Saving Snoopy

13th Nov, 2019

Written by Marcelle du Plessis, Fundraising and Communications Manager of Mdzananda Animal Clinic, Khayelitsha, Cape Town

Photography by Claudia Pearce

The soaking-wet black puppy named Snoopy was ice-cold and barely breathing when he arrived with his very concerned owners at the Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha early in the morning in June 2019.

The pup was in a dangerous state of hypothermia. It seemed that he’d been left outside overnight in the cold and rain.   

Generally fatal in puppies

Hypothermia (low body temperature) is generally fatal in puppies, but we had to try and save him. He was rushed into the clinic’s theatre where Mdzananda’s veterinarian, Dr Joy, switched on the Bair Hugger™, a special warming blanket used for both humans and animals to manage temperature in hospitals and during surgery, and began rubbing his icy body to get his circulation going.

Snoopy was wrapped in a clean, dry blanket and placed into the Bair Hugger™, along with a warm bottle. It was “make or break” time for this puppy.

He lifted his head

It was a few tense hours before Snoopy showed signs that he’d make it. As soon as he lifted his head, he was given puppy recovery soft food which had been warmed up. He ate and drank, both excellent signs.

Against all odds, it was just two days before a sparkling-eyed Snoopy was bounding around the clinic, full of life and energy – as all pups should be.

Breeding leads to suffering

Susan Wishardt, clinic director at Mdzananda Animal Clinic, says this is an all-too-common tale – and a combination of indiscriminate breeding and lack of knowledge are to blame.

Wishardt explains: “There are many backyard breeders. Puppies are ripped away from their mothers at a premature age so that they can be sold for cash. These breeders often do not know the needs of a puppy and sell them when they’re too young. Many of them die.

“Puppies have different needs to older dogs, but, due to a lack of understanding, they’re often treated like older dogs, such as the case with Snoopy.”

The fact is that puppies need to stay with their mothers for at least six weeks, preferably longer. This is important for both health and social development. Mother’s milk is nutritional and crucial for pups to grow properly; they also receive much-needed immune protection from the milk. Moreover, young pups cannot generate enough heat – they need their mother to snuggle up to so as to stay warm. With unscrupulous individuals selling underage puppies to people who may not have all the necessary information, there’s much potential for suffering.

Education intervention

Snoopy wasn’t out of the woods yet and needed monitoring around the clock. Because Mdzananda’s clinic isn’t staffed overnight, their bookkeeper, Tashmin May, took him home with her until he was strong enough to go home.

And go home he did – amidst a storm of controversy from the public.

During the entire time that Snoopy had been in our care, his owners had shown deep concern and checked up on him regularly.

Mdzananda’s team undertook an “education intervention” with Snoopy’s owners to help them understand the needs of dogs and, particularly, puppies. And they were very eager to learn. There’d never been any intention to mistreat him – they’d simply lacked the knowledge of what a puppy needs, having assumed that if adult dogs could sleep outside (as most township animals do), so could puppies.

Their excitement when Snoopy returned home and they could apply their newfound “animal knowledge” was palpable. And Snoopy was equally excited to see them.

Public outcry

We shared Snoopy’s story on Facebook in order to educate. We expected a backlash, as this is what usually happens when an animal returns to their original home, but our page exploded with comments. People were horrified that we’d consider returning him; they accused his owners of being cruel humans and questioned why we didn’t confiscate him outright.

But, having spent time in the area, talking with people, immersing ourselves in the community, and having spoken at length with Snoopy’s owners, we knew that confiscation was not an option in this case.

We strongly believe that the only solution to ending animal suffering is education. Snoopy’s owners didn’t intend to harm him – they did what they’d thought was the right thing and what everyone around them does too.

By simply removing him and not educating, we wouldn’t have had the chance to work with a family who are now empowered to care for dogs.

Like putting a plaster on a wound

Mdzananda Animal Clinic aims to see a community that not only loves but fully understands the needs of animals. To transform a community that has a lack of understanding about animals, education is crucial.

Removing an animal is not the solution; there are not enough homes to rehome all animals, meaning most will be euthanised. Removing an animal also creates a gap for a new animal to go in its place, receiving the same treatment because education wasn’t done.

It’s like putting a plaster on a wound that will never heal. Education and working with people who are willing to learn is the long-term solution.

Of course, not everyone is willing to learn, and we treat those cases differently, but generally we’ve found that most cases of neglect are due to misunderstanding, and owners are willing to learn and become better pet carers.

The reality is that, in the township, 99% of the dogs live outside. Snoopy’s owners didn’t know that leaving a dog outside was doing wrong. They didn’t realise that a puppy has different needs to an adult dog. Now they do – and that knowledge will have a ripple effect on those around them.

Snoopy is happy and well; we do regular checkups on him to make sure his owners are implementing the educational information and to check that he stays healthy and strong.

Unathi Ntsondwa, Snoopy’s owner, shares…

I remember when I brought Snoopy to the clinic. Sadly, he was in a very bad condition and I thought he was dying! I’d like to thank the Mdzananda Animal Clinic staff for saving Snoopy, and I’m very grateful for the education they gave me on how to take care of small puppies.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Tashmin May, the lady who took care for my Snoopy for the whole two weeks to help him recover and gain his strength, and for the blankets she gave him to keep him warm. Thank you to all for everything you did for Snoopy!