HOW WE STARTED – by Helen Taylor
The Namaqua Dog & Donkey
Foundation was formed in April 2005. My husband, John, was transferred by his
mining company to the Northern Cape.
We lived in a tiny little mining town called Aggeneys which is between
Springbok and Pofadder (yes, the town really does exist!). I had been involved
in animal welfare whilst we were living in Zambia (again, a company transfer),
and when we arrived in the Northern Cape, it struck me that there were no
veterinary facilities in the rural areas for people who could not afford these
basic services. Many animals were dying unnecessarily from not being vaccinated
or left untreated with a tick prevention – a simple protection which most of us
take for granted.
The nearest vets were around 200 kms away either way, and only those with access to transport, let alone the cost of the services, would be able to utilize these vets. I approached a large animal welfare organisation to ask their assistance with sterilisation and basic services, but they decided the area was too vast, and other areas were more needy. So, frustrated at this, I mentioned it to my veterinarian friend, Dr. Andy Swan who came to visit. He and his wife, Eleanor, fell in love with the Northern Cape and decided that there was worthwhile work to be done, and so a few of us got together and formed the NDDF. That is also how the name came about (which does confuse people in Johannesburg!). It was in Namaqualand, and there were mainly dogs and donkeys desperately needing help, plus a few cats.
What we do is to focus on where we can make the biggest difference in the lives of these people and their animals, hence our mission : "To improve the quality of life of disadvantaged domestic animals by providing primary health care - sterilisation, innoculation, deworming, tick & flea treatment, veterinary treatment of injury and illness; as well as owner education and support on responsible pet ownership”
A lot of the people in these remote areas of the Northern Cape keep dogs – for companionship, to guard their small herds of goats, for hunting small prey that the owners can eat, etc. We have had much criticism that these people should not have dogs if they cannot afford to look after them properly. Please don’t confuse poverty with deliberate cruelty or neglect. They do not have access to basic pet care the way we do. Besides the remote proximity of the vets as explained, until NDDF came along they had never heard of annual vaccinations, nor dipping; and nor do they have the funds for these even if they were aware of it.
Having said this, these owners share whatever little food they have, with their dogs. If you think these dogs lead a miserable life, have a look at some of our pictures – these dogs go everywhere with their owners, and are extremely loyal to them and have the most wonderful freedom of space to run. This is where we come in, to make this bond even stronger.
Sterilisation is where we can have the biggest impact, and prevent unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. By reducing the population of unwanted animals, we cut down on inhumane methods of culling these unwanted puppies or kittens by their owners, we reduce the number of dogs straying, fighting, forming feral packs, etc. and end up turning these sterilized animals into better, healthier, more conditioned pets. If you can do the calculations, you will understand just what an impact sterilisation has on the animal population. For example, a young female dog is likely to be sexually mature at around 9 months of age, males from 6 months onwards. Each unspayed female can produce a litter of puppies every 6 months. For calculation purposes, we used an average sized litter of 6 puppies. At 9 months of age, these animals are ready to reproduce, and so on and so on. My husband did the exponential calculations of how many puppies would be produced over a 5 year life span. It was a shock to find the potential puppies would amount to 67,888! This is providing none died prematurely - but even if half did, this is still a staggering number. So, literally, thousands of unwanted puppies are prevented each year by simple sterilisation. We must ask the question : "Do YOU know of 68,000 good homes? Do you know of even 68 good homes?” Very few people do – I certainly dont.
There is always a people overlap in our work, and we provide education to the owners on responsible pet care – by utilizing what they have available, and showing them right from wrong, e.g. having fresh water available, providing some shelter from the elements – in these areas, temperatures are often in the mid to late 30’s and sometimes in the 40’s as well.
Eleanor persuaded a wonderful South African artist to design a colouring-in book especially for us, depicting the good and bad which we hand out to the children with colouring-in pencils. Since the children will be the next generation of pet owners, we target the education at them. Linked to this, is the fact that in these rural areas, schooling and supplies are not always what they should be. We have in the past provided some of the children at these schools with a school bag, basic stationery, additional reading books, etc. We would love to do more, but resources limit us from doing so and our main focus is on the animals. Each child in these areas has access to education, but not all of them are privileged enough to have the little luxuries such as proper school bags, crayons, their own pencil case, etc. which most of us never give a second thought to. The more resources we have, the more we could do for the children, and in turn, their families.
