New programme helps to rehabilitate dog abuse offenders, writes Guy Rogers
When Yanka-Kwanita started working with dog abuse cases, there was an early breakthrough, which convinced programme coordinators they were onto something.
The gentle pit bull whose name means “blossom grace of God” in native American Sioux, was introduced to a Schauderville teenager involved in a dog fighting case and Yanka’s owner, Marizaan Ferreira, showed him how to put on the dog’s harness, to walk with her and get her to stay while she waited for a treat.
“He got Yanka to do this, and you should have seen his face,” Ferreira recalled. “He said, ‘ niemand het my gerespekteer soos hierdie hond (nobody has respected me like this dog).
“The prosecutor burst into tears. We knew then it was helping.”
After the completion of this first dog abuse rehabilitation programme, firebrand attorney and programme initiator Karin van Schalkwyk convinced the court to bring in Yanka again for the shocking “drain case”.
In February last year, five Arcadia teenagers, two of them still in primary school, threw three adult dogs and five puppies down a drain with a pile of trash.
They hurled rocks at the dogs from above and followed that with burning paper, trying to set the trash alight.
A member of the community intervened at this point and the animals were extricated but not before one puppy was burnt to death. Another with a broken back had to be put down.
Convicting the boys, the court ordered that they must attend the Yes Lifeskills course run under the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, as well as three hour-and-a-half sessions with Yanka.
The sessions were set for the October school holidays and initially the boys were terrified of the dog, Ferreira recalled.
When they eventually agreed to sit down next to her, they were asked why they had done what they did. “They told us ‘it was to be cool’.”
Yet at the end of their savage game, the boys admitted, they had been left feeling anything but cool. Ferreira said the revelation had been key to the progress they made.
“I showed them how to feed Yanka, give her water and take care of her and, as she responded to their attention, I’d say to them – ‘see, now that’s cool’.”
In the gangster-ridden northern areas, many of the youths involved in dog abuse cases grew up with little or no support or mentorship, let alone love or wisdom, Ferreira noted.
“So they’ll have designer shoes and jeans but often no-one to show them what’s right or wrong.
“The parents of the boys in the drain case were meant to attend the sessions with their children, but one grandfather was the only adult who ever arrived.”
Veteran Animal Anti-Cruelty League fieldworker Bev Rademeyer, who helped prosecute the case and who was part of the rehabilitation sessions, said the boys had talked about what they wanted to do after school and had even revealed some positive relationships with animals.
“One of them was in tears one day because someone had stolen his pit bull. Another has a beautiful German shepherd at his home that is well taken care of.”
While the sessions had worked to some degree, a follow-up course was needed, she said.
“Through Yanka they’ve seen the gentler side of animals but I feel we need to follow this up by giving them time working with us at the league so they can see the suffering people cause to animals that are chained, stoned, stabbed and burnt.
“In the end it’s to the animals that they need to apologise.”