Soldier and dog

Of Canines and Coffee

Nigel Allsopp, world authority on canines, best-selling author, senior constable with the Queensland Police Service and Zarraffa’s Coffee fan is on a mission to honour the deeds and sacrifices of our war animals.

“If your name was Digger and you’d served four tours of duty in Afghanistan, and you were wounded and had to retire from the Defence Department, I think, you’d expect to be looked after and given some medical treatment by the Veterans’ Affairs department,” Nigel Allsopp hypothesises.

“I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation, is it?” he asks, then adds, “It’s what happens if you’re a human being. But if your name is Digger the war dog, and you have done four tours of duty and been injured, you don’t get any money at all. In fact, if you’re going to cost them too much money, you get offered to be euthanised.”

Born in England, Nigel came to Australia as a child before being raised on a farm in New Zealand. He spent 15 years as a dog handler in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Police and has trained staff from numerous government agencies including Customs, Police, Corrective Services and Federal Aviation Security.

Digger and horse

In 1993, while on active duty in Mogadishu, Somalia, Nigel went to Kenya for six weeks of R&R and to work with rangers on wildlife conservation. “I’ve had an interest in wild animals for many years,” he says. Not long after his Kenya trip he left the military and took on work as elephant keeper at the Auckland Zoo.

“I’m very much against crass entertainment with animals,” he says. “I don’t believe in circuses, but I have no problem training animals for behavioural enrichment.” Nigel uses sea lions as an example. “I don’t agree with sea lions jumping through hoops and people clapping them,” he says.

“We trained our sea lions to come out of the water to be fed, and while they were being fed, we trained them to raise their little flippers so we could take blood samples, or trained them to sit on scales so we could weigh them and take eye drops and medication. So there was a reason for our training.”

While Nigel was working as an elephant keeper, the late Steve Irwin showed up to help determine the gender of the Auckland Zoo’s goannas. “Goannas are very difficult to sex, whether male or female,” Nigel explains, and Steve was very good at it. “I would give him a ride on the elephant as a reward, because they didn’t have any elephants at the Australia Zoo at the time,” Nigel says.

Two decades ago, Nigel moved to Australia where he worked at several zoos and wildlife parks including Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Dubbo Zoo. But his desire to work closely with dogs led him to join the Queensland Police Service, where he currently serves as a senior constable in the Dog Section, working with firearms/explosive-detection dogs and trains specialist detection dogs for Federal and State government departments.

Horse

About 12 years ago, Nigel took an interest in writing about war dogs. “It was because of all the wars going on at the time, the first Gulf War and the like,” he explains. “And I saw that a lot of the animals weren’t being returned after their service. They were being given away, euthanised or left behind. For example, all our 11 dogs in Vietnam got left behind. It sounds a bit corny, but literally, animals don’t have a voice. And I thought, ‘someone’s got to speak up for them’. It’s the old cliché, ‘if not me, then who else’.

While researching his first book on war dogs, Nigel discovered there were other war animals, including horses, mules, pigeons, camels and marine mammals. Since then, he’s written nine books on war animals and police dogs including the best sellers: Cry Havoc, Four Legged Diggers, K9 Cops, Smoky The War Dog and Animals In Combat.

He has also set up the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO, awamo.org.au), a not-for-profit organisation, “to promote the establishment of war animal plaques at parks, RSLs or local and Federal government sites”. His website awamo.org.au explains: “Throughout history, in war and in peacetime, animals and mankind have worked alongside each other. As beasts of burden, messengers, protectors, mascots, and friends, the war animals have demonstrated true valour and an enduring partnership with humans. The bond is unbreakable, their sacrifice great – we honour the animals of war.”

So far Nigel’s organisation has given out 30 bronze War Animal Memorial plaques, including some in every state and territory. There is now an official War Animal Memorial in Toowoomba, and an international memorial in Pozieres, France, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciqNMumWmKA&feature=youtu.be .

Memorial

While not war animal memorials, Nigel has been behind the establishment of Australia’s Indigenous Light Horse Memorial in Springwood, and a memorial for the Australian Veterinary Corp, which saved thousands of animals, particularly in World War I, located at the Mudgereeba Light Horse Memorial, just down the road from Zarraffa’s head office. Nigel has also been asked to design a War Animal Memorial for Anzac Cove in Turkey, which he hopes will be finished by the end of next year.

“There’s a very understated and clear line for me,” Nigel states. “I’m not an advocate of animals going to war, just like I’m not an advocate for my kids going to war. What we’re doing with the memorials is recognising the ones who have served and their deeds and sacrifices.

“Dogs are currently being used only because they are the current best means of finding road side bombs. Without them, more Australian soldiers perhaps would not be coming home. Can I see them outdated one day? My answer is, ‘I hope so’.

Nigel Allsopp is a Zarraffa’s regular. His favourite brew? “Without a doubt, I’m a sucker for just a plain old cappuccino. Nothing exciting, just a beautiful cappuccino. I don’t have sugar, so just that hint of chocolate on the top gives me that sweet rush for the morning.”