Written by Hellen White, founder of Hellen – Working in the Community, and Rita Gasser-Erasmus, practice manager at Kibler Park Vet
Professional photography by Jacqui L. Photography
When children called Hellen White to help with a stray dog, she was horrified at what she saw. Hellen has worked in some of the most impoverished communities of Johannesburg South for over eight years and seen many bad cases; this was one of the worst she’d seen.
A bag of bones
Hellen shares: “I was on the last quarter of my rounds on a hot Friday afternoon in the community of Naturena Ext. 19, near Soweto, where I do top-up feeding of around 150 dogs, twice a week.
“I came to a dusty corner where some children were patiently waiting for me; they waved me down to tell me they’d found a dog that was ‘dying’. They were feeding him and had given him water.
“Thife Masevhe had found him along the road in the veldt while walking home from school. An animal-lover, he had enticed him to his house with a left-over sandwich from his lunchbox.
“To my horror, I found them attending to the skinniest dog I’d seen for a long time. The large tan dog was just an exhausted bag of bones. I dropped everything that I still had to do and asked a community member, Tshepo Leballo, to help load him into my car. He was terribly weak and didn’t once try to bite us.”
How terrible does this dog look
“Tshepo was horrified: ‘Hai, Hellen,’ he said, ‘what a beautiful dog that man has let down. How terrible does this dog look.’
“Because time was short to get to the vet, I hurried over to a neighbour to ask if we could leave him there with food until I could fetch him the next morning. The horror on her face was ‘priceless’, so I said not to worry – I would make another plan.
“I immediately phoned Rita Gasser-Erasmus, practice manager at Kibler Park Vet, explaining that I had a dog that was on its last legs and asking if I could bring him in. Of course, she said yes and off I went, through peak-hour traffic, and got him to the consulting rooms.
“He weighed in at half of what his ideal weight should have been, his ears had open wounds and he was covered in ticks and sores. He also had weird bandages around his legs and, when the assistants got him into the consulting rooms, Rita took one look and whipped out the scissors to cut off the bandages; underneath were sores and bald patches.
“Next, it was Dr David Erasmus’ turn to examine the dog and determine what the next steps would be. Could we help him recover or were we too late?”
A second chance
“Lucky Luke, as Rita named him, was given a second chance. Every day I went to see his progress, which I may say was unbelievable. Dr Erasmus and Rita were absolute angels to the rescue.
“Despite a setback with biliary, he went from strength to strength, and when I took Thife to visit two months later, his face was a picture of delight. He could not believe it was the same dog. On the way home he was very quiet and then said, ‘Mother SPCA*, is that really the same dog?’ I assured him it was and that he, Thife, had been the hero in the whole story.
I rewarded him with a voucher for his good deed – and he was later proud to show me the slippers he had bought with his reward.
“Today, Luke has an awesome life with the Erasmus family and was given a second chance by a young boy, Sipho, in the community that I have educated on the well-being of our furry friends – proof that working with the community does make a difference.”
*The children don’t differentiate between the SPCA and other animal welfares.
Rushed to the vet
Rita Gasser-Erasmus, practice manager at Kibler Park Vet and Luke’s new owner, shares:
“Hellen White (who does the most wonderful work for animals) called us on 5 August 2017. She said one of her community members had found a dog that was dying.
“When he came in, we were appalled: poor Luke was so emaciated, full of ticks, and so weak with starvation and neglect that he couldn’t stand. He also had some very strange bandages around his paws, which were so tight we battled to cut them off. His ears were in a terrible state; we assume that they’d been bitten by flies. His coat was horrendous – dry and patchy with strange sores, and the tip of his tail had an open wound. His bony body weighed just 20kg.
“Yet, despite his suffering and throughout Dr David Erasmus examining him, treating him, injecting him, etc., this gentle giant’s tail wagged constantly.”
Luke suffers a setback
“We started the slow process of feeding Luke (starving dogs cannot be given large amounts at once or they could die). We started him on vet-quality large-breed puppy food, which would be easier for him to digest, six to eight small meals daily. Days went by with Luke just lying on his bed, doing nothing but eating and sleeping. But he enjoyed tummy tickles and his tail always wagged when he saw us. Despite everything, he was still such a friendly and forgiving dog.
“After a week of this, during which he’d gained 5kg, we decided to take him for a walk with the rest of our dogs to try and get him out of his slump. Once we got going, David was horrified that he still had no energy and could hardly walk. We took him back to the clinic for some blood tests.
“To our dismay, Luke’s blood tested positive for biliary (‘tick bite fever’). Although we’d picked it up very quickly, Luke still became very ill. It was so bad that, at one point, we thought we were going to lose him.”
Onward and upward
“Thank goodness, Luke never stopped eating (good nutrition is so important for immune function). After hundreds of injections, a blood transfusion, plenty of TLC, and lots of ‘please don’t die’, he slowly recovered. A wonderful lady – Natalie Janse van Rensburg from Equi1Stop – donated some Moringa tablets (a herb for nutritional support) and a spray for his ears that helped the healing process.
“By day 15, Luke had gained 10.5kg, was fully recovered from biliary, and was strong enough to be neutered. This would have been the time to start looking for a new home for him – but Lucky Luke was here to stay.
“Luke now lives happily at the clinic with three other rescue dogs; he has 11 ‘siblings’ in total. Two months after his rescue, he weighs a very solid 38kg, his coat is smooth and healthy, and his tail has so much to wag about. Almost every day, he and his friends have a run on an open field where they all get to stretch their legs, which he loves. He really is lucky indeed.
“I believe that he once had a good home – he’s playful, obedient and, for a dog his size, completely unaggressive.”
Find out more about Hellen White and her amazing work in our article featuring Hellen – Working in the Community: http://www.happytailsmagazine.co.za/news-articles/you-can-help-us/hellen-working-in-the-community/