Written by Jenni Davies and Photography by Ingrid Owen Photography
It was the end of a hot, humid Saturday afternoon, and we’d been driving around Fisantekraal township for hours. We’d been called by a resident of the informal settlement to check on his dogs. Problem was that they were in the old section of the camp, which is a higgeldy-piggeldy place, and we were driving around in circles. But, as it turned out, getting lost that day was meant to be…
As we trundled over a sandy hump for the third time, we spotted a small black-and-tan dog noodling around in the trash. It was a Dachshund. He was sneezing and, because of the volume of rubble and his short legs, he kept bumping his chin in the dirt. Purebred dogs in townships aren’t an unusual sight, but a Dachsie in the squatter camp is. We were really worried; squatter camps are harsh and dangerous, for people and animals alike, and Dachshunds have specific needs that really can’t be met in a place like this.
The little fellow was grubby and underweight. On enquiring about him from some children who were playing in the dust, they told us that his name was Joe and they pointed out a patchily painted orange shack nearby as his home.
The story unfolds
The owner, a friendly woman named Mavis, told us that ten-year-old Joe had been given to her three years before by the lady for whom she worked as a house help in a well-off suburb near Durbanville. Sadly, bosses giving their pets to people living in such impoverished areas is all too familiar to us. It makes us furious as the people often can’t afford it, in addition to which animals used to quieter suburban surroundings – usually living indoors – experience massive stress and ‘culture shock’ when plunged into the chaos of township life.
Mavis said we should take him as he was old and unwell and she couldn’t afford to keep looking after him. He growled and snapped at us out of fear, so the kids put him into a travel crate. They were very gentle and kind with him and he obviously felt at ease in their company. Little did he know that this was the beginning of the best years of his life.
When we posted Joe’s story on Facebook, people were outraged; many weren’t aware that people actually dump their pets in townships. There’s always a big outpouring of anger for purebred animals and we had many people offering a home, so we felt confident that his story would soon have a happy ending.
My friend, René Kitshoff, contacted me to ask if she could foster him (her first time fostering). We were overjoyed as fostering makes a world of difference for dogs like this. She whisked him to the vet where he was diagnosed with a chest infection that the vet attributed to the dirty, damp conditions in the camp; this is why he’d been sneezing. He was also treated for worms, fleas and ticks, of which he had plenty – they had made him very anaemic. Back home with his foster mom, he had a warm bath followed by home-cooked chicken and rice, and was tucked up into a soft bed. He was actually much thinner than we’d initially thought and had some scars and what looked like a previously broken tail. We will never know what actually happened to him during his three years in the squatter camp, but, with René’s help, he quickly went from strength to strength. Soon, Joe was ready for adoption.
We thought he’d quickly be snapped up, but all the people who’d initially wanted him didn’t step forward when he was ready. We started to worry. What if no one wanted to adopt him because of his age or his history? We later realised that this, too, was meant to be as the perfect home was on its way…
Nearly a month after we’d uplifted him, we were contacted by a supporter all the way from Pretoria. Shannon Laubser had spotted Joe’s adorable, big-nosed face on Facebook and sent the story to her sister, Lynne, who stayed in Noordhoek. Lynne’s niece, Meghan, contacted us to ask if Joe was still available. Early the next day, bang on time despite a drive of well over an hour-and-a-half, Lynne was there to meet Joe. It was love (and some tears) at first sight. That very day Joe went to his forever home.
Joe is now as happy as every dog should be and has completely recovered. It’s amazing how, thanks to networking on social media, someone in Pretoria was responsible for getting Joe adopted all the way out in Noordhoek. Everyone should share and network – it doesn’t cost anything and could change the world for an animal like Joe.
Lynne Walsh, Joe’s new owner
I heard about Joe through my sister, who is involved in rescue of Collies and Scotties in Pretoria. She saw him on Facebook with Stephne [Jackson from Watershed] and sent me the picture and story and my heart went out to him, not thinking I would adopt him as we already had two dogs at home. When I got home I mentioned it to my husband who said, “But we have two already,” – yet I felt so disturbed by his story that I had to do something.
I set up a visit to see him and, when I did, the tears just came; it was heartbreaking to think what he’d been through. I took him in my arms and just knew we had to take him home and give him the love and care he so needed. Joe had very many scars on his little body and his fur was hard and patchy. On coming home, he was very withdrawn and unsure of his surroundings. He followed my son, Jason, everywhere and slowly took to the other dogs, Jade and Molly. It also took Joe a while to get used to going on the grass, but he still prefers to walk on the paving.
As the weeks went by he became familiar with his new home and now he never leaves my husband Mark’s side. The three dogs play, eat and sleep together. Joe loves his walks and has filled out, while his fur is soft and has grown; he’s a different dog. Joe is a pleasure to have and fits in as if he’d always been with us.