ANIMAL welfare workers are fighting an extraordinary battle against terrible odds in the Eastern Cape platteland as communities mushroom, poverty and ignorance bite deep and four-legged creatures suffer the brunt.
The Weekend Post focused on Graaff-Reinet and the work being done there by the organisation Camdeboo Sterilsation Initiative (CSI). But the challenges are similar if not sterner elsewhere in more isolated areas where no vets are even available. When the going gets tough, however, the tough-as-takkies animal welfare folk get going.
In tiny Noupoort, for example, the couple of woman volunteers making up Noupoort Animal Care regularly bundle the cadaverous local dogs into a bakkie and drive them through to CSI or vets in Colesburg and Middelburg to help with spaying, neutoring and other treatment. In Steytlerville, a retired woman, Louise Kilian, does the same with her Steytlerville Animal Rescue Centre. Once a month, leaving at 4am, she trucks needy animals from the local township through to the vet in George. Before she got offered accommodation she was sleeping overnight in her bakkie.
There are a myriad similar small and medium-size groups across the province and the country supplementing the work being done by the bigger organisations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), the Animal Welfare Society and the Animal Anti-Cruelty League – all “fighting the good fight” without any state funding.
The roster of cases on the NSPCA website being dealt with by them reads like a horror story with shocking accounts of neglect and deliberate injury tersely summarised. Still, with the wide range of animals under siege from pets to farm animals, wildlife, laboratory animals and working donkeys it is impossible to gauge the magnitude of the problem, to plumb its depth, says NSPCA spokesman Christine Kuch.
“It’s an iceberg situation.”
The problems the NSPCA faces, as an agency empowered to enforce the Animal Protection Act, relate equally to various areas of the judicial system, she says.
“These include the time it takes for a case to reach court, endless postponements, overloaded prosecutors.”
Founded in 2012, CSI works in tandem with the SPCA in Graaff-Reinet, focusing on the poor communities in and around the historic Karoo town – Kroonville, Santaville, Smartie Town, Umasizakhe, Tjoksville, Asherville and New Location. Their aim is “to try to reduce animal suffering, neglect and abuse through sterilisation of domestic pets”.
Their strategy is guided by the estimated figure of one million animals euthanased in shelters in South Africa each year because there are too many pets and too few good homes.
Do the maths and it’s easy to see how it happens. CSI estimates that one female dog and her offspring, in six years, through multiple generations and successive progeny, can be responsible for the birth of 67000 dogs. And one female cat and her offspring, in seven years, can be responsible for the birth of 420000 cats.
It’s a recipe for misery says CSI founder Erma Voigt and although they are proud of the inroads they have made, the need does not diminish.
“Are we winning the battle? I’d say not. From just 17 animals sterilised in our first year, we have now done a total of 400. But in terms of dogs alone there are about 20000 in the townships here. So we are not even making a dent.
“The only consolation that keeps us going is the difference we’ve made in the lives of those animals we have neutored and knowing that their offspring would mostly otherwise have been born into a life of suffering.”
While sterilising dogs is the main focus, CSI has made good inroads into the Graaff-Reinet feral cat colony by trapping, sterilising and releasing, curbing an explosion in numbers, she says.
The group has no building to work from so their rescue and re-homing is done with the help of a handful of dedicated foster homes. With no rent, no salaries, no cost for transport – as team members use their own vehicles and fund their own fuel – all donations get used directly for the animals.
Besides sterilising, the CSI volunteers treat diseases and educate owners on proper care, and try to instill a sense of pride in having a healthy well-fed animal, says Voigt.
The vets in the town offer their services at welfare rates which helps tremendously. But even at these reduced rates vet fees are simply too expensive for people living on grants, she says.
“If you struggle to feed and clothe your family the animals in your house will be last on your list of priorities.”
Ignorance also plays a role. CSI often comes across people who don’t know it is possible to stop their dog from breeding, or else there is the belief that a dog must have at least one litter of puppies.
Then there is the belief about skin conditions on dogs. “Some people cover these animals with motor oil because they believe that is what you must do.”
Besides their sterilisation and re-homing work, they also run a mini-feeding scheme. And they deal with abuse cases including dogs being kicked or stabbed and having stones, bricks or boiling water thrown at them, says Voigt.
“The majority of cases however are not deliberate abuse but rather neglect often caused by ignorance. We get cases of malnutrition where dogs have only been fed pap all their lives.”
In the midst of this turmoil, as the CSI team go about their work, their underpinning message is simple: don’t buy your animals from breeders or pet shops – rather save a life by adopting from a rescue shelter.
Voigt says there are few things as rewarding as seeing an abused dog’s life being transformed.
“It goes from rags to riches. You pick up a quivering, mangy bundle of skin and bones and watch it blossom into the confident, beautiful soul it was meant to be, under the touch of loving hands.”