Franklin the Gungahlin maremma with Barbara Howell
Bonner woman Barbara Howell has been feeding Franklin the Gungahlin maremma for about the last eight months.
How do you solve a problem like Franklin? And do you need to?
After three years of apparently roaming wild around Gungahlin, Franklin the Maremma Sheepdog looks remarkably well-kept.
His coat is snowy-white and free of burrs or matting. His teeth appear decay-free. He does not appear to be underweight.
Barbara Howell, of Bonner, says Franklin, Gungahlin’s Maremma Sheepdog, should be left be to roam the northern suburbs.
Barbara Howell, of Bonner, says Franklin, Gungahlin’s Maremma Sheepdog, should be left be to roam the northern suburbs. Photo: Rohan Thomson
He has a powerful bark. It’s designed to ensure you keep your distance but Franklin doesn’t seem a threat as he romps up and down a street in Bonner this particular afternoon, flopping down now and then for a rest on the verge after a big drink of milk.
A couple with their two dogs on leashes stop to say hello and while Franklin’s huge bark seems to startle one of the dogs, he doesn’t show any sign of aggression towards them.
The Canberra Times managed to see the famous dog of the northern suburbs last weekend when he came to visit Bonner woman Barbara Howell who has been feeding him for about the last eight months.
Social media users have taken to the Franklin debate with gusto.
He and she obviously have a close bond and he readily accepts pats and cuddles from the kind-hearted grandmother. Franklin comes to visit for food and then he takes off for the rest of the day.
Even though he’s not meant to be a celebrity and he’s not meant to be approached, it’s impossible to resist taking a photograph and attempting to pat the big, loping dog.
Yet those closest to him say it has taken months, years to build some trust with the dog and they don’t want to see him spooked away. They still want people to keep their distance.
Since The Canberra Times published a story about Franklin earlier this month, interest in him has spiked. His Facebook page attracted close to an additional 900 new likes, taking the total to almost 4300.
UK tabloids The Mirror and The Daily Mail both did follow-up articles on him. Debate raged about what to do with Franklin, if anything. An online poll by The Canberra Times in which 2834 votes were cast found most respondents – 49 per cent – thought nothing should be done and he should be left alone. Just 10 per cent thought Domestic Animal Services should catch him.
Mark Scarborough, who administers Franklin’s Facebook page, was blown away by the response.
“The reaction has been amazing and exhausting. It’s been overwhelming as you try to go through all the comments and respond to messages,” he said.
He reiterated that the Facebook page was to inform people about Franklin and to ask them not to approach him or treat him as the latest selfie target.
“But I do worry about what we have created here,” he said.
Ms Howell wanted The Canberra Times to come out and see that Franklin was being cared for by the community; that nobody owned him; yet everybody did after he escaped from his original owners in Downer about three years ago.
She was horrified to think he might be picked up by Domestic Animal Services; saying he wasn’t hurting anyone and should be left alone.
“He has a much better life than a lot of dogs which are kept in backyards all day long while their owner goes to work,” she said.
“For someone to come and try and cage him now and take him away – he’ll disappear. You won’t see him again, which is wrong.
“I really hope people just let him be because we don’t know for how much longer he will live for and I’d just like him to have a happy life.”
Another Bonner resident, Andy Peluko, first befriended Franklin almost three years ago when he started feeding him. He and Ms Howell now work together to feed the dog. It’s obvious Franklin trusts them both.
“As far as I know when this place was being built three or four years ago, this was his space and he was getting scraps from builders, hamburgers and chips, just rubbish,” Mr Peluko said.
“Now, you just need someone, or a group of people who know each other, to coordinate the feeding patterns. When Barbara was away, I was feeding him in the morning and another lady around the corner was feeding him at night.
“And a lot of people have knocked on the door and given money, more so food. Two ladies came around dropping off tinned food and dried food and bones.”
Mr Peluko said he had seen Franklin dart across busy roads such as Horsepark Drive but believed the dog did have some road sense.
“I have seen him at the United petrol station, one morning we were going to work and he was at the traffic lights, and he was actually waiting for the lights to turn green. I thought that was amazing and he just took off across the road,” he said.
Still, comments from social media suggest not everyone wants Franklin to be treated as a special case. They wonder why they have to pay a fine to retrieve their roaming dog from the pound, but Franklin is left alone. They wonder if he is vaccinated and wormed. They say he has startled some adults and children.
The original resident who raised concerns about Franklin, including the possibility he would be run over, said she still held those concerns but also understood the special qualities about him. She also wanted the best for Franklin.
“I think the bond he has with Barbara is just beautiful,” she said. “And it is wonderful he is creating such a sense of community among the people of Gungahlin. However, it does seem a bit hypocritical to have a dog being allowed to roam just because he is beautiful and fluffy. If he was a pitbull, for example, or a random cross-breed dog, with exactly the same personality as Franklin, I do wonder if he would have been left to roam.”
Mr Peluko and Mr Scarborough understand the debate and just want what’s best for the dog. They worry about what should happen next.
“It does seem to me, the majority of people are saying, ‘If he’s not hurting anyone, let him be’,” Mr Peluko said.
They suggest a plan of action will be put in place, if and when it is required And if that means sending Franklin to a Maremma Sheepdog rescue organisation in Victoria, that option needs to be thoroughly thought out.
“My concern is if DAS picks him up, he won’t be fit to be re-homed. I don’t even know if the previous owners want him back,” Mr Scarborough said.
“He can’t go into a suburban backyard, so I think the most reasonable solution is to send him to the maremma rescue group. But how do we facilitate that? How do we catch him in a way that doesn’t cause him stress and anxiety? What provisions have they got in place to ensure he won’t run away from there and cause him more stress and anxiety because he is away from the people he has now formed a bond with?
“It’s just about working out what are those next steps.”
Franklin’s Facebook page now features a video from the National Geographic Channel in which owners describe the Maremma Sheepdog as an intelligent and sensitive dog, bred in Italy originally to protect sheep and other farm animals.
One says: “They’re very, very dedicated to their flock, whether that be a family or livestock”.
Have the people of Gungahlin simply become Franklin’s flock?