ACT News

How do you solve a problem like Franklin the Gungahlin Maremma Sheepdog? And do you need to?

Franklin the Maremma Sheepdog has been on the loose in Gungahlin for at least three years but is cared for by the community and even has his own Facebook page.

He's become folklore in the burgeoning northern suburbs, with some even dubbing him the Ghost Dog due to his snowy-white coat, sudden appearances out of nowhere and elusiveness.

The dog has been named Franklin because he is well-known around the suburb but is also regularly sighted in Bonner and elsewhere around Gungahlin. The latest photos on his Facebook page show him on Saturday happily joining a group of joggers in the area.

The Maremma Sheepdog breed originates from Italy and was bred to guard livestock from wolves and foxes.The breed has gained infamy recently with the Australian movie Oddball about the true story of a Maremma Sheepdog who protects a colony of penguins from foxes in Victoria.

Those who know Franklin say he wouldn't hurt a fly. He generally likes to keep to himself and will bark to ward people off.

Debate continues to rage about whether he should be left alone or whether more needs to be done to catch him.

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A local resident, who did not wish to be named, told The Canberra Times that more should be done by Domestic Animal Services or the RSPCA to catch the dog, not because he was a threat to others but because he could be in danger himself.

"I personally feel very sorry for this dog," she said.

"He has very little road sense, and I've seen him nearly get run over multiple times. In addition I know of at least one time he was fed cooked chicken with bones which is very dangerous for dogs as cooked bones can splinter in their stomachs."

The resident said a maremma rescue organisation in Victoria had offered to re-home Franklin should he be caught.

A spokesman for the RSPCA in the ACT said Franklin was a stray dog so the responsibility of Territory and Municipal Services.

He also said the RSPCA had not received any complaints about the welfare of the animal.

"Until his welfare is compromised, there's nothing we can do," he said.

Domestic Animal Services registrar Fleur Flanery said the agency was aware of Franklin but had no record of any calls for assistance relating to the dog, which appeared to be still owned by someone.

She said DAS worked on a triage system and would always give priority to the most urgent cases.

"I'm in no way advocating we have a roaming dog and if the rangers were passing by and saw Franklin and were able to pick him up, they would," she said.

Mark Scarborough administers Franklin's Facebook page. He first saw the dog in Gungahlin about three years ago and has been writing regularly about his appearances on the My Gungahlin website.

RSPCA inspectors had advised him that the dog should be fed regularly by one person to help build some trust, which could make him easier to catch.

The more he was approached by people, the more skittish he would become.

Mr Scarborough said he didn't start the Facebook page to make Franklin a celebrity but rather to make people aware of him and reinforce the message that they should not chase or approach him.

He understood the dog, then called Samson, was initially adopted from the pound by a family in Downer three years ago but he escaped the day he was brought home. He was recaptured in Florey but had obviously escaped again.

Mr Scarborough said it was believed Franklin lived under one of the bridges between Harrison and Franklin. He was sometimes mistaken for another maremma who lived in Forde.

Mr Scarborough conceded he felt conflicted about the future of Franklin. He was worried that Franklin would be classed as unable to be re-homed if he was caught by DAS rangers.

"I can see both sides of the argument," he said.

"People say he needs a home, but does he? Does he need cuddles and pats and to sleep on a bed every night? Are we romanticising that?

"I am worried about him from a healthcare point of view. People say he should be wormed but if one person does it, we can't be sure others haven't already done it and he will get too much medication.

"From what I've seen of him, he does look happy."

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