Taylor, the odd-eyed pit bull bitch, is sleepy, calm, and she barely blinks at me through the wire door of her temporary shelter, when I call her name.
“She’s had her pre-med injection,” explains Mary de Wet, “and once it has fully taken effect, she’ll go in for surgery.”
It is Thursday morning, and Taylor is one of as many as 50 pets that will be sterilised at the clinic underway in Jesus Cares Ministry Church in Chris Nissen Park, Somerset West, one of three such clinics run annually by The Outreach Program (TOP), a Helderberg NGO which puts enormous effort into ensuring that those who must decide between sending a child to school and spending money on vet bills, get the care they need for their pets.
“Taylor is a victory for us,” explains TOP volunteer, Mary. “Whenever we succeed in sterilising one of the power breeds, like a pit bull, a Staffie (Staffordshire terrier) or a bull terrier, it brings tears to our eyes, because it is another dog we’ve taken out of harms way in the world of dog fighting.”
Bitches of these and other power breeds are used to breed pups which are in turn sold: bitches to be reared as breeding dogs, and dogs to be reared as fighting dogs.
“Illegal dog fighting is rife in Strand, Gordon’s Bay and Macassar,” says Mary. “A pup can fetch from R400 for a bitch, to as much as R1 800 for a dog.”
TOP started up almost two years ago, when the founding members, Bonny van Niekerk, Michelle Sleigh and Samantha Mann, all of whom had worked for other NGOs in the township animal care environment, decided to band together and start their own NGO, and TOP was born.
Two years down the track, TOP focusses all of its efforts on the animals that belong to Chris Nissen Park residents.
“She’s ready to go,” says Michelle, placing a round green sticker on the top of Taylor’s box, as she juggles the logistics of the string of pets lined up, waiting for their turn on the table with veterinarian Dr Annelise Roos of Envirovet CVC (community veterinary clinics). Dr Roos hails from Joostenberg, and she spends the entire day on her feet, aided by veterinary assistant Riaan Alexander, neutering and spaying the dogs and cats brought to the clinic by Chris Nissen Park residents.
Dr Roos emerges from the operating theatre, to grab a bite to eat. She fixes me with a gimlet gaze and says, as she scrubs her hands with disinfectant soap and a nail brush: “If you have any questions, email me and I’ll respond. No time now to talk. I’d never forgive myself if an animal died because I wasn’t where I should be.”
But it’s not just about sterilisation of dogs to curtail breeding. “We also do dip days here once a month, and for that we need dip, flea treatment and deworming remedies, all of which must be funded,” says Michelle. “We also need to vaccinate puppies against canine parvovirus, (CPV), which is a killer. Each pup needs three CPV vaccinations, and they cost over R120 each. If we don’t do this, we’re here two or three times a week, collecting dead or dying puppies.”
The ante-room adjacent to the temporary operating theatre, is carpeted with blankets. As the animals are brought out of the operating theatre, each is gently laid down, wrapped in a blanket to recover from the anaesthetic, tended to by a number of dedicated volunteers, who patiently sit and calm the animals as they wake up, disoriented and unsure.
“Fund-raising is a huge issue for us,” says Michelle as she gently calms a waking dog. “Today’s vet fee was covered by funding from a NGO to whom we do application for the funds needed for each sterilisation clinic we run, but the rest of our work we have to fund ourselves.”
And that funding burden is substantial. Vet bills amount to between
R10 000 and R12 000 each month, arising from emergencies that arrive each outreach day, according to Michelle.
“Today we have a broken leg, a pit bull attack, and two cases of canine TVT (transmissible venereal tumour), a transmissible form of cancer. It’s only the 5th of the month, and our vet bills are already over R9 000,” says Michelle.
“We’re also busy rehabilitating Katie, a beautiful dog who almost lost her foot. Samantha (Mann, a TOP volunteer) is fostering Katie now, and w’ere hoping she will go to a loving home in the Free State, where somebody is interested in adopting her.”
The adoption fee is R850, but thus far Katie’s vet bills amount to R2 000.
“Does that make economic sense?” I ask. “It’s not just about the economics. We’re pro-life. We don’t believe in putting an animal down just because the vet bills are too high, if there is a chance of saving it,” says Michelle.
Sadly, there are occasions when there is no other option.
“Our mascot Piesang who is on our logo, had a broken leg, and liver failure. The vet said he could keep him on a drip and see if he would recover, but by the time the vet bills hit R4 000 we had to make a decision.
“It’s something we always put to the vote, and because there was so little chance of him surviving, we decided to have him put down.”
TOP welcomes donations, be they cash to fund vet bills, dip, flea treatment and mange treatment, as well as pet food, food bowls, blankets and collars which are distributed to pet owners in Chris Nissen Park.
Anybody who would like to contribute to TOP can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TOPs Facebook page at TOP – The Outreach Program.