Written by Jason Hanwith-Horden, Jade Ashford, and Helga Real
Photography by Colette Bodenstaff
On 21 January 2019, I left work at my usual time of 4pm. Unlike normal days, however, I’d decided that I needed to go to the shops for some supplies. My normal stop-in was out of stock of some essentials, so I hastily made my way to the freeway, in the hopes of beating the traffic. I was, by then, running half an hour behind my normal travel time.
Cruising along the N2 from Umhlanga, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Whilst driving along the stretch heading towards the Umgeni offramp, I spotted some movement on the centre median of the N2. Looking ahead, I noticed the source of the movement: a brown, medium-sized dog. I instantly chose to pull over and attempt to catch the dog before it wandered into the fast-moving traffic.
I moved my car to the grass median and brought it to a stop in the ditch. Simultaneously, several other cars were slowing down, and, unbeknown to me, another woman had pulled over just ahead of the dog. Grabbing one of my dog leads that I keep in the car, I jumped out and walked slowly towards the dog, which was now boxed in between two cars. A third car slowed to a stop in the fast lane to assist with slowing down the traffic and to prevent the dog being hurt.
Other drivers soon became irritated and began hooting and hurling abuse. This didn’t concern me at all, because I had a far more important mission to focus on. The lady who stopped ahead had some food in her car, which she offered the dog to draw it over to her. I carefully walked up behind the dog, and as she made a grab for it, I managed to get the lead around its neck to prevent it running away. At this point we got a good look at this poor dog, which was nothing more than a mangy, scab-encrusted animal that was having some difficulty walking.
The lady, whose name I learnt was Helga Real, handed me a towel to wrap the dog up in. The poor animal was scared, covered in ticks and fleas, had barely any fur, and was encrusted with scabs that were seeping blood everywhere. I loaded her in my car and, because of how hot she felt, switched the aircon on for her. She settled very quickly and lay quietly on my passenger seat.
I headed towards home (Monteseel) whilst phoning animal rescue centres and vets, looking for somewhere to take her. I received the same response from all the animal rescues I managed to contact – “Sorry, we’re full, our vet accounts are all on hold and there’s nothing we can do to help.” All the vets I contacted also had a negative response – “You’d have to pay to bring her here, but because we don’t know if she has rabies, you can’t bring her.”
I posted a pic of her on the local Monteseel community WhatsApp group, asking if anyone knew where to take her, and friends began phoning around to look for somewhere to take her. Unfortunately, as great as the work is that the SPCA does, I’m not sure a dog in this condition would have been treated or if it would have been euthanised. It would’ve been understandable, as this dog really didn’t look like she was worth saving.
By the time I reached Hillcrest, I was very despondent about this poor dog’s future. I had nowhere to take her, and, because my dogs aren’t receptive to strange dogs, I couldn’t take her home.
Fortunately, my friend had contacted Camperdown Vet, who offered to see to her, although the situation wasn’t ideal. I made my way to the vet and arrived just as he was dealing with his last appointment for the day.
A very old-school vet who still has a passion for animals, he gave this forlorn stray a thorough examination, ran a few blood tests, took some skin scrapes, and then started a barrage of injections and pills to try and stabilise this poor dog. She had a high fever from biliary, demodectic mange, a layer of ticks and fleas, and was barely able to hold her head up under her own weight. It broke my heart to see that someone had let a dog get to this horrid condition.
I asked the vet how long he thought she might have been on the road to be in such bad condition, and he said that it would’ve taken about four months. With a dog that was estimated to be eight months old, that would mean she’d spent half her life on the streets alone and uncared for. The vet said that her biliary was so bad that she would’ve died within two days if she hadn’t been brought in.
I left her there for the night and paid her bill upfront for her treatments, her overnight stay at the vet, and for any recurring medication she’d need to go home with. This, at least, bought me some time to find somewhere she could go for recovery until I could find her a foster home, if she even survived the night.
Thanks to a member of the Monteseel community, I was put in touch with Jade Ashford from Paw Prints Rescue and Rehoming. Jade was kind enough to agree to look after the hapless dog until she was strong enough to go to a foster. The following evening, I fetched her and took her to Paw Prints in Westville.
I loaded her in the car where she was a bit more alert and even sat up to survey her surroundings for the first few minutes of her ride, but then quickly curled up and went to sleep while I listened to her snoring on the way to Westville.
Jade had prepared a private room for the dog and put out some nice bedding for her. She was taken through to her room where her recovery could start. By now I’d already received a donation of a probiotic and immune boosting treatment, for the dog from Sharon Comley in Monteseel. Some of the community had pledged to help settle any further vet and treatment bills for this poor hound.
Over the next few days, I received some very heartwarming updates from Jade about her improvements and was excited to see pictures of her just looking better every day. I shared an update on the Upper Highway Info Facebook group in the hopes of finding the lady who’d assisted me. The public response was incredible, and as it turned out, this was the same dog that East Coast Radio had mentioned in their traffic report segment. I used the public interest to set up a fundraiser for the dog and hopefully find her a home. All monies raised have been transferred to Paw Prints.
