“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Animals and people fill the rust-red shipping containers, overflowing onto the surrounding dusty pavement. A glance around shows more people heading that way, many walking dogs or carrying puppies or even cats. Inside, there’s a hubbub of noise and action, and people interacting with animals wherever you look.
This busy scene is a twice-weekly occurrence in the township of Fisantekraal, approximately 40km outside Cape Town. It is from these humble premises that Fisantekraal Animal Welfare volunteers do their work, helping the animals of this impoverished township and surrounding areas.
When Durbanville resident, Rosa Pheiffer, took her housekeeper home to Fisantekraal late one afternoon, she had no idea that it was to be the start of something incredible. She came across a neglected dog with advanced distemper, convulsing in the dirt beside the road.
Nobody seemed to care; nobody stopped to help. But Rosa did care and she did stop to help.
She contacted the nearest animal welfare for assistance and, although, sadly, that dog could not be saved, he sparked off something that led to thousands of animals being helped. Rosa, who worked full time, began going in every weekend to help the animals and their people; soon more volunteers joined her. They realized that the only way to reduce neglect and prevent future suffering was by sterilizing as many animals as possible and by vaccinating against these diseases.
The tiny handful of passionate volunteers raised funds where they could and called in help with vaccinations and sterilizations from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals and Animal Anti-Cruelty League. One by one, animals were helped and lives were improved.
In 2006, just over a year later, FAW received their official NPO registration. Their mission: to prevent suffering through basic healthcare and sterilizations, and to empower people to care for their animals – and that’s exactly what they’re doing today.
So much to do…
A decade later, the organisation is going from strength to strength, with thousands of animals over the years having been sterilized, vaccinated against diseases such as rabies and parvovirus, and treated for mange, illness, parasites, and injuries – to name but a few. Hundreds of animals needing re-homing have found wonderful new homes.
Perhaps most importantly, the residents are able to provide their animals with the care that they deserve and have a resource for advice and education; many of the children who visit with their pets were born at the same time FAW started, which means they’ve grown up seeing a different example of how animals should be cared for. Today, two of FAW’s regular volunteers are Fisantekraal residents.
There is still much to be done. An estimated 2000 dogs and cats live in this township; FAW also works on surrounding farms, and nearby Klipheuwel and Morning Star, which adds hundreds more animals to their case load. And the area is rapidly expanding: a low-cost housing development, Greenville, has sprung up alongside Fisantekraal, with a planned 16 000 homes in the pipeline – and no provision has been made for the animals that will also live there.
With no other animal welfare offering regular basic healthcare and sterilizations in the area and a constant influx of people and animals, FAW aims to step up to the plate.
Changing their world
In 2016, FAW celebrated its ten-year anniversary as an NPO – and set a plan in motion to make a difference for the next decade and beyond.
Although a clinic was in place with a vaccination programme and for minor injuries and illnesses, everything else had been done through private vets or at sterithons a few times a year. This meant animals being collected by volunteers during the week, driven to the vet, and returned – a process taking at least three hours one way. Not only was this costing time and money, but it is traumatic for the animals.
What was needed was a surgery on site. The idea was to reduce stress to the animals, and reduce time and money wasted so that more animals could be helped. Perhaps most importantly, it would encourage owners to become more involved in helping their animals, rather than them just being taken away and returned by outsiders. By involving the community, long-term change can be effected – truly helping people to help animals.
Turning the dream into reality
On 13 and 14 May 2017, FAW hosted a cycle challenge, the FAW80 Ride, in which 20 riders made their way from Oudtshoorn to Melkbosstrand (a distance of over 480km) in one go, cycling through the night. This was the second year that the challenge took place and it was a hard slog, mostly on dirt roads, and the riders chose rougher terrain and a longer route than the previous year.
They departed Oudtshoorn early on Saturday morning at 06h00; fortunately they were blessed with a sunny day but, by nightfall, it had become bitterly cold and it was a challenge indeed to keep going. But they did, tackling the steep Bain’s Kloof Pass on Sunday morning and sailing into Melkbosstrand at around 12h00 to cheers from supporters, tail wags from several rescue dogs, and big smiles on the faces of every proud rider. Each rider raised funds as part of their challenge and the public could support their efforts through Back-a-Buddy.
Today and in future
At the time of going to print, just under 96 animals had been sterilised in the new clinic and 31 had been operated on for things like wound stitching and growth removals.
Before, these would have needed to be fetched in the township, driven to the private vet, and driven back again – a round trip of 30km; they’d often have to stay over a night or two, running up costs even more and increasing the trauma for the animal. Instead, these simple in-and-out procedures were exactly that, with animals able to go home within hours.
Consider that one female dog, her mate, and all their offspring having two litters per year, with 2.8 surviving puppies per litter, totals twelve extra in one year. If you do the maths, by year five, you’re looking at several thousand dogs; cats can have three to four litters per year.
The fact is that the more unwanted animals there are, the more neglect, abuse, and suffering there will be. There are simply not enough good homes for all of them. By sterilizing just one, all of that suffering will be prevented.
And that’s why the work this organisation does is so important: although it may not change the entire world, it will change the world for the ones it helps.
By Jenni Davies