Teacher’s Pet

Written by Rozuan Luiters and photography by Birgit Kassier 

I began working as a teacher at Republiek Primary in Windvogel, Bethelsdorp (Port Elizabