In memoriam: Dr Saskia Karius

In memoriam: Dr Saskia KariusYou never forget where you were when you first heard bad news. I was taking a day off after a conference in Accra, Ghana, doing the tourist thing in sticky, punishing heat.

Back at the hotel, I sank into a seat in the restaurant and took out my phone. Emails, messages, Facebook… what I saw there was not possible. No, not true. The breath caught in my throat as the reality drilled home. Saskia had died.

The news was completely unexpected. And it broke my heart.

Early this year, Dr Saskia Karius, Community Led Animal Welfare’s beloved vet, who had served the community for almost a decade, had been in a freak accident which broke her pelvis in three places.

But she was recovering!

She’d been in hospital for five weeks; her occasional Facebook posts from her hospital bed had been wry and funny and looking forward to a return to normal.  She was still young and robustly healthy. She would be going home soon, I heard; there was a long road to full recovery ahead. I was thinking of visiting her in the ward that coming weekend.

And then, on 14 March 2016, an embolism claimed her life.

The shock sent ripples right round the world, from Germany to the USA, and struck hard in the community she had served. She was remembered and mourned by far more people than she could have imagined – even those like my husband who had only met her briefly and very occasionally remembered her very clearly, warm and funny and compassionate and full of life.

German by birth, Dr Saskia Karius was raised in Johannesburg and returned when she’d qualified as a veterinarian, to devote herself to welfare work with CLAW. For the last couple of years, thanks to prevailing conditions at CLAW’s Durban Deep premises, she’d been working at shared premises some 13 kilometres distant, but most of her years with CLAW were spent at Durban Deep. 

Ten days after her death, the people of the surrounding communities came to the clinic in numbers to celebrate her life and mourn her death. They were supported by her colleagues from both clinics, wearing T-shirts bearing her picture (a tradition in township funerals).

The memorial was led by a man of God (whom Saskia had helped and comforted for hours into the night, when he was badly injured defending his dogs from thugs); and three choirs came to “send her home on wings of song”, as CLAW director Cora Bailey put it.

It was a deeply moving tribute from the men and women with whom she had worked so closely, the people whose animals she served, the poorest of the poor who relied on her to help their dogs and cats pull through illness and poisoning and surgery for dreadful injuries…

Her love for animals was huge, heartfelt, and handed out with great and unstinting generosity. I remember watching her examine a wretched dog, dripping with urine and diarrhoea. Muttering endearments in German, Saskia cradled the dog’s head in her hands and gently kissed it, over and over, as she mulled over treatment options…

All who knew her will remember her kissing animals, especially puppies (no puppy left her capable hands unkissed).

There are thousands of animals on the West Rand who have lived happy healthy lives because of her skill, her professionalism and her practical interventions. For many little ones, her strong, fluid hands and ample cuddles were their first taste of kindness; for those for whom hope had gone, those gentle kisses saw them out of life with love.

Dr Saskia Karius has left an enormous hole in our lives. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her blond hair swinging loose from her ponytail as she bent over a nervous dog.

I can still hear her deep, soothing voice:

“Ich weiß, ich weiß, still, still!”

(I know, I know, hush, hush!)


Post a comment


Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters