So – it was just as well I started off Saturday with a centering exercise in mindfulness – at an introductory Qigong class, held at the wonderful Vredenhof Organic Estate, on the outskirts of Somerset West.
Dr Carl Snyman, who studied medicine at Stellenbosch University, and then lived and worked in New Zealand and Australia, led the group through some of the co-ordinated and flowing movements and relaxation techniques characteristic of this ancient practise, originating in China.
We were all sensibly clad in warm, comfortable attire, as it was a decidedly brisk morning (I believe there was snow on the mountains near Franschhoek) – it was surprising how quickly we warmed up though, despite the apparent lack of any real effort.
Dr Snyman shared about his own journey towards this healing modality, after being contaminated with mercury when he broke a blood pressure monitoring machine at his surgery in New Zealand, which had catastrophic results in terms of his health.
Afterwards, I headed to Radloff Park for a quick walk with my hounds, as usual bumping into friends and strangers and having a few wonderful impromptu conversations about life, the universe and everything – and then I headed to the Somerset West library hall for the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) Helderberg’s annual general meeting, in the company of Christopher Kirkman and Gerald Wright, fellow committee members of the Friends of Radloff Park (FORP), which was formed last year, and has a growing membership of people who use the park for a variety of recreational experiences, of which dog walking is the most popular.
In short order, the three of us were nominated – and voted upon – to join the AWS Helderberg committee of this hard-working and remarkable group of people, who have clearly dedicated a huge part of their lives and personal resources towards the improvement of the lot of animals.
I’d steeled myself mentally before going, because I’d had a sense of foreboding about my capacity to handle the information I imagined would be coming my way, regarding the reality faced by so many four-legged beings who, for one reason or another, arrive at the AWS Helderberg’s doors in Gordon’s Bay.
But soon, as I listened, I felt very different: enthused, motivated, inspired, in-formed, heartened and involved.
The dedication of the committee members and volunteers, who contribute in every conceivable way, clarified what I had perceived as perhaps an insurmountable task, one that I had initially felt my heart would struggle to bear.
This society has been functioning for 60 years, and Margaret Withers, the chairman, gave “grateful thanks to my small committee (six members) for their hard work and commitment… they are unpaid, unsung and sometimes maligned”.
The little charity shop at 42 Reitz Street, Somerst West, brings in a substantial amount through the sale of their donated merchandise, and there are volunteers who run the jumble sales, monthly dog walks at the Blaauwklippen Estate outside Stellenbosch, fundraising events throughout the Helderberg, create information pamphlets and make beautiful greeting cards, and volunteer at the kennels – sorting out food, walking the dogs, playing with the cats, cleaning kennels and cages, helping with admin and reception, doing home checks, manage the Facebook page, and myriad other vital roles.
Then there are the local vets, who offer their services and do mass sterilisation days, sew up injuries, help rehabilitate animals so that they can be put up for adoption and find loving “forever” homes, and are on call for emergencies.
Helderberg Sunrise Rotary also completed the isolation building, which is currently being used for the spay days (until it can conform more fully to “isolation” requirements), and additional kennels need to be built, finances allowing.
And therein lies the great challenge: the facility is far too small to house the huge number of animals brought in, or found, or surrendered by their owners.
A lamentable number of people still allow their pets to breed, out of a misplaced sense of wanting to have the experience of puppies or kittens, and then either abandon them or give them away indiscriminately.
There are also a huge number of strays arriving at the kennel (which is not, as is often mistakenly assumed, the pound or the SPCA) – which puts enormous pressure on their capacity to house animals waiting for adoption, and forces some heart-breaking decisions.
More than 2 000 animals were brought in during 2016, and the sad fact is that many of these did not ever find that loving home, enough said.
But a great statistic is that almost 2 400 cats and dogs were sterilised, and about 6 500 received life-saving vaccinations.
I feel honoured to be a part of the energy that is represented by this group of individuals, and identifying how I can offer more of myself to being a part of what they work towards, and achieve, in the protection of these sentient beings I love so much. So, join me?
Carolyn Frost: Editor