How Phoenix Rose From The Ashes


Written by Jenni Davies of Fisantekraal Animal Welfare and photography by Andrew Waltman

This is the incredible story about how a scared, unwanted dog who waited four long years for a home went on to make a huge difference...

Abandoned by their previous owner

It was a chilly afternoon in 2012 when Susan Dearham, a Fisantekraal Animal Welfare (FAW) volunteer, was called to a house in the township of Fisantekraal. There were two dogs there – Buksie, a small tan Terrier, and Demon, a skinny black-and-white Border Collie-mix. They had simply been left behind when the previous owners moved; the new homeowners were an elderly couple, the woman basically bedridden. They didn’t want to turf the dogs out but were struggling to keep their heads above water, so Susan had been bringing them dog food to try and help out. But that day their son informed Susan that his parents actually couldn’t cope with the dogs and asked if they could be rehomed.

Both the dogs were really skittish and looked as if they either hadn’t been socialised at all, or had been harassed – or both. It turned out that the children in the area had been teasing and tormenting them (regrettably, something that is all too common in the township). Susan took the dogs to Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre, which was, at that stage, right next to Fisantekraal and with which FAW works.

Buksie was quickly adopted but, sadly, his black-and-white friend would call UARC home for the next four years.

He didn’t know he could trust

We prefer to rename dogs whose names have negative connotations (like Demon); our volunteers decided to name him Phoenix, wanting him to rise from the ashes of his previous life. We didn’t realise it would take such a long time!

Phoenix was a really nervous dog. His big bat ears would usually droop at half-mast and he slunk around at the very back of the pack like a feral animal. At first, no one could even take photos of him because he was so edgy – just pointing the camera in his direction caused him to scuttle off. Because of his mistreatment, Phoenix was wary of children, didn’t like loud noises or people making sudden movements, and was unable to trust anyone except the kennel manager, Lesley. The wonderful staff at UARC worked with him and our volunteers visited often.

When UARC moved to Melkbos, Phoenix went along into a big outside camp with some of his doggy friends, which he loved. A sponsor was found for him (we have people sponsor dogs at R200 a month) and she visited when she could, giving him cuddles – which he also loved. By now, Phoenix was thoroughly enjoying attention and showed himself to be a really affectionate and super-gentle dog.   

Why couldn’t we find him a home?

Phoenix was one of those dogs that you see in a shelter and keep asking yourself why they haven’t been adopted yet. We couldn’t understand it: he was so handsome with his “tuxedo” and his elegant build. He wasn’t a “high-maintenance” dog and he wasn’t aggressive. Most of all he was the absolute soul of gentleness.

Unfortunately, he had a few things “against” him: he was male, he was medium-sized, he was black-and-white, he wasn’t a purebred dog, and he couldn’t be homed with young children. In animal welfare, these are all “negatives” that usually mean a dog will wait longer. It was only when he was adopted that we discovered the real reason why he’d been waiting…

I’d made it my mission to find Phoenix a home in 2016. I advertised him and recommended him non-stop everywhere I could; I was not giving up – Phoenix would find a home. Then I wrote a short article about him that was published in the Tygerburger newspaper. An amazing woman named Emsie Hanekom saw the article; she knew straight away that he was perfect and she got in touch with us. A home check later and Phoenix went to his forever home…

Phoenix was destined for greater things

Phoenix did not go to an ordinary family home. No, he was destined for much greater things! Emsie is a nurse who manages a facility called Advanced Home Care, which provides a home to 30 people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Phoenix had joined an elite group of rescue dogs living at the facility, providing unconditional love and comfort for the residents.

At first, he approached things with a little trepidation. Having never in his life stayed in a house with a bed of his own and being given lots of attention, it was probably overwhelming. But our dapper gentleman took it all in his stride.

A few days later we received a message from Emsie that brought tears to my eyes: one of the residents, a gentleman with fairly advanced Alzheimer’s, had an episode in which he became highly agitated, shouting and being very upset. Instead of being afraid, Phoenix immediately went straight up to him, licked his hand, and placed his head very gently on the upset patient’s leg. He refused to leave his side until the man had calmed down. No medication was used – only the love of a once-terrified unwanted dog.

We now knew exactly why Phoenix had waited so long: he had a greater purpose in life. He was an animal angel meant to make a difference to people in need. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He visits all the residents, sharing his big heart and pouring out love. They respond to his gentle nature and unconditional love. It’s a complete win-win situation for everyone!

Thank you to all FAW supporters who ensure that we can keep helping dogs like Phoenix, to Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre for caring for him for the years he waited, and to Emsie and the Advanced Home Care facility who saw in Phoenix what his true purpose is.

Emsie Hanekom, Phoenix’s owner shares…

Phoenix really is an angel and our guardian; he follows us around everywhere in the facility. There’s even a carpet for him underneath my desk because every time I sit down he comes into the office and stays at my feet.

No one comes unannounced onto our premises without him alerting us that there is someone outside the gate – that is his protective nature. Just recently he prevented one of our employee’s cars, which had been parked on the pavement, from being broken into at night. They heard him barking non-stop and when they went to investigate, the people that were trying break into the car, ran away.

One of our residents has assumed ownership of Phoenix and he eagerly takes him for walks in the park daily, which he, of course, loves. Before bedtime, he walks around the house and peeks into each and every room as if checking in with everyone and asking them if they’re alright.

We’re so blessed to have him around and all of our residents love him very much.