Saving Grace


Written by Cherie Sindall

For four months the unwanted, abandoned black-and-tan dog and her adult pup were seen running wild in the Cape Flats.  

Terrified and starving, their fear of humans meant that with or without food, no one could catch them. The SPCA and others tried several times with no success, but one faithful rescuer persevered…

The starving dogs were nowhere to be found

Every day, for many weeks, Dagny Warmerdam searched for the dogs, taking food to them, leaving it for them, and watching from a distance as they gobbled it down.

The pup was visibly ill.

After a while both dogs “disappeared” and were not seen again for several weeks.

Dagny searched for them every morning and evening as she travelled to and from work. Visions of the dogs broke her heart. And then one happy day, she found the Mom... Tragically, her pup was never seen again.

Determined to catch the lone starving mother dog, Dagny missioned each day taking food to the dog, driving around the dangerous Cape Flats searching. Each day Dagny refused to go home after work at night until she’d found and fed the abandoned dog.

Despite daily food, Gracie (as she later became known) was emaciated and clearly ill. Dagny became desperate to catch (and, hopefully, home) her as soon as possible.

One weekend, and with the help of a friend, Dagny found and captured Gracie who was, by then, so ill that they rushed her to Cape Medical Animal Clinic. Here, Gracie was diagnosed with both strains of biliary (tick bite fever).

“Happy Tails” spread appeals far and wide for someone to foster or adopt Gracie – and that was how I came across Gracie’s story.

The miracle of Gracie

I emailed Dee of Happy Tails and offered Gracie a home. Knowing that Gracie had found a place to go, Dagny was motivated to pay all of Gracie’s vet fees, regardless of cost.

Gracie, estimated to be six years old, was dangerously ill. She struggled to overcome her illness with several setbacks. The hospital kept her for 10 days while her life hung in the balance... At times we worried it might have been too late to save her. Although she received the best of care at the hospital, Gracie just did not accept human contact, remaining aloof and distant. She simply did not trust anyone!

Dagny visited Gracie at all hours of the day and night, in every moment she could spare. Late at night, well after 11pm, 6am in the mornings – and all hours in between – Dagny stopped by the hospital to visit the lonely, frightened dog fighting for survival in her hospital cage.

She climbed right into the cage with Gracie and spent hours talking softly, as Gracie listened carefully but maintained her distance for several days. The miracle of Gracie took time. She was no easy pushover!

During one visit, Gracie allowed Dagny to gently touch her without curling her lip in warning. From that moment, in tiny baby steps, Gracie began to warm towards her faithful guardian. Slowly, her health turned the corner; she improved and, eventually, the vets agreed on a date for discharge.

Homeward bound

Dagny lovingly led and loaded Gracie into her bakkie to begin the long drive from Cape Town to my home in Mossel Bay. At first Gracie was nervous but, within half an hour, she made herself comfortable on the seat with her head resting on Dagny’s lap.

Six hours later they arrived at the farm. Dagny delivered Gracie together with a huge orange pillow, feeding bowls, tins of vet-quality dog food, special needs pellets, and the long courses of medicine which Gracie needed for the following few weeks. 

Gracie settled surprisingly quickly. My other dogs happily welcomed her into her new home while Dagny and I spent the day chatting, sharing, and enjoying the beautiful mountain and farm scenery around us.

That evening, Gracie’s rescuer headed home in floods of tears (having stayed three hours longer than she’d intended). It was as hard for her to leave as it was for us to watch her go. I sat with Gracie, holding her rigid body her in my arms at the gate as Dagny – the only human she’d trusted – drove away. Gracie’s tail dropped between her legs and she whimpered sadly for a few moments. I hugged her, telling her that Dagny would be back to visit. We stayed there for some time until Gracie was ready to move forward.

She noticed I had a shirt pocket full of treats for her and snacked away thoughtfully. Then we headed towards the farm Haven.

