Written by Tania Pestana and Jenni Davies / photography by Strike a Pose
Tania Pestana booked her tan Pit Bull-Boerboel-mix, Nala, in to a Helderkruin doggy parlour on the 21st of December 2016. Little did she know that a wild goose chase, lasting several days, was about to ensue. Shortly after Nala had been collected by the doggy parlour staff, Tania’s husband received a call that would rock their world to its core: Nala had slipped her leash and run away.
Nala is gone
When a nervous Nala had been taken out of the doggy parlour’s vehicle (on a slip-leash, as she had never had a collar), someone from a neighbouring business happened to open the door, giving her a fright and causing her to yank her head out of the leash and dash off. Although the parlour staff immediately gave chase, Nala managed to make her way right through the building and outside; after thoroughly searching the area and coming up empty-handed, the distraught parlour owner phoned Nala’s owner to deliver the bad news.
Tania recalls, “I was at work when they called so they tried my husband next, wanting him to come in hopes that Nala would respond to his voice. He called to tell me; I was totally shocked. I immediately asked how that was possible; where was she now? He said he’d been looking but that there was no sign of her. When he first said that, I thought he was joking – I even called him back!
“Then it sank in: Nala is actually GONE. If they couldn’t find her, what was I going to do? She is my baby! I asked him where she’d gone missing and where he’d been looking for her, but all he knew was that she’d escaped as they had arrived at the parlour. I was so angry – and very worried.”
The search begins
“Three of the parlour workers were out looking for Nala; my husband, and his brother and mother began driving around, calling and looking for Nala. After the workers had to return to continue the day’s work at the parlour, the owner’s husband joined the search.
“I was told she’d run towards Helderkruin Mountain, which are koppies overgrown with bush. The owner’s husband saw her and immediately ran and offered her a biscuit, but she refused it and carried on trotting into the bush.
“The search continued until 17h00, after which my husband fetched me from work so that I could help. I started at the parlour where I asked the receptionist to explain to me exactly what had happened; then I headed to the dog washing area and asked to see where the dogs come in and where she’d run out. Nala had apparently run through the next-door call centre place. Unfortunately, although they had seen her, they didn’t know where she went...”
The following day, Tania made posters offering a reward of R500, which she put up all over Helderkruin and Strubens Valley. She visited every single veterinary practice in the area and the nearby animal welfares, including the SPCA. Still very angry, she visited the doggy parlour to discuss the way forward; it was decided that the parlour owner would print her own posters, which she did – upping the reward to R3000. Nala’s disappearance was posted on Facebook on every relevant page, from the local community pages to lost dog sites and animal welfares. Tania was not going to give up on bringing her baby home…
False hopes and disappointments
With so much about Nala out there, false alarms were inevitable. Tania explains, “I got lots of calls about other dogs but, sadly, no Nala. With each call I became more and more disappointed and disheartened. Was there any hope of ever finding her again?
“A kind lady named Carol Brooks contacted me and arranged to meet up; she wanted to help look for Nala. My husband, my brother, his girlfriend and I drove street-by-street, calling repeatedly for Nala. But to no avail.
“A week after Nala had disappeared, on the 27th of December, my husband received a call from Raun and his fiancé saying that they’d seen ‘a brown dog’ on top of the mountain near the cross. My husband and I immediately headed there and drove around searching but couldn’t see her. The following day, Raun called again; he’d seen the same dog (which we hoped was Nala) and had tried to catch her, but she ran too fast and he wasn’t able to get her on the overgrown and rugged mountainside.
“On the 28th of December, some wonderful people in the community arranged to meet at the mountain at 07h00 to climb the mountain to look for Nala. My husband and I called her name continuously, hoping she’d respond, but we had no luck. That day I had a nasty fall, which put me out of action for climbing the mountain in the near future.
“They even had a sniffer dog to try and pick up if Nala was in the area, but it was too busy and they would have to go back when no one was around. The doggy parlour owners were involved and also had someone searching. On the 30th they had another search party where they arranged for a drone to go into the bushes but, with so many trees and a nearby Wi-Fi connection interfering with the drone, it was impossible. The owners of the parlour opened their store and offered water and juice to people who were going to climb the mountain at midday. Unable to hike, I stood at the bottom of Helderkruin Mountain and called Nala’s name.
“The worst was that we knew fireworks were inevitable on New Year ’s Eve and that Nala was out there, alone and afraid…
“The first day of 2017 saw my sister, her fiancé and my husband heading into the mountain area again. They drove all the way to Little Falls, but with no luck. I cried every day. I was so worried that she wouldn’t make it and terrified that maybe someone had taken her. I checked personally with the Roodepoort SPCA daily, but still no Nala. I just took one day at a time, hoping against hope that someone would see her – and call us.”
“Are you looking for a brown Boerboel dog?”
“The parlour had arranged for Nala to be in the newspaper, with the article due to be released on the 12th of January 2017. But, two days before that, I received a call from Shoaneez that changed everything. On the 10th of January, at 16h10, Shoaneez called me; she’d received my number from Roodepoort SPCA and asked: ‘Are you looking for a brown Boerboel dog?’
“I asked her a few questions and quickly sent some photos of Nala for her to compare. She felt sure it was Nala! I then asked her what area she was in and she mentioned the same place in which Raun had said he’d seen ‘a brown dog’ – in Little Falls, where we’d looked several times. I automatically asked her to please try getting her inside her yard or try feeding her so she wouldn’t run away. Because I was still at work, I was terrified that by the time I got there, she’d be gone again. I promptly called Charmaine Booysens of The 9th Day Rescue, which is about 20 minutes away from Helderkruin, begging for help and explaining that I was only able to leave work at 17h00.
“Then, Shoaneez’s brother, Shaun, sent me the photo of the dog he’d seen in the mountain next to Shoaneez’s house. I immediately knew it was our Nala! When Shoaneez called Nala by name, she told me that the dog had reacted to it. I couldn’t wait any longer; my husband came to fetch me and we drove like crazy to get to Nala before she could disappear again.”
Bringing Nala home
“When I got there, the people from 9th Day were already there to make sure Nala stayed put. I called her name. She turned and, when I saw her face, we couldn’t contain our excitement. It was Nala – and she was just as excited to see us. She couldn’t wait to be rescued and leapt into the car. Three weeks after she’d gone missing, and after living rough in the mountains, getting through storms, fireworks, and surviving on her own, Nala was finally coming home. Aside from being covered in ticks and having lost some weight, she was given a clean bill of health by the vet and sent home to finally be able to open her Christmas present!
“One of the first things we did was get her a strong collar and have her microchipped! Since her great escape, Nala has taken to burying everything that she is given – a new survival technique she must have learnt on the mountain and clearly one that kept her going. She was also quite nervous at first. We are so grateful for everyone who helped search for her and who shared her ‘lost’ post on Facebook – we are so grateful to have our girl back home.”
Watch the video of the happy reunion on The 9th Day’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/the9thday/videos/1238349709592581/