Our two Northern Cape outreaches which we have done in the past are Pella, and Port Nolloth. These areas are around 1200 – 1400 km’s away, and we usually took along a team of about 10 people, with all our equipment, drugs, portable kennels, dog trailers, etc.
We have never charged the people for any services we offer. We would usually stay for a week, doing as many sterilisations and procedures as possible, and our working day usually lasts around 14 hours, operating in church or community halls which are appropriately set up for what we need to do.
We also had a programme to replace the old donkey harnesses which are in a terrible condition, and quite uncomfortable (often painful) for the donkeys. Having said this, it is not to point a finger at the owners – whilst we don’t condone it, we do understand why the situation is as it is. The donkey carts are often their only means of transport and they have to use whatever materials they have at their disposal to make up the harnesses. When we replace the harnesses, we take the old ones away before handing out the new, so that they can never be used again.
Sadly, in October 2009, Dr. Andy Swan passed away unexpectedly. For several months, we were undecided about the future of the NDDF. But, we regrouped, got a few more people involved and decided that the NDDF should continue, but that we may have to change the way we do things, and where our help should be directed.
As a result, we continued with our project at Piel’s Farm, Kliprivier – South of Johannnesburg which was Andy’s last outreach before he passed away. This little township as a population of approximately 2,500 residents. We have the assistance of Dr. Hennie Boonzaaier and his wonderful team at the Kliprivier Dierekliniek. We have been working at this township since 2009, and the positive results are there for all to see in the improvement of the condition of all the animals, and the incredible buy-in of the owners. This is a process that takes time to implement, and has to be done in an ethical way. Good relationships take time to build.
Our second project is the much larger township of Barcelona in Daveyton, Etwatwa which is on the East Rand. Here the population is around 11,000 residents with almost all residents having at least one animal per household but some as many as 5 or 6 animals. This is a much bigger challenge to try and get the animal population under control because of the sheer numbers of animals we are dealing with. But, as with Piel’s Farm, we have been building up a steady relationship with residents, and our coordinator, Musi, is fantastic – working tirelessly to educate owners on how to care for their animals, and calling us for any injuries or illnesses so that we can treat them timeously. Again, our involvement here started in 2009, and it is so rewarding seeing the positive impact our work has on improving the lives of the animals and in turn, their owners.
In both townships, we follow an ethical process to become involved. Usually one of the residents is likely to be employed by somebody who knows our work, and they may mention in passing the problems experienced with the animals. We are then invited to address the community leaders to discuss how we may provide assistance. Once we have buy-in from the community leaders, they usually explain to the residents what we are all about and how we can help. After that, we arrange to visit and assess the township animals, and discuss with some of the residents, the problems being experienced. Usually a vaccination day is held shortly thereafter, and we commence either arranging Spay Days (as in the case of Barcelona) or we take trailer loads of animals through for sterilisation and treatment on a weekly basis (as in the case of Piel’s Farm).
We do, on occasion, get requests from other individuals who have found themselves in a dire financial situation (which has affected many people), not due to their own fault. In these cases, we interview the owners, and visit the animals, and make a decision to assist based purely on what income they have (or in a lot of cases – little, or non-existent income). These cases are assessed individually to ensure that our hard-earned funds are utilised where they are most needed. It is no use assisting someone who has some income when we have others who have none. It is also dependent on funds available as to whether we are in a position to provide assistance.
We are still collecting funds, and investigating all possibilities of continuing work in Port Nolloth and Pella with other people and organisations and we are still hopeful to make regular outreaches here a reality as there really is a desperate need in these areas – we hope you will assist us in achieving this.
In closing, we are a small group of dedicated individuals passionately committed to making a positive difference to the lives of these disadvantaged animals. Our work relies entirely on funding from sponsors (some have been wonderfully generous) and any assistance we get from the public or corporations goes fully into the treatment of animals – we do not use any of the funds for ourselves. The NDDF does not have the infrastructure to do the daily welfare work, nor is it our core function but we will call on other authorized organisations in cases where it is necessary, e.g. confiscation of abused or neglected animals.
Our work is a collaboration between ourselves and our owners – we see this as a comprehensive team effort, never taken for granted. We have no ego’s where our work is concerned – our animals come first – and this is never forgotten. We are always looking at continuously improving what we do and what more we can offer – and this is our commitment to our owners and their animals – and in turn, to you, our supporting public.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your generosity, kindness, compassion and support in making our critical work possible.