She realised she was home

When we reached the next set of gates, to my amazement she tugged hard on the leash. She was pulling towards the house! This once-terrified dog, mistrustful of all things human, ran full speed ahead of me on her leash, encouraging me to run with her back to the house. She happily trotted inside where all her new friends welcomed her with loving licks and wagging tails. She ate all her dinner and then leapt into the centre of the new orange continental pillow that Dagny had left especially for her. Somehow, she knew it was hers.

I called Dagny to tell her the good news of how Gracie “knew, understood and accepted her new home”. Dagny’s relief was tangible; she’d been wondering if she should come back and fetch Gracie, even though she already has one too many dogs for her suburban home.

Gracie has happily settled well into her new surroundings. She loves farm life, enjoys the horses, cattle, hens, ducks, and all her rescued doggy friends. Mostly she loves her huge orange pillow! She regularly dives into it, hugging it with all her strength.

Having completed the long course of medication, Gracie is at last fully recovered and ready to be spayed. She is completely relaxed, happy, and my faithful guardian; no one comes near me without Gracie’s permission!

Thank you, Dagny, for tremendous faithfulness, your perseverance and determination, and for going “all out” to give Gracie a life worth living!

Dagny Warmerdam recalls

Gracie and her adult pup were dumped in Grassy Park near Zeekoevlei. I know what the many street dogs living in the area look like; there is a notable difference between them and dumped dogs. The poor souls that have been dumped behave differently; they appear confused – they don’t understand why this has happened. They become very mistrustful and scared of people.

Gracie was one such cautious dog and nobody could get near to her. People had called the SPCA for help but no one could catch her. We would approach her and her friend with food and then sit nearby in the hope of gaining her trust.

Big Ears and The Old Lady, as we referred to them, ran the streets of Grassy Park together looking for food. Every day I searched for them; when I found them, I put food down – which they always gobbled up. One day the young one refused the food and we realised she was sick; shortly thereafter, she disappeared. I suspect that she’d perhaps contracted biliary and died because they lay in a field almost every afternoon; or someone had caught her. Sadly, I will never know.

Then Gracie disappeared. Deeply worried, I hunted and hunted, scouring the streets. Friends would tell me that they had seen her and I would rush there, but she was gone – or she’d never even been there. Finally one Sunday, after scouring the streets every day, I spotted her. She looked terrible. Her bones were sticking out sharply, her stomach was distended and she was panting heavily. The look in her eyes was enough to break anyone’s heart: this dog had had enough.

I knew then that I had to catch her. I can never turn away from an animal in need, and never will.

That Sunday evening, we got lucky: we managed to catch her. She didn’t even put up a fight and let me wrap her in a towel and place her gently in the back of my bakkie and off to the vet we went.

I handed her into the care of the wonderful staff at Cape Animal Medical Clinic in Kenilworth and left, unsure what was to become of her, but refusing to give up my desperate plea for help. I vowed to find her a home.

And then the miracle happened: feeling completely frustrated and sad at the blank wall I kept hitting, I opened my emails to find one from Dee Ivings, Happy Tails editor, saying she had found a home. I was elated... joy overflowing!

I was lucky. Gracie was luckier. They’d tested her for various things and discovered she had both strains of biliary and needed medication urgently. They agreed to treat her and, once she was well enough, they would release her to me to take to Cherie. She is the luckiest woman alive as she has Gracie’s love and trust daily.

I would visit Gracie every day as often as I could, day or night, taking her home-cooked food, giving her love, sitting with her, talking to her, stroking her. I remember the first time she gave my nose a little lick! She wagged her little stumpy tail when I arrived; Gracie trusted me. What an honour that was. What an amazing soul.

I am so very grateful to Cherie for all that she does with the brave animals that she cares for. She is an exceptional woman; one that has truly restored my faith in humans. May she and Gracie have many happy years together.

Someone once said to me: “we don’t save them, they save us.” I think Gracie has done this for all of us.