Issues Magazine

Improving Animal Welfare in Indigenous Communities

By Ian Rodger

The “Smiling Animals in the Dreamtime” project is improving the health and well-being of animals and community members by improving how children care for pets.

The “Smiling Animals in the Dreamtime” project, developed by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, is supporting communities and changing the behaviour of primary school children by building knowledge, awareness and understanding of the needs of animals.

The two-year project was funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS; see box, p.48) to improve animal welfare in Queensland’s indigenous communities.

Specific resources have been developed for teachers, which was a need identified by indigenous community teachers as essential for ongoing and sustainable delivery of animal welfare in community schools. These resources are available nationally to assist indigenous animal welfare programs in other jurisdictions.

The resources have built on an existing school-based program delivered by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry – the “Help an Animal Smile” program – which is improving animal welfare standards in all Queensland communities by raising awareness, empathy and responsibility towards animals with primary-aged school children.

A teacher resource pack (right) containing lesson plans, teacher aids, notes and activities provided teachers in remote community schools with the resources to teach students in the classroom about animal welfare. Resources are focused on engaging students in fun and interactive ways to improve understanding, empathy and treatment of commonly found animals in indigenous communities. The online version of the resources are available on the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website ( to teach students the principles of animal welfare in six simple lessons.

The project visited 15 mainland community schools and 12 Torres Strait Island schools, reaching more than 4000 students in the first year of delivery. Presentations were held at each of the schools to provide students and teachers information about the program and general animal welfare matters.

Community Animal Management Workers were invited to attend to provide a link between student learning and matters relevant to the health, welfare and management of animals within the community. Meetings were also held with school principals to discuss the implementation of the lesson plans, expected outcomes of the program and to offer ongoing implementation support.

The program has been well received at all schools, and initial feedback from teachers indicates a greater awareness by students of the need to care for their pets. This will ultimately lead to improvements in the health and well-being of animals and community members.

School participation has been instrumental to the success of the program in communities. Continued success of the project will depend upon the willingness and enthusiasm of individual teachers to continue the delivery of the lesson plans.

Following the success of the initial “Smiling Animals in the Dreamtime” project, an additional two-year project has commenced to develop more culturally appropriate teaching materials, which will have a greater application and influence in indigenous community schools. Once completed, the resources will be delivered to schools and will be made available electronically on the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website (