CLAW braces for summer heat, rise in parasites

An overabundance of ticks has caused a steady stream of sick dogs at CLAW with the deadly disease of biliary.The cost of maize meal, staple food of the poor in southern Africa, is up by more than 50 per cent since January this year. And in the coming season, farmers expect to harvest their smallest crop since 2007, thanks to the punishing El Niño conditions which have brought heat and drought to the entire region.

This reality is reflected in the faces of people coming to IFAW’s Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW). “Over and over again, the reason owners give for surrendering their animals is because they can’t afford to feed them,” says CLAW’s Cora Bailey. For many people, it’s a time of deep sadness, as their animals are loved and wanted.

But for a responsible pet owner, put in the cruel position of having to choose whether to feed the dog or the children, handing a dog over to CLAW is a heart-wrenching option (although sometimes it actually gives the animal a better chance of survival than owners can offer). “Out of the 14 dogs surrendered two days ago, 12 were handed over for this reason,” Cora tells me.

The early and unduly warm weather is bringing with it other challenges for animal lovers: a tsunami of fleas, ticks and sarcoptic mange. All of these parasites thrive in warmer weather.

Up here on South Africa’s Highveld where CLAW provides its services, the winter of 2015 had too little really cold weather to bring their numbers down, and this has resulted in a rapidly developing plague of infections – so, for poorer communities, the sight of the CLAW mobile clinics is a welcome one, as the cost of treatment is prohibitive.

“We did not have a single day this winter where we didn’t see ticks,” says Cora.

The ticks have gone into breeding overdrive in weather that’s consistently in the plus-30 degrees centigrade range, producing a steady stream of sick dogs with the deadly disease of biliary. Listless, lethargic, off their food, with high temperatures and pale gums, these dogs are plainly very ill.

In warm weather the sarcoptic mange mite is able to produce as many as 40 offspring in her 21-day lifespan; for dogs suffering so badly from mange that they’ve lost much of their fur, treatment at CLAW’s Durban Deep means relief from an itch so bad it can drive you mad.

Dogs come into CLAW suffering so bad from mange that they have lost most of their fur.

Less food, more parasites: it will be a challenging season for CLAW.

But the hope is that the organisation, with the generous help of IFAW’s supporters, will be able to bring many animals back to health and save lives.

--MS

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