Written by Chantelle Murray, PAWS R US (SA)
Professional photography by Strike A Pose Photography
THE DOG THAT INSPIRED THE CREATION OF A SHELTER
Sometimes we’re asked: How did PAWS R US (SA) come about? It all began because of a remarkable dog named Shae. She overcame significant odds and a deep fear to grab her chance at a blessed life.
In 2009, and late one night, a beautiful dog came walking out of the darkness near the Westdene Dam in Johannesburg. It was almost surreal to see her standing in the cul-de-sac, with the moonlight shimmering over her wolf-like features. I remember being mesmerised.
She stayed close to the gate entrance to the dam and lay down for the night. I was concerned that she wasn’t safely in her home, but hoped that she had a walkabout routine and that she’d find her way back safely. She came again the next night, and the nights after that – always late in the evening, as the moon hung high in the heavens.
I worried that she’d been abandoned, although my mind couldn’t comprehend that anyone could ever give up a dog like this. I tried to walk towards her, reassuring and soothing... but she immediately reared away and ran back into the darkness of the park around the dam.
I tried for several nights after that, and her fear, skittishness and distrust were evident. I’d started putting food out for her on the pavement in the cul-de-sac, where she was most comfortable.
I had to walk a distance away before she’d come near to the bowl, But she ate, and that gave me hope. We began a nightly ritual that went on for weeks, with me trying to get closer and her always veering off into the night.
Heartbreak came one night when she arrived, panting and exhausted, and being chased by a pack of male dogs. I’ll never forget that sight, and those sounds, for as long as I live. The pack was in a frenzy, and she simply couldn’t outrun them.
Shae had come on heat – an unsterilised girl left to fend for herself in the world. I ran out, desperately trying to chase the male dogs away, but they kept coming, and Shae ran away again into the darkness of the park, with the frenzied howling of the male pack behind her. I tried to follow, but it was pitch dark – and aside from the howling, she’d vanished into the night. I crawled into bed that night, my heart gutted into little pieces.
As the weeks passed, Shae’s stomach started swelling, and I realised that she was pregnant. I spoke to the Bergbron Vet team and asked them how I could get her off the streets if I couldn’t get close enough to catch her.
They put me in touch with Jasper Van Jaarsveld, who at that time was with Husky Rescue SA. Together, we sat night after night on the pavement in the cul-de-sac at the dam, trying to insert sedatives into her food so that she’d just finally allow us to save her. But this girl was something else. Despite being on wobbly, sedated legs, she could still bolt the moment we moved closer. Her exit point into the darkness of the dam was the most frustrating challenge – if she fell into the dam in a sedated state, she would drown.
And then... Shae disappeared for several weeks. I was devastated, but I also realised that she’d gone to have her puppies somewhere. The most likely option was one of the storm-water drains/pipes around the Westdene Dam, but despite walk-arounds and checking in each open pipe system, we couldn’t find her and them. I despaired...
Shae arrived one day, and in the morning daylight, which was a helluva surprise... and she was in a terrible condition. Emaciated, skin and bone, with her teats literally hanging from her frail body. I couldn’t believe that this majestic dog had been reduced to this.
I realised that she’d given everything to her litter and that she’d been forced to come to the place where she knew there would be food. For this, I was grateful. We continued feeding her for several weeks – but she again opted to come at night, when our visibility was restricted and our ability to follow her to find the pups was curtailed.
The Westdene Dam was also not the safest space at night, and I could hear the voice of my mother in my ears, having a small hernia at our late-night missions. To this day, I don’t know what happened to those pups. She resumed her normal nightly schedule, and her teats shrank rapidly as her body filled out. Sadly, I don’t think the pups survived.
We were now desperate to get this dog into a safe space and off the streets – we simply couldn’t afford a repeat of the last heat-cycle and another tragic litter. I remember yearning for someone with a dart gun so that we could just wrap it up, save her and get it all done. The JHB SPCA, understandably, indicated that they could only help during the day and not at night. And, of course, Shae was not being helpful in that regard.
My own complete lack of “rescue savviness” in these situations also didn’t help. One night, she ate the sedated food, and finally, after what felt like HOURS, seemed to go into a drowsy sleep. I dashed forward – the time for subtleties was over – and I FINALLY managed to wrap my arms around her. Shae is a medium-sized dog, and in a drugged condition she was a lot heavier than I thought! I had to slog to get her to my gate and into my yard. And once she was in my driveway, and I closed the gate, I simply sat and stared at her sleeping form. When I could finally just touch her, I literally marvelled at her thick, velvety coat – she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
But joy was short-lived, because I made a key error. Given my own dogs in my home, I left her outside with a blanket covering her. I went into the house to call Jasper from Husky Rescue and share the good news. In the space of the few minutes I was on the call, Shae got up and literally squeezed her body through narrow palisade bars and out into the night. I still have no idea how on EARTH she managed to get that right, given her size... but she did. The euphoria lasted for five minutes, to be replaced by absolute disbelief and disappointment. Like a Houdini – all that remained in my driveway was a blanket on the ground.
Enter another heat-cycle, and I braced myself for the horror that I knew I would see... it really is soul-destroying to see a pack of frenzied dogs on a female that’s in season. Again, her tummy grew... and I prayed for a way that we could just get this family safe.
