Ever since my first visit emaMpondweni in 2012, I have loved the dogs I met.
This year, I turned 60.
In lieu of the usual sort of celebratory gifts, I asked friends to contribute towards a sterilisation clinic for Mngcambeni village, Khutwini. I have visited there a few times and got to know the people and dogs. Starting with adorable Thokie who had a litter snuggled under corrugated iron when I first stayed in the Dwetye Homestay in 2015. On my next visit Thokie was no longer around, but I made friends with Danger – and Shoprite and Stompie who were Thokie’s pups. On my last visit in 2020 poor Stompie had just had a litter and was so thin. Stompie tried to raise her pups as best she could. However, when new litters keep appearing season after season it is a real challenge. There is not much her human family can do to prevent her getting pregnant. No one particularly wants the puppies, and they are just more mouths to feed in lean times. I fed Stompie all my boiled eggs and dosed her with de-wormers, but I knew that it was not enough.
My birthday plan was to raise funds to give Stompie and other Mpondo dogs a break. Helping the dogs, really helps the people too. Thanks to my magnificent friends and the magic of social media, a total of R25 050.00 was collected!
TAWI – Transkei Animal Welfare Initiative – do incredible work in challenging conditions. They agreed to arrange a sterilisation clinic. It costs between R350 and R450 for each sterilisation. To ensure the dogs are healthy enough to have the operations, the TAWI team visits a few weeks beforehand to administer de-wormers, Vitamin B jabs and rabies shots.
Noxolile Dwetye, who is Danger, Shoprite and Stompie’s custodian, was thrilled at the prospect and a great help to TAWI in setting things up. Tyson Makhayakude of TAWI laughs “I’ve got Noxolilie on speed dial! She is very efficient, got things organised and spread the word so fast. It is great to have such enthusiasm for our work.” TAWI CSS vet Andre Nel adds, “Noxolile served us a feast when we arrived to make arrangements, including freshly caught bream. She is a great cook. ”
As luck would have it, one of the vets attending the steri-clinic was Lee Pachonick from Howick. She invited me to go along and see how things work. What a treat! My 60th birthday just kept improving.
We were hosted in Msikaba by Vonnie’s Rest on the banks of the Mbexenge river. Here the lovely resident dogs joined us for walks along the river and down to the beach. Peanut was my favourite. Peanut was also lined up for sterilisation the next day.
Msikaba – Saturday 4 September 2021
Before dawn, the rumble of the Primary Animal Health Care mobile clinic truck roused vets and animal health technicians from their slumbers. Coffee was brewed and rusks devoured while the truck is carefully positioned the clinic besides the room where the freshly sterilized dogs will recover.
It is not long before dogs start to traipse over the hill with their owners in tow. First to arrive at the sterilisation clinic in Msikaba is Lemon Kwetshube with his dogs Spot, Zanazo and Zcinendaba. His older dog Spinach had been sterilized on a previous visit by TAWI, so came along to give moral support to her siblings. Danger is blind, so walks close beside his owner, Nokulunga Pandela brings Shepard, Tiger and her cat, Lucky Bhobosana arrives with Pumpkin and Zanaza, and Mngayiwa Mpinyani brings the local Chief’s dog, Busy, to be castrated (no pressure!).
After registration each animal is fitted with a colourful numbered tag and one by one, they are dewormed, checked by the animal health technicians from Tsolo Agriculture and Rural Development Institute (TARDI) and TAWI interns, and prepped for their operation. While dogs are part of every household, often they are not petted which means they are nervous of collars and being constrained. TAWI’s Tyson Makhayakude skilfully captures those who are frightened in his net, so that the vets can administer the tranquilising drugs easily.
A cat named Asis hides in the aloe hedge, while another mews pitifully from inside the cages, a kitten perches on Miranda Gxobela’s shoulder for a good view of the action. Punza Mandela’s brother is getting married today and the pre-wedding celebrations have begun on the ridge. Fortunately, Punza’s cat was sterilized on the last TAWI visit, so she can focus her attention on the festivities.
43 animals got a better chance at living a healthy life today. Sanela Ncapayi, a delightful second-year student at TARDI (Tsolo Agricultural and Rural Development Institute) enjoyed every moment. “When I saw the opportunity, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer. It is my first time to participate in a clinic, to do injections and preparation of the dogs. It was very interesting, and I learnt a lot. Spaying is such a good thing for the dogs, not only does it reduce unwanted pregnancy, but also infections and stress.” Her classmate Lindiwe Ncube adds “We will be happy to volunteer in all our holidays to help man’s best friend.” Tonnica Mela agrees – she believes that it is her duty as a young person to make a difference in her community, to share knowledge and skills. What special young people.
