Rick Fenny has had an extraordinary life, to say the least.
Over his long and successful career Rick has nursed countless animals, employed over 400 veterinarians in his vet clinics and established tourism services across Western Australia, but his fondest memories are of his four-legged-friends he met along the way.
After working for the government in the west Kimberley for several years, the veterinary surgeon moved to Roebourne in 1975 to establish a private practice, using a 16ft caravan as a surgery. During this time Rick travelled extensively throughout the Pilbara, treating a wide range of animals, from cattle to racehorses. However, his most famous patient was the kelpie-cattle dog called Red Dog.
Red Dog was legendary for freely roaming around Western Australia, always making friends, but never settling in one place. Named after the red dirt of the Pilbara region, Red Dog’s story has been immortalised in multiple books, a series of blockbuster films, and a memorial statue in Dampier.
Though Rick is widely recognised as the true gatekeeper of the famous canine’s story, it was his childhood pet and first red dog, Pip, who first captured his heart. Rick owned Pip whilst growing up in the coastal town of Albany, affectionately referring to him as “my little brother.”
‘Pip and I were closely bonded and did everything together. He set me on my pathway, inevitably to become a vet, teaching me about animal and human behaviour, love loss, responsibility, caring and practical lessons in pet ownership.’
After leaving Albany to go to University, Rick and Pip parted ways, but little did Rick know that Pip would be the first of several red dogs that would shape his life in unexpected and wonderful ways.
Rick was the famous Red Dog’s vet for most of the four-legged-nomad’s remarkable life and in 1979 it was Rick who regretfully euthanised his friend after a suspected strychnine poisoning. Whilst laying Red Dog to rest in an unmarked grave, somewhere between Roebourne and Cossack, Rick knew he had to tell the unique tales of their intertwining lives.
‘I was his vet for much of his life and was tasked with putting him down. Laying the last shovelful of dirt on his grave was a poignant moment in my own life.’
Rick’s love for animals runs in the family. He co-owns Ocean Park Aquarium in Shark Bay with his son Ed, a marine biologist. Two more of his children, Sam and Julia, run a 1-million-acre cattle station, also in Shark Bay.
Detailing his early career and adventures with the famous hound, Rick recently released ‘Red Dog Vet: Pip – My First Red Kelpie’; the first of four-books that detail the red dogs that defined four eras of Rick’s life.
The book is available at all Pets and Vets Group practices, Ocean Park Aquarium in Shark Bay and various bookstores. Email [email protected] for more information.