Californian Volunteer in South Africa Sings Mdzananda Clinic Praises

The author and IFAW Mdzananda volunteer with a puppy in South Africa.

This post was written by Natalie Kremen, a student and volunteer who just spent ten weeks helping the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort in South Africa. - LCH

In the midst of my studies to obtain my B.S. in Animal Science at the University of California, Davis, I became interested in the idea of volunteering abroad.

Born and raised as a Californian, I was keen to not only further my travels, but to live in a foreign country and immerse myself in its culture.

I first discovered Mdzananda somewhat randomly through the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) website and was immediately drawn to the clinic.

This clinic was using relatively basic veterinary medicine and emphasizing the importance of sterilization and preventative care to dramatically increase the overall quality of life and manage overpopulation of pets in the townships.

Although I was ready to hop on a plane and not look back upon my graduation from university, I stuck around UC Davis and completed a M.S. in Nutritional Biology, specializing in companion animal nutrition before jet setting to Cape Town.

Well aware of the contrasting lifestyle led in the township of Khayelitsha from where I come, I anticipated that I would experience a startling culture shock, but the feeling of unknowing and uncertainty never came. The staff helped me to feel immediately at home at clinic which allowed me to quickly find my groove. I have now spent the past 10 weeks consulting with pet owners, prepping animals before surgery, aiding in hospital duties, and going on mobile clinics.

Providing consultations with the dog and cat owners of Khayelitsha has proven to be uniquely valuable from both a clinical and a cultural perspective. It has taken many weeks to become adequate at understanding English with a thick Xhosa accent, but through my many comical blunders and misunderstandings I’ve maintained a mutual understanding and respect with both my co-workers and our clients. I have made dozens laugh when they hear my serious, yet somewhat feeble attempts to communicate through speaking Xhosa.

Immersing myself in the realm of consulting has also allowed me to become familiar with the common diseases and traumas that plague the animals in this population. It is not unusual to have the waiting area contain dogs that have been poisoned, stabbed, hit by cars or have easily preventable infections such as tick fever, distemper, and parvo virus. Seeing these harsh realities on an almost-daily basis illustrated to me how important preventative care, including sterilizations, is. We emphasized preventative care not only in the consulting room of clinic, but also when we went out on mobile clinics.

Mobile clinics are an effective way for Mdzananda to reach other townships that may be otherwise neglected with regards to veterinary care. The locations of which the mobile clinic visits are on a schedule so that some of the most in-need areas can be sterilized, vaccinated, and treated for common ailments such as mange. When these neighborhoods have been receiving this level of veterinary care for a period of months, one can see the overall health of the population increase to a much higher level than it had once started and the number of stray dogs be kept to a minimum. Helping out on mobile clinics never ceases to yield surprises, as these afternoons are hectic, ones often with children and dogs alike running rampant.

As one can imagine, it becomes chaotic having swarms of people hovering around the clinic truck, waiting for their dogs to get vaccinated – dogs often get rowdy and owners can be rougher with their animals than the staff is comfortable with.

The job of the clinic is not to only treat, vaccinate, and sterilize animals, it is also to help educate the community about proper animal behavior, care, and management. One important part of mobile clinics is just this: showing pet owners the proper way to feed and handle their pets, as well as to explain the signs of an unhealthy pet that must receive additional veterinary care.

Volunteering at Mdzananda has been a heart-warming experience that I hope to carry with me into my future. The hospitality of the manager, Jane, of the staff members, and the veterinarians makes it all the more difficult for me to say goodbye to what has become a second family. I have no doubt that I will return to the clinic in the near future, and I can’t wait for the day that I come back to be upon me.

-- NK

For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to help animals in crisis around the world visit

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