Isaac Kunyu has been part of TAWI since its inception in 2009 and observed developments and improvements over the years. He was very impressed with the Mobile Clinic. “This is the second time we have used that truck with all the facilities inside. Imagine if it lived at TAWI? We could do a small steri-clinic every week,” he enthuses, “that will make a big difference to the lives of animals and humans. Wherever TAWI is going, people ask us to go further.”
One skinny little boy was carried to the clinic. When he was placed on the ground he walked in circles. The vets checked him and thought he had brain damage which had affected his balance. The owners told us that he didn’t eat. When tussling over the food bowl with the rest of his family, he usually lost out. We showed his carer how to hand feed him separately from the other dogs (advice was well-received), gave them a bag of dog kibbles, and we have no doubt he will be looking better when we return.
William Reynolds kindly drove the sleepy dogs and their owners’ home at the end of the day, while Peanut recovered in peace and I went for a walk along the Mbexenge river to Khotso’s Pool.
Khutwini – Sunday 5 September 2021
TAWI had never visited Khutwini before, so this sterilisation clinic was eagerly awaited. When the first choice of venue (Community Hall) was not available at the last minute, the sub-headman and his wife ( Mdiya and Makweyshube) offered the large rondavel and grounds usually used for local meetings. This woman and I drank a lot of beer together on my visit in 2019!
I popped over to the Dwetye Homestay to say hello and found that Stompie had died. I wasn’t surprised as the average life expectancy is only about five and, when you are poorly nourished and have endless demands for milk and attention, your chances of even getting to five are slim. Danger and Shoprite greeted me with glee. A young dog hovered behind them – one of the puppies I had cuddled on my last visit and sneakily fed bowls of milky biscuits. The others didn’t make it. We sat on the steps in the sunshine, enjoying tickles and heaps of treats.
As the team set up the Mobile Clinic, the induction area and recovery room, quite a crowd gathered to see what was going on. Among the first dogs to arrive were Gupta, Basa, Mumsy, Dashi and Blayi.
Dozens of kids pitched up to enjoy the unusual activity and sat enthralled watching the vets operate in the back of the open truck. For newly graduated Dr Songezo Pepu, the experience was memorable. “I have not encountered difficult spays before, so it felt like I was thrown in the deep end. With the help of older experienced vets, I managed to swim and did not feel alone. It is good to share happy and challenging moments with the team.”
Dr Dave Watson is a veteran of TAWI steri-clinics. He observed that there was a lot of TVT (Transmissable Venereal Tumour) present in the animals of Cutwini. This is something that can easily be cured with sterilisation as transmission is by contact from male to female. With Cutwini now firmly on the TAWI radar now, they hope to be able to make a big impact in reducing this disease in the area. Dr Lee Pachonick enjoys the challenge of participating in rural sterilisation campaigns, “The biggest issue is over-used uteruses. Uteruses become so damaged after so many puppies that it is very difficult not to tear the tissue during surgery. The other big issue is tick or worm burdens. This makes the blood thin which causes more bleeding in the surgery because it doesn’t clot so well.”
Lindokuhle Ngxeba is spending a year with TAWI after completing her Animal Health Technician Diploma. She was an absolute star at sharing her knowledge and skills with the students from TARDI and a big hit with all the local kids as she facilitated an impromptu learning session on animal care using colourful DAFF pamphlets. Lindokuhle hopes to continue studying and become a vet, so that she can participate in the actual sterilisations too. “I learnt a lot. The vets were so helpful and strict about doing things the right way. The weekend was super good,” she says.
In the afternoon, wheelbarrows arrived to cart sleepy dogs home and the kids dispersed reluctantly clutching heart shaped biscuits for their dogs. Sunday was an exciting day for the humans and animals of Khutwini. TAWI will be returning soon to vaccinate against rabies and deworm the dogs who didn’t come to the clinic, and treat the TVT in the male dogs.
Thanks to the community for the warm welcome, TARDI for the loan of the mobile clinic (expertly driven by Peter Diaho Monaheng), the Compulsory Community Service Vets, all the volunteers and TAWI who are making the most astonishing difference in so many lives. Donations are always welcome.
TAWI, STANDARD BANK, A/C 061047562, SWIFT code: SBZAZAJJ