The Dogs

Sure, this is my website, where I talk about my writing. But I’m also a conservation detection dog handler, and people also seem to want to know about my furry co-workers. So, for those of you who want the low-down on my cheeky dogs, read on to learn more about Zorro and Gromit!

Zorro looking smug in a tree hollow full of masked owl pellets

Zorro is a border collie X springer spaniel, who will do just about anything for a ball, which is lucky, as those are what I use to reward him when he’s at work. 

He is also quite keen on salt and vinegar chips, but only gets them when I drop them on the floor by accident. Zorro also likes cucumber out of the salad wraps I buy, which is convenient, as I think cucumber is revolting, so I pick them out of my wrap and feed them to him, and everyone is happy.

Gromit is a pure-bred border collie, from excellent Tasmanian sheep dog lines.  His breeder, my friend Fi, says he would have been a fabulous sheep dog, but he is 100% forbidden from trialling his skills in this area, as I can’t have him getting distracted by sheep when we are at work.

His favourite toy is a frisbee, but he is not above stealing Zorro’s ball if it’s available. 

Gromit is a health-conscious pup, obsessed with eating fresh, crunchy vegetables.  His favourites are fresh cabbage leaves, broccoli and kale stalks. 

Gromit is very keen on a bit of F-R-I-S-B-E-E action.

Both of Zorro and Gromit work with me at a wind farm, doing “bird and bat mortality monitoring”, which is a fancy way of saying “looking for dead birds and bats”.  The information Zorro and Gromit discover helps wind farms to make their operations safer for animals. When the dogs find their target, they are rewarded with a game of fetch, usually with a ball, or sometimes with a frisbee.  (We can’t say the word “frisbee” at home – we have to spell it out F-R-I-S-B-E-E, otherwise the dogs go into a complete froth of excitement until I take them out for a game).

Zorro and I also go to university together – we’re studying for a Masters degree with the ANU Difficult Birds Research Group .  Zorro and I are working together to work out how dogs might be able help scientists learn more about Tasmania’s mysterious and endangered masked owls – you can read more about this project here.

After eating a meal, masked owls throw up a pellet – a bit like a really gross, bone-filled fur ball – and Zorro and Gromit are trained to find these pellets in Tasmanian forests.  Pellets can show researchers where masked owls are living, and can help them identify areas of important owl habitat like roosts and nests.

People often get Zorro and Gromit confused.  A couple of tips for telling them apart:

If there is a ball, Zorro will be hogging it, and Gromit will be hanging back, waiting to round him up. 

Gromit has pointy ears – Zorro has floppy spaniel ears, as well as spots on his legs and nose.

Zorro really likes Schmackos. If you offer one to Gromit, he will look at you as if you’ve just grossly insulted him.

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