Written by Michelle Koopman
Professional photography by Keith Lotz Photography
Cashew is more than a pet; he’s a friend, an emotional support dog, and a healer. So, when he was stolen, I was devastated – and absolutely determined to stop at nothing to get him back…
My therapy dog
About five years ago, a doctor suggested getting a doggy to help me deal with memories and trauma-related anxiety resulting from being abused and neglected by my mother at a very young age. I took my time searching, and when I found The One, I named him Cashew.
Cashew really came into my life at the right time and, since then, I’ve grown stronger as a person and experienced healing. This little doggy truly rescued me!
This little Jack Russell has the best personality; not a day goes by that he doesn’t do something cute or weird that makes me laugh out loud. A therapy dog is not a “crutch” or “gap filler”. He is my support. Just having him in my space is so soothing.
Stolen and sold
On a Monday in 2018, my friend’s mother, who looks after Cashew when I’m at work, went out to the mall; her daughter left Cashew outside with their other two big dogs, locking the front gate of their Elsies River (Cape Town) home before she left.
Now, what you must understand is that those gates are high – way too high for even the Labrador and Husky to jump over. So, when they returned home to find Cashew gone but the other two still there, the suspicion that he’d been stolen – probably by someone known to us and possibly for drug money – immediately came up.
I honestly can’t explain to you how it feels to have one of your biggest fears come true. I was devastated and totally frantic.
The search begins
I immediately notified everyone on Facebook that Cashew had been stolen. I then went straight to the very person I suspected had stolen him and told him to help me look.
Survival instinct kicked in. Despite any dangers, I went to see all the main known drug dealers and gangsters in the area to find out who steals dogs.
That’s how I tracked down a guy known to steal dogs and got him and the original suspect to help me look for my dog. (I know it sounds crazy, but my grandmother raised me to see right through them and to help them do the right thing.)
We drove up and down every single street from early morning until late evening; I walked the streets of every surrounding area of Elsies River, Cape Town, as well as post flyers EVERYWHERE.
A week goes by
I still had to work during the day and after work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and everyone who’d seen his post on Facebook was sharing the post and being so helpful. It was incredibly hard sitting at work knowing he was out there.
That Saturday I searched in another area called Salberau and the surroundings, as well as Bishop Lavis, an area known for crime. Though utterly worn out, I kept on going!
Another Monday night arrived and I was still out there searching for my boy.
Help from unexpected places
Then, on Tuesday morning, I received a call from a man who works at the graveyard in Maitland – over 7km away from where I live. He’d seen a dog similar to the picture ad I’d placed in the SON newspaper. I immediately leapt up from my desk, asked my boss if I could go, and called for an Uber (I don’t have a car).
On arrival, there were a few men working on the grounds and three homeless men walking that graveyard looking for him. Without hesitation, I “sanctioned” that entire workforce to help me find him – that place is huge!
After about an hour of walking among the many graves, stumbling over bumpy ground and straining my eyes, they spotted him.
Then, it was like an action movie – the council truck whose driver was also looking for him drove up to where I was standing, told me to jump on and to scream for Cashew. It was hectic! Like an action movie, and I was James Bond looking for my LOVE!
There was Cashew, running past me without even hearing my voice, because by then he was so wild and disorientated from hunger and dehydration.
He sprinted out of the graveyard, over the railway lines, and into the Jewish part of the cemetery. Of course, I followed suit, leaping over the tracks like a mad person; I walked far to get to the Jewish cemetery and began screaming his name over and over as I walked that entire place.
By then, I was emotionally exhausted, physically in pain with sore, blistered feet, and my sandals had broken from walking and running over sand and stones.
He was gone
But, after all that, Cashew was gone! I was so broken that, when a council worker offered to drive me through that area to look for him, tears ran down my cheeks the entire time and I cried all the way back to work in the Uber; my sadness was immense.
When I got to work, I completely broke down. I couldn’t even type or function properly; I’d not eaten that morning and couldn’t get myself to do so. I was running on empty.
That afternoon after work we returned to the graveyard. We got the young lady who lives on the premises, Bianca Hansloo, to help us search. Bianca, her brother and her mom kindly walked out with us towards the railway lines where we split up and I walked down the tracks calling his name.
Many commuters asked me who I was looking for, with one gentleman even whistling to help find him. We almost got robbed, too, but nothing was going to stop us, we simply kept going.
Then we went into the Edgemead area, near Goodwood, Cape Town, and drove through every street, with me walking, screaming and crying. There was a kind couple on holiday who also drove the streets looking for him; the husband, Clyde, even flew his drone over the areas looking for my baby.
It was eight days since Cashew had been stolen. I was so tense, I hadn’t eaten properly, and I hadn’t slept. I could focus on nothing else.
Then, a lady came out of her house – she’d seen the post on their neighbourhood watch and told me that I mustn’t worry as they were looking for him; he would be found. She took me in her arms, at which point I completely broke down again, and she told me to go home. “It’s late, Michelle,” she said.
One more time
We took Bianca and her daughter back home to the graveyard. As we were leaving her house, I screamed Cashew’s name ONE MORE TIME as we proceeded to drive out of the graveyard – I had to try.
Suddenly, like a dream, I saw a little white-and-tan creature in the spotlight in the road.
My friend Marc and I both screamed and he said, “I can’t believe it! Are you seeing this, Mimi?” I blinked my eyes twice just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it and jumped out of a car that hadn’t even stopped moving yet.
I then fell onto the tar road with my face flat on the surface and called his name. And, miraculously, he ran to me! Finally, my boy was back in my arms.
What happened next
My little Cashew was dirty and covered in wounds; he’d been badly bitten all over his body and one of the wounds looked like a knife stab wound. Without delay we took him to the Tygerberg Animal Hospital in Bellville where they cleaned his wounds and gave me medicine with which to take care of him.
He is happy to be home and has already shredded his new “welcome home” toy. Yet he remains very traumatised and still cries in his sleep when I leave the room for even just a second.
I’m still in shock and it’ll take a while to get over the whole horrible ordeal, but Cashew and I will heal together.
What I take out of this experience is faith: always keep the faith and proof that when people stand together, miracles can happen. I’m so grateful for everyone who supported, hugged and cried with me, both sad and happy tears.
I really thank God for keeping Cashew safe and for you who will share this story.
I’d like to thank the community of Elsies River, Matroosfontein, Clarke Estate (they stole my heart) and Edgemead for helping me.
I want to thank every Facebook group, Gang Watch, Neighbourhood Watch and Happy Tails for posting and sharing Cashew’s posts.
I want to thank every individual who sent me messages (that kept me going) and who prayed for me and for Cashew’s safe return.
I want to also thank a gentleman named Brian who sponsored some money so I could increase the reward money (which was used for Cashew’s medical bill on the night we found him).
Thank you to everyone for helping to get Cashew home.