IFAW South Africa: Updates from Happy Valley

This post was written by Lisa Cant-Haylett, Campaign Officer of the Companion Animals projects for IFAW Southern Africa. It is part of a series that will track the progress of our IFAW’s cat and dog project in Cape Town, South Africa, in the Happy Valley informal settlement.


September 23, 2009 - Our morning in Happy Valley begins with the dropping off of dogs and cats spayed/neutered the day before. All animals given the okay to return home to their owners are loaded into the clinic’s trailer and one by one they are returned home to their owners.

It is delightful to see how excited they get when the pickup truck and trailer stops outside each home - every pooch seems instinctively to know when they are home and as soon as their paws touch the ground they rush off into to find their owners.

As the pick up truck and trailer winds through the dusty streets of the Valley, word that the clinic has arrived spreads and owners wait outside their homes with anticipation, bringing an air of excitement to what is otherwise another day of hardship for those living in this forlorn area.

After all the previous days charges are safely back home, we head off to our starting point for the day to start our door to door work. Project Manager Jane Levinson, volunteer vet Paolo Koch, Laura Dobson and myself turn on foot into the first road. A youngish dog with a bad case of mange comes bounding down the road towards us. He is skittish and we follow him as he makes a beeline for a house up ahead.

As we approach his owner’s home our attention is diverted as a heavily pregnant bitch comes into view lying against a concrete wall. Even though she is lying in a tight bundle trying to shelter from the wind, it is evident that she is very pregnant. The dog stays lying down as we approach her to take a closer look, our presence not seeming to deter her from continuing to try and keep warm in the wet sand.

A young lady from a home next door smiles and asks us how we are, we reciprocate the greeting and, as is the case in most instances when we ask residents how they are, they respond without hesitation that “alles is goed, ons kan nie kla nie” or “everything is good, we can’t complain”. It is of course, rather a case of they can complain and some do, but the majority of folk are humble and grateful for what little they have and the assistance we provide to them and their pets.

As we make a note that we need to return to the home of the pregnant bitch to speak to the owners about providing shelter for her, heavy rain starts to fall and people scatter towards their homes to seek shelter.

We huddled in the bakkies waiting for the rain to abate, before continuing on down the road.

I notice a young boy of four or five standing outside a fenced yard cuddling a young cat that was desperately trying to persuade him to share whatever it is he is eating. The boy’s mother appears and we ask her if the cat belongs to her. She says yes and we ask her if she would like us to take the cat to have her spayed. Her response is a resounding yes but before we turn to leave, she pulls me to one side and quietly asks what the cost would be for the operation. I tell that it is free and I see her breathe a sigh of relief.

We carry the cat back to the vehicle to vaccinate and deworm her and put her in a cage to take back to the clinic. Out of the corner of my eye I see the young boy come bounding down the road with a small puppy dangling from his arms. I take the young pup from him after he very proudly tells me that it is his dog. Laura examines the puppy and although lethargic, she can’t find anything wrong with him. She deworms the young pup and then notices that there is some blood in his stool, the thought crosses our minds that this could, possibly be an early symptom of the parvo virus?

We decide to take the young pup back to the clinic after the owner tells us that the puppy’s sister died the day before. It is clear that it is likely a case of the parvo virus and the young pup will need to be put on a drip.

Paolo and Jane retrace their steps to find the owners of the mangy dog whilst Laura and I notice three young boys heading towards us with a medium sized tan dog. Laura takes a look and upon closer examination is astounded to find that he is riddled with ticks, more than she has ever seen on one animal.

I don a pair of surgical gloves and join Laura in removing the ticks from our patient. After removing 30 ticks we stop counting and comment to each other that it is a wonder the dog doesn’t have biliary. A small crowd gathers as neighbours and passers-by notice the bundle of ticks next to the dog. We also notice a two centimeter wound on his back and ask the young boys if they know what happened there, their reply is that he was in a fight with another dog. We treat the wound and apply anti-parasitic solution to his neck and back to discourage and kill off any further ticks.

Jane arrives back at the vehicle and says she has a cat for me, knowing that I can’t resist any feline needing care and attention. The cat was found under a sofa in a house close by where almost everyone in the house was drunk and she had a broken leg. No-one could tell us how long the cat had been lying there and the cause of the injury was unknown. It was abundantly evident that no one in the house was concerned with the cat at all and so we took a decision there and then not to return the cat to the house.

Driver Juta and Animal Welfare Assistant Lazola arrive with the pick-up and trailer loaded with dogs and cats for spay and neuters for the following day. We wrap up our morning of door to door work and head on back to the clinic. Before we are about to leave a passerby, awkwardly carrying a heavy wooden door, stops us and asks if we will be back as he says: “I have a dog nearby that needs some help”. Our response, yes, we will be back in the Valley to check on his dog.

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