Strays in South Africa
Providing veterinary care and education on animal welfare in townships
Animals are suffering in South Africa’s various townships: The risk of rabies is high and stray dogs and cats are reproducing uncontrollably. Additionally, there is a lack of available veterinary care. The Welttierschutzgesellschaft (WTG) is working in cooperation with the local organization Community and Veterinary Services for South Africa (CVS-SA) in the townships surrounding the capital Pretoria and the Eastern Cape. Together, we ensure access to basic veterinary care, run multi-day neutering- and vaccination campaigns and increase public understanding on animal welfare through educational activities.
An estimated 85 per cent of all companion animals in South Africa are kept in the townships. No matter, how poor people are, there is always space for an animal, either a cat to catch mice or a dog as watchdog. But most of the inhabitants of those townships haven’t got the financial resources to pay for veterinary care.
According to recent estimates, 85 percent of all pets in South Africa can be found in the townships surrounding the capital. The majority of people do not have the financial means for the veterinary care of their pet as well as for measures to prevent illness in the first place. Due to the animals mainly roaming the streets freely, preventable illnesses, such as canine distemper or pan leukopenia, can spread quickly. Likewise, many dogs as well as humans die every year due to rabies as only 15 percent of animals are vaccinated regularly against the virus or the animals are killed out of fear of a possible infection.
Basic veterinary care saves lives
In cooperation with our partner, we offer free neutering of the dogs and cats of six townships surrounding Pretoria (Phumzile Park, Plot 175, Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Onverwacht and Refilwe) on two days per month and at the same time use the opportunity to talk to the pet owners about correct animal care. Children often bring in the animals or come by simply out of interest. When this happens, they are given the chance to learn about the needs of the animals through games, and activities, for example colouring pictures. Every Friday, the team goes door to door to offer pet owners deworming, the rabies vaccination and, if necessary, other treatments for their animals. Additional support for this comes from the CVS-SA from veterinary students from the University of Pretoria who assist our partner during their final year of study to gain practical experience – and to habituate them to the suffering of the strays in the townships.
Working in the townships surrounding Pretoria comes with high safety risks. Therefore, we for example always neuter the animals at in the beginning of each month as many inhabitants fall into financial hardship towards the end of the month. This causes a short-term rise of the crime rate which is already high to begin with. Generally, the townships’ current level of safety is discussed prior to each visit and the possible risks for all workers assessed. The whole situation becomes even more complex when new residential areas are cleared and even more new people with their pets come to settle – this happens every two years in the context of local and national elections.
Inspiring the animal welfare promoters of tomorrow
It’s often the children of the families that care for the pets and play with them. It is thus essential to educate even the youngest township inhabitant on animal welfare and animal health. Therefore, our partner holds inter-active animal welfare lessons in the regional kindergartens and schools for children ages three to 15. Every week they visit ten groups or classes and talk about topics such as how to own and handle pets as well as the risk of rabies. Depending on their age, the children are able to participate afterwards in drawing- or awareness competitions. With every class or group visit, between 45 and 50 children are reached and then visited again each school year. These 30-minute animal welfare sessions are not only popular among the students but also the teachers –the schools and kindergarten now often directly contact out partner organization to ask them to stop by. Not only this, but institutions from outside the townships have started to enquire about the service as well, thus making it possible to spread the thought of animal welfare among children of all backgrounds.
Long-term engagement pays off
We’ve been working for years in Onverwacht and Refilwe and have managed to gain the trust of the locals.
In both townships success of our work can be seen:
- At the beginning, every dog in Onverwacht was chained. Now, this only applies to currently three dogs displaying problematic behaviours. They are held on long leashes when the owner isn’t home.
- For four years now, no human has been bitten by a dog which back in the day was part of the daily life due to human-dog-conflicts.
- The understanding of the necessity of veterinary care, as well as the willingness to pay for the services, are growing. Currently every fifth pet owner visiting the veterinary office of our partner organization’s director, comes from the township Refilwe. Back in 2007, no one did.
Helping strays at the Eastern Cape too
Next to our work in the capitals region, the team twice yearly tends to the pets living in the coastal region Eastern Cape. During each six-days-long event as many animals as possible are neutered, vaccinated and receive veterinary care. The animal’s owners are being involved as well to talk to them about the basics of good animal care. Throughout each event around 150 animals are neutered and 1000 animals vaccinated.
Here at the Eastern Cape we are also able to report the first successes. In the region around Port Alfred, local vets continue to pursue our aims on a voluntary basis and thus keep our vaccination- and neutering campaign going – for a stable and healthy population.
In cooperation with the CVS-SA we are able to not only improve the animals’ health but also prevent the uncontrolled reproduction of the animals. The personal contact with the owners ensures a changed mind long-term and due to this, better animal welfare in the long run. Due to the constant influx of new habitants – and with that new animals – there is a permanent need for our work in the townships. So far, thanks to your support, we have been able to start trying to cut this demand in the past and hope to be able to continue to do so in the future.