'Swampy' found guilty for runaway guard dog

ALLAN “Swampy” Marsh’s work in saving Warrnambool’s Middle Island penguins hasn’t just attracted the interest of the Australian film industry — it also helped him escape prosecution in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court yesterday.

Mr Marsh’s involvement with the project, which uses Maremma dogs to guard an endangered penguin colony, was explained in the court, where his impassioned advocacy convinced judicial registrar Michael Bolte to dismiss charges against him.

He was charged with having a dog at large on the Princes Highway at Warrnambool on September 5, 2012 and failing to apply to register a dog.

Mr Marsh, 67, of Townsend Road, Mortlake, told Mr Bolte the use of Maremma dogs to guard penguins was a “world first” and the charges against him constituted “harassment” by a Warrnambool City Council (WCC) local laws officer.

Mr Bolte found the charges against Mr Marsh proven but dismissed them and imposed only $178.70 costs.

He said that in view of what Mr Marsh had told him, it was not appropriate to impose fines. Mr Marsh explained outside the court that he had been walking the dog along Stingray Bay as part of his efforts to protect the nearby penguin colony when it had run off in pursuit of a fox.

He said the dog had been returning to its home at Dennington when it had been spotted by a WCC officer.

Mr Marsh told Mr Bolte he had been involved in the Maremma project for the past 10 years.

The use of Maremma dogs to guard the penguin colony had succeeded in lifting penguin numbers from six to 200 and WCC had taken over the project’s management.

However, he did not believe WCC was managing the Maremma project properly and he was continuing to use his Maremma dogs to patrol Stingray Bay three to four times a week, ensuring they were kept on leashes.

“I will continue to do that,” Mr Marsh said. “I am a stubborn, pig-headed fellow. I will not back down because of one bylaws officer.”

Mr Marsh had earlier told Mr Bolte he was pleading guilty to the charges “under sufferance.”

Mr Bolte warned Mr Marsh that bylaws applied to everyone and there was a responsibility to enforce them.

ehimmelreich@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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