyperthyroidism, a tumour, teeth that had pretty much disintegrated, a shoulder injury.

“ACT Animal Rescue and Foster (ARF) took her on as a special needs dog – and I ended taking her.

“She was a joy. I had her for six years.”

Currently in remission from cancer, Di said she was keen for more younger volunteers to join the team at DAS. She said it didn’t matter how much time they had to spend with the dogs, any help was welcome.

“We’re all getting older so we need more younger volunteers to help. They can help as much or as little as they like.”

Black dog

Arthur, a six-year-old Rottweiler cross, has been at DAS for 100 days. By the way, he needs a home. Photo: Sally Hopman.

DAS Volunteer Coordinator Keda Southwell, who has been in the job for a year, said volunteers were the lifeblood of DAS.

“We don’t have the staff to get all the animals out every day,” she said. “We’d be lost without the volunteers.

“These dogs are special. We don’t know what they’ve been through before they come here. What we aim to do is to give them all the training they need to set them up in their new homes for success.”

More information about becoming a DAS volunteer is available on the website.

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