I went to visit her the following Sunday, where I was nervously greeted by a far more energetic and livelier dog. She was worlds apart from the dog I’d originally left there for a little TLC. The daily interaction, skin treatments, and healthy food were really making such a difference to her. Jade had also decided she needed a name. She was named “Alina”, a Russian name meaning “beautiful”. I’d seen from the first moment that the dog had a beautiful soul and was a gentle girl, so the name couldn’t be more appropriate.
From there, Jade has been Alina’s custodian and has done miraculous work with her. The videos of her show more of what I knew Alina could be if she was just given the slightest chance. From all this I’ve learned that the pet rescuers are more than just people; I rescued one dog and it took so much out of me! Yet these people rescue dogs all day, every day. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that. Respect!
Jade Ashford, Alina’s foster mom, shares…
The minute I received a WhatsApp message showing this poor girl in such a bad way, I knew I had to help. When Jason arrived with her in the car, my heart just sank: this timid, broken soul who just lay quietly on the seat barely looking up at me. Her eyes told a story of a lonely, damaged girl who lived a sad and tragic life.
Over the next few days I spent hours with Alina, talking to her, reassuring her that she was safe now and on the road to recovery. Her body was like one big sore – she had very little fur, her skin was so sensitive and covered in scabs. Even her toes were swollen, and her nails looked like they were rotting. I began rubbing coconut oil onto her skin and massaging her feet. She loved the attention and the body rubs. Within days, all the scabs fell off and she looked like a different dog.
When Alina gave me her first “tail wag” I knew she’d started to turn the corner and that I’d finally gained her trust. I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to see the change in her every day. She’s now far more confident and has started to show her true puppy character. She bounces around like a kangaroo every time she sees me and has an endless supply of kisses to give. She loves hanging out with all the other foster puppies and recently went on a playdate where she got to run around with other dogs, hang out with the children, and even meet some cats. She was an absolute angel, so gentle and comfortable to be around all of them.
Alina has not had it easy, yet this girl is the most forgiving and lovable dog I’ve ever had. No matter how tough things are, she manages to bring sunshine and joy to my day. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing I’ve played a very small part in giving this girl a second chance. Alina will soon be joining her new mom (and rescuer), Helga, and will begin her new life and many great adventures.
Now… her tail never stops wagging, and her eyes are full of hope for the future.
Watch a very happy and exuberant Alina here https://www.facebook.com/jade.ashford.94/videos/vb.714781775/10155879515256776/?type=2&video_source=user_video_tab
Helga Real, Alina’s fellow rescuer and now new owner, shares…
I truly believe the events of that afternoon led Jason and me to be on the freeway at that time to help Alina. I’d left work unusually early and bought dinner in Durban North, something I never do. Heading home to Hillcrest, I joined the N2 just as the news report began on the radio. The traffic report informed us that there was a dog on the centre median, close to where I was, so I immediately started moving over to the fast lane. Lo and behold, as I got in the lane, there was Jason pulled over with the pup.
I immediately pulled off the road and opened my car doors to lessen the area for her to make a run for it. I laid the food down for her, keeping myself crouched as low as possible so as not to scare her too much. She was very nervous and scared. I could tell she had no energy to run. We managed to get our hands on her and wrap her up in the towel. What a relief! Her eyes, her beautiful eyes, ripped into my soul.
I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of what had happened and if Jason hadn’t managed to get her help. Thankfully, a friend (also the only person I’d told what had happened) saw the post on Facebook from Jason and tagged me.
I also visited her the following Sunday, and her gentle nature just gripped my heart. At the time I was fostering another dog and had the opportunity to have her stay a night with me so that I could drop her at the vet for her sterilisation. From that day, I knew that I just had to make her part of my home.
Fast forward a few days, and the dog I was fostering found his new family, and Alina has been living with me since 19 February. She’s settled in so well – talk about meant to be!
Although still a little skittish, she’s very loving and relaxed. She prefers to be in the house than outside, and I don’t blame the little angel. Alina is full of kisses and pulls my arm towards her when I sit with her. She sleeps on my bed and starts wagging her tail and smiling when she wakes up.
She’s not quite sure what to do with toys, besides move them from one spot to another. She loves her breakfast, and well, any food really. She follows me everywhere and is very alert to strange sounds. She’s learnt to give paw, and is learning to sit.
I stay on a smallholding with lots of geese and ducks and chickens, and she can’t quite figure out what they are. As Jade put it: “She probably thinks they’re the weirdest-looking dogs ever.”
I look forward to the future with her and seeing her blossom. As I write this, I realise that it’s been exactly one month since she was rescued. When I leave work today, I’ll probably shed a little tear as I pass that same stretch of road.
A very heartfelt thank you must go out to Jade from Paw Prints Rescue and Rehoming and to Camperdown Vet for giving her a chance. Jade’s love and compassion for her rescues shines through and is so evident when you look at Alina. I don’t know how you do it! To everyone who contributed with donations, and to Jason, thank you for going the extra mile to help her; you’re a legend.