CLAW is coming home

As soon as the tile is laid, new hospital cages are built, and the last repairs done, we will be able to return operations fully to Durban Deep within the next few weeks.After more than two years struggling to serve Soweto’s communities from divided locations, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) partner Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) is finally moving back home to Durban Deep.

CLAW’s veterinary clinic had been located in what, was once the administrative offices of the Durban Deep mining company for nearly two decades. By the time that we established ourselves there in the 1990s, the gleaming oak furniture and groomed lawns had given way to peeling walls and bare earth.

Appearances didn’t matter: From this building, CLAW healed our community, one dog, one child, one household at a time.

From first light until sundown, the small trucks bearing the names of CLAW and IFAW rolled in and out of CLAW’s gates, delivering sick, hurt, starved, abandoned and mistreated animals to the capable hands of the tireless veterinary team.

People found their way to us for food, refuge, medical care and help with all kinds of troubles. On Saturdays, children came to read stories and play and eat a rare healthy meal, and to learn to care for dogs and cats who, like themselves, knew far too much hardship.

But late in 2013, protests broke out in Durban Deep and our neighboring townships. Violence, looting and xenophobic struggles rendered the area unsafe. In February of 2014, we had to make the difficult decision to abandon our Durban Deep building and move to safer grounds.

For more than two years now, we have worked from a wing of an animal shelter that was generously cleared for us. The shared space was very close, and the distance was far for our staff to travel. Most importantly, the community of Durban Deep that had grown to rely so heavily on CLAW struggled to reach us. Our vehicles drove even farther and more often to reach people and animals who called for help.

Small children walked for hours with their dogs at their sides for a vaccination, or to have a dog’s wound attended. They trundled up with wheelbarrows and makeshift carts, carrying dogs who were too ill to walk so far.

The municipality and the developers who bought the property of Durban Deep struggled to regain control of the area. Meanwhile, looters dug up every pipe and smashed every building of what was once a beautiful village. Pipes, cables, transformers, tile, wires – absolutely everything was dug up, pulled out, stripped and carried away from the landscape.

Illegal miners tracked the landscape with craters and heaps of stripped earth. Every day I drove through the destruction to visit our building, hoping as I bumped over the rubble that it might still be there.

Somehow, amidst the devastation, our CLAW building remained standing.

It had no water, no electricity, no cables or pipes remaining, but it stood there still. And so long as it stood, people came with their animals.

Our security guard on site tried to tell people that we couldn’t work here anymore and that they must take their animals elsewhere. There is nothing if not hope, however, in the people of Soweto’s townships. While the building stood, and my truck appeared, hope prevailed. We had no choice but to give in.

At first, we tried to set a few hours a week for people to bring animals to our shell of a clinic. But set office hours mean nothing to people who walk so far, and whose animals’ needs are often emergencies. So we have, in effect, been running two clinics in all these months, trying to divide our time between two locations, transporting the sickest dogs to our veterinary team at the shelter location, and providing food, medications and assistance at Durban Deep.

Costs ran very high, and our endurance, budget and strength stretched to its limits.

Gradually, the violence has relented. Our wonderful supporters have helped so much already: our clinic now runs entirely on solar panels donated and installed through generous donations. We have managed to get running water in the building, and are undertaking paint and repairs that will breathe life back into our old home.

Soon, we hope, children will play on Saturdays in a bright room, and their meals will be cooked in a real kitchen rather than collected from a box in the back of my truck.

Soon our patients will all be back in our Durban Deep clinic, and our veterinary team will be under one roof. As soon as the tile is laid, new hospital cages are built, and the last repairs done, we will be able to return operations fully to Durban Deep within the next few weeks. What a relief!

CLAW endures because our community needs us. Somehow, our old building survived the destruction of the old mining town, like a monument to hope. Our brick walls endure with us.

--CB

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