One night in May 2010, as I walked out with the usual bowl of food, Shae was standing at my gate. Her stomach was heavy, and the time would be soon. She looked at me and I looked at her... I opened the gate, and she walked into my yard.
It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. The absolute gesture of trust from a dog that was so very fearful of humanity. I prepared my courtyard, moved a large dog kennel into the space, and made sure that she was as safe, comfy and warm as possible. A few days later, Shae gave birth to eight little fluffy bundles – four sets of two lookalikes: Caramel and Blaze, Bear and Trinity, Toffee and Fudge, Shilo and Silver.
The puppies all found good homes – for which I’m grateful. At that time, I had no idea how to handle rehoming thoroughly and responsibly. I was a member of the public – clueless... but trying to do something good. It was extremely difficult watching each of these adorable fluffies leave my home – but what an honour to have had a part in their safe birth and their entry into their futures.
Shae, as much as I loved her, was a risk to my cats. I could work on integrating her with my dogs, but the cats were another story altogether given her Husky lineage. After a particularly bad encounter with my old man, Toby, I was blessed to be given the details of Tracy McQuarrie at Barking Mad. Despite their own waiting list, she listened to Shae’s story and said that she’d make space for her.
The Melville vet team came around to my home to take Shae in for her sterilisation and vaccinations, and the Barking Mad team collected her from the practice to start a new chapter in her life. The team at Barking Mad/Dogtown SA put a lot of love and effort into their rehabilitation work with her.
One of their volunteers, Charlotte Brennan, began working with Shae and fell in love. Shae was adopted and became part of a family: Shae, at long, long last, was blessed to know loving humans, the safety of home, and the joy of adventures.
Throughout this journey, I started asking questions. How does our animal welfare system work in this country? How do shelters operate? Does every incoming dog (or cat) get homed? How come our society is so blissfully unaware of the horrors of not sterilising animals? Why did I suddenly feel as if I’d caught a glimpse of an underbelly of our society that no-one wanted to talk about? How many more were out there – abandoned, neglected, unwanted and scared?
Shae started the journey. Shae changed the path. And life changed... from the ignorant bubble of suburban unawareness, in which white picket fences and happy endings were the assumed order of the day, to an understanding of the brokenness of our world, our welfare system, and the plight of the animals caught up in our own chaos.
Truly... if we let them... ANIMALS MAKE US BETTER HUMANS.
Shae is now 11-12 years old, and I retain contact with her adopted family. She inspired the line of questions that would eventually lead to the establishment of PAWS R US (SA) in February 2011 – a registered Non-Profit Company and a Pro-Life Animal Shelter based in Midrand, Johannesburg. Visit us on www.pawsrus.co.za or via our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PawsRUS.SA/
Charlotte Brennan, Shae’s owner, shares…
About 14 years ago, I was watching an American TV programme called “Animal Rescue”. I thought to myself, I wanted to be part of something like this. I Googled, and to my surprise, a dog shelter called Barking Mad, in its infancy, was located in Midrand near my home. I offered to be a volunteer. I’d wash dishes, help to feed, and my favourite job would be to take dogs out for walks.
After a couple of months, a female dog, a beautiful graceful German Shepherd Husky mix named Shae, turned up. She came from PAWS R US (SA). All I knew was that she was very shy and didn’t trust humans. She’d lived rough in Johannesburg for a long time. We couldn’t touch her or go near her. Every Saturday I’d sit quietly in her large grassy pen.
Eventually, luring her with food, she’d gingerly come close, grab the food and run off. Joanna from Barking Mad also spent many hours doing the same. After a couple of months, we sometimes could touch her briefly on the chin as she took the food. It was a very slow progress.
One very hot Saturday, I decided to change my approach; I walked behind her as she walked around her little house. She got tired and gave in. This might not be an approved textbook method, but I had a gut feeling that it would work – and it did! She stopped and I put a lead on her. From that day we bonded, and we went for long walks, sometimes for an hour, along quiet dirt roads near the shelter. I just had to adopt her.
For some unknown reason, she wasn’t very confident near men: my husband, Kevin, with a lot of patience, eventually gained her trust. It took a couple of years for her to be totally at ease with him and now goes to him for cuddles.
Shae is the sweetest dog; a beautiful soul who only wants to please and be with you. From day one we’ve had a very close bond. The same applies to all the other dogs in our rescue dog pack. They all get on well. Like a typical Husky, Shae is very talkative and affectionate.
She loved her hiking and has been known when hiking to chase rabbits and not come back for 10 minutes. A remnant of the wild days, I suppose. About four years ago, I found a small cancerous mammary tumour on Shae. The vet removed it immediately, and she’s had a very good recovery. Six weeks ago, however, she underwent a shoulder operation to relieve the irritation of the tendon that was abraded by an arthritic calcium growth on the bone.
She’s being kept on lead in the garden, with limited movement in the house, and is recovering slowly. All sofa cushions are on the floor to stop her from jumping. My house is in a permanent state of a need of cleaning. Dog hair is just part of the “fur-niture”. You learn to sleep on a 30cm band with your legs bent. Visitors sit on hard chairs, as sofas are all taken by dogs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything!