IFAW South Africa - Helping Cats and Dogs in Happy Valley
This post was written
by Christina Pretorius, Programme Manager for IFAW
of our cat and dog project in
It’s hard to imagine what was on the mind of the bureaucrat
who named this desperately poor community of shacks and lean-tos built on the
sandy Cape Flats about 30 kilometres from Cape Town – as this Happy Valley in
no way recalls the glamorous, if dissolute, lives of the wealthy aristocrats
and adventurers of Kenya’s renowned Happy Valley set of the 20’s and 30’s.
for all to see emblazoned on a sign sponsored by that very famous fizzy drink
In our first two visits to the settlement 35 dogs and cats
were removed for sterilization and then returned home – as I write this more
than 80 dogs and cats have received this vital surgery that IFAW’s project
From kick-off it struck me that to follow our work in
in the weeks to come would be an ideal topic for a blog. A new area, a new challenge,
and a community desperately in need of animal welfare support – and, as
importantly, this settlement is representative of many of the places where
IFAW’s cat and dog projects work in South Africa; so maybe this blog will
provide some insight into the challenges that face us in our work to bring hope
and health to pets.
To give some context I did a little research on
and informal settlements in general around
informal settlements dotted around this metropolitan of four million people. In
2007 it estimated that half million people were living in approximately 109,000
And according to a recent report by the African Centre for
Cities (associated with the
informal settlements live below the official poverty line – a monthly income of
R1,600.00 or about US$160.00. A final shocking statistic from the city is that
40 per cent of people living in informal settlements are unemployed.
There are no statistics to tell us how many dogs live in
these communities but
lots of cats too.
Similar to most of these communities
is blighted by all manner of social ailments from high crime, child and wife
abuse, alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, HIVAids and TB.
The area in which we are working is home to 5,000-odd
people, relying on communal taps for (cold) water and portable lavatories for
sanitation – those that are able claim their “own” lavatory by securing it with
a padlock, so they don’t have to share.
Housing is rudimentary with everyone living in shacks, some
smaller and some a little larger, some fairly robust and some very ramshackle.
They line the grid of sandy access routes that criss-cross the settlement –
it’s this web of well-demarcated paths that will help us in our door-to-door
work to identify dogs and cats in need. And, you might ask, how shall we know
where to return a sterilized pet? Well, believe it or not, each sandy track has
a name and each shack a number, so every pet has a home address!
On our first visit to
our door-to-door investigations turned up no less than four litters of puppies
– 30 in all – in four shacks that were side by side! One mommy dog had dug
herself a den into the sand under her owner’s shack to protect her pups from
the weather; another was nursing her pups on some old sacks under a corrugated
iron shelter that offered no protection from the biting wind or from the damp
sand below – it is late winter in Cape Town and very wet and cold.
Few people in communities like this will allow their dogs
into their shacks – the space is too small, and it’s hard enough to keep the
sand out without having a dog bring more in, and not everyone can afford a
kennel or realizes that a dog needs a warm, dry bed if they are to sleep
Fortunately the owners of two of the litters were persuaded
to let us take the moms and their pups back to clinic. A quick conversion
turned our run into a maternity ward with a couple of cozy kennels and once the
puppies are weaned, the moms will be sterilized and returned home and loving
homes found for their offspring. All are doing well.
On a much less happy note, on Monday we had to rush a female
dog that had been stabbed by a drunk back to clinic and into surgery. The dog
was hurt after it started to bark at the man who had intruded onto her owner’s
shack property. The knife wound had punctured her large intestine in three
“Lappies” (the name means “rags” in the local vernacular)
was operated on for nearly three hours by our volunteer vet Esme Wilson. It’s
still touch and go whether or not Lappies will make it but we are hopeful.
In the meantime, we understand her owner knows the man who
stabbed her and he will be encouraged to lay a charge against him – but, in
this small, tight-knit community, the owner may prefer not to do so. I’ll keep
So that wraps up the first
blog – it’s a bit long, but I hope you stayed the course. More from the Valley