IFAW South Africa - New Vet Volunteers Land in Happy Valley

This post was written by Christina Pretorius, Programme Manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare Southern Africa. It is part of a series that will track the progress of our cat and dog project in Cape Town, South Africa, in the Happy Valley informal settlement.

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(15 September 2009) Yesterday morning bloomed blustery and overcast, but not cold thank goodness. Spring has definitely come to the Western Cape and daisies flower thick in every grass verge.

Three new volunteer veterinarians arrived over the weekend – Paolo Koch from Italy via the UK where he has been working in a small animal practice and brushing up on his English (which seemed excellent to me), Laura 1 and Laura 2 – Laura Dobson and Laura Waring – both new graduates from London University.

They will be working at IFAW’s dog and cat project for between one week (Laura 2) and three months (Laura 1). Paolo will stay for two weeks.Yay! With Rozelle, our fulltime vet on maternity leave, we need all the help we can get.

After doing a clinic orientation we decided to get our newbies straight into the saddle by taking them on Monday’s mobile clinic to Happy Valley. There were dogs and cats from the area that had been sterilised, returned home and needed their stitches taking out, plus the usual mobile clinic activities of consulting and treating, and our door-to-door work to encourage proper pet care and collections of course.

So off our convoy of three bakkies (South African slang for pick-up trucks) headed for Happy Valley “informal” settlement (As an aside, I hate that term. For me it kind of suggests that shack communities are somehow temporary, when the truth is they aren’t. With the slow pace of service delivery in South Africa, living in a shack will be the only home most people will ever know).

After years of working in some of our very poorest communities I’ve built up a thick skin, but I think Happy Valley came as something of a shock to our fresh-off-a-plane- from Europe vets.

On arrival we stopped briefly to let Lazola, one of our energetic animal welfare assistants, hop out to ride “shotgun” on top of the trailer. Perched up high he can see over fences and into the yards of shacks to spot if dogs are tied up.

Not 200 metres down the road Lazola yelled for us to stop – he’d spotted a dog on a short chain. The owners were home so, after asking permission we entered the property. The dog was terribly skinny but cheerfully leaping again and again on its chain.

Lazola and Paolo tried to persuade the owner to let us take his dog for treatment and sterilisation and that’s when things turned nasty – the owner was drunk (at 11 am!) and also appeared to be drugged up, although his female partner was keen for us to take the dog.

After a lot of shouting and screaming between the two of them – the owner said he needed the dog for protection, and wouldn’t let it go, while she kept trying to untie the poor animal. Eventually we reached a compromise and Paolo was able to treat the dog for worms and vaccinate it on site. We agreed between us that we’ll return in a day or two’s time when the owner has sobered up and might be persuaded to send his dog to the clinic.

In the meantime the mobile had set up on our usual site, and we had a steady parade of owners arriving with their dogs and cats for treatment and bringing their sterilised pets to have their stitches removed. The vets managed the consultations while the door-to-door crew canvassed the area for dogs and cats needing help.

One interesting feature about Happy Valley is its large population of calico cats. They are incredibly pretty with their patches of black, ginger and white – but I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before. It would be interesting to know why?

Later in the afternoon we moved the mobiles to another area of the community. Parking at the bottom of Ocean Street we split up to go door to door, and within 10 minutes it became clear that we needed all the vets at the clinic bakkie to cope with a flood of pets needing treatment – including many, many puppies. We treated well over 50 pets in a couple of hours.

Delightful was the fact that most owners of adult dogs were prepared to let their pets be taken off for sterilisation and, by the end of the afternoon, we’d loaded up 13 dogs and three cats. All these pets will be sterilised today and returned home to their owners tomorrow.

Back at clinic Paolo said his first day was a baptism of fire: “I never thought it would be that bad”. But, after our daily debrief decided to send a second mobile back to Happy Valley today, guess who was first to volunteer his services?

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