Jim Shields, of Tura Beach is mourning the death of his friend and co-worker, Oscar who was killed after being hit by a car as he worked to save a koala population in Port Macquarie, NSW.
To most people Oscar, was just another lively black Labrador, albeit a very adorable one, but to the few people who had seen him at work, he was very special, and truly one of a kind.
Oscar could smell a koala at 200 metres and when he did he let his owner, Jim, know without attacking or chasing either the koala or any other wildlife.
As far as Jim knows, Oscar was the only dog trained to find koalas and as people become more concerned about the plight of koalas, Oscar had more and more work from Rural Fire Service groups, prior to a burn, developers, prior to building and councils wanting to expand housing areas.
It was in this latter capacity that Oscar had been employed at Port Macquarie.
Jim said: “We were working in Port Macquarie, finding koalas or "Katies" in front of the excavators and harvesting machines making a new housing development. This was one of the conditions of approval from council - actually, they only required an ecologist to stand by for a run to the Port Macquarie Koala hospital - I was determined we would find them all before the machines did.”
It was while Oscar and Jim were attempting to remove a koala caught in a road way near their accommodation at the Hastings River that tragedy struck. The koala was blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars.
Jim said: “When Oscar picked up the scent of the koala, he ran onto the road way and barked once. The koala ran back to the roadway and escaped up a tree. He probably couldn't see it in the glare because he put his nose down and did a perfect bend toward the koala. He raced straight forward much faster than I ever could have. He barked once as he hit the road way and the koala ran back to the roads edge. The approaching car hit Oscar - the driver truly didn't have time to react. The following car stopped and I ran out to Oscar. He was still alive and tried to get up when he saw me. I stroked him and held his head; he barked twice more and died.”
Jim started training Oscar when he was eight weeks old.
“We started with detection. All his toys had koala scent on them, thanks to help from Potoroo Palace so the smell was associated as a good smell every time we played with Oscar.”
The training took over three years and included help from Gary Jackson, the Brisbane dog trainer who became world famous when he discovered a dog could detect cancer at an early stage.
Jim said: “He was more than just a dog, to me and everybody he met. I try to model my human relations and work ethic on Oscar - he was always glad to see you, and he was always ready to go to work.
“I could go on and on about the marvellous things he did and the fine dog he was. Oscar imprinted on me, wanted nothing more than to hang out with me, and was my constant companion.”
Oscar was buried privately under an old growth tallow wood tree, a primary feed tree of the koala, Jim said.