VIDEO: CLAW teaches South African township residents animals are precious

In the above window, scroll down just a bit to watch the wonderful video featuring the author as she works with her clients in the townships of South Africa.  -ED

About two months ago. I received a call out of the blue from a man describing himself as a producer for an Australian broadcaster. He had seen a YouTube video that featured the work of my organization, CLAW, and he thought we had the makings of a documentary.

He said his name was Amos Roberts and that he would be landing in Johannesburg, South Africa, the following Thursday. He wanted to be my shadow for two weeks, seeing and filming everything I see and do in the course of my work day.

It wasn’t until Amos arrived a few days later that I realised how serious he really was.

SEE ALSO: WATCH: Bosnian village of Lopare first to complete a Humane Community Development plan

The concept of Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) was born during the death throes of apartheid, at the very height of what we called the “unrest years”. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, and while new dispensation was being thrashed out at the highest level, the most vicious factional and political violence was racking our townships. The acclaimed war photographer James Nachtwey said later that South Africa’s townships were the most dangerous battlefield he had ever worked in. More dangerous than Rwanda or Chechnya, Somalia or the Gulf.

I was the manager of a local SPCA, and got a phone call one morning from a policeman who asked if I could help the animals in a smaller squatter community. The residents had fled after they had been attacked by an armed Zulu impi leaving behind their pets. Twenty-nine people had been killed, 30 more injured and burnt shacks smouldered and police vehicles and morgue vans seemed to be everywhere. On closer inspection dogs seemed to be everywhere as well, and we landed up rescuing more than 210 animals from the ruins.

That was it for me I was determined to focus my energy on assisting the animal victims of political violence. Together with my long-time friend De Villiers Katywa we started CLAW.

More than 20 years later, and thanks to the help of IFAW, we are still helping animals and people who suffer mainly as a result of  political ineptitude leading to corruption, poor service delivery, access to decent education and health care and above all, grinding poverty which affects millions in this beautiful country.

And yet people still have their pets, and those pets have to be cared for and the pets have been become the catalyst for developing the humanitarian side of CLAW’s work. We take the “community” part of our title very seriously, and our mantra is that “at the end of every leash there is an owner”. Given the day to day realities of the communities we work in, it is impossible to ignore the plight of owners and to instead focus entirely on their pets. 

We focus on humane education, providing primary veterinary care support for township pets, and humanitarian support for their owners with provision of food parcels, clothing, blankets and helping people get access to much-needed grants, and healthcare.

For two weeks, Amos Roberts rode “shotgun” with me. Leaving in the early morning with me, getting covered in sick from ill dogs, attending to late night veterinary and human emergencies, and generally seeing the very worst but also, I hope, some of the best.

This morning I received a call from a policeman at Boons, a small rural police station in one of the more remote places we serve. He told me he had found a dove with a broken wing, and that he had strapped it up and was caring for it, but could I collect it.

The policeman told me that “you helped our dogs, and you taught us that life is precious, and that animals count”.

He couldn’t bring himself to kill the bird.

So tomorrow I’ll be driving to Boons to fetch the dove – and I’ll know that I’ve done my job right, and that CLAW is making a difference for animals and people.

-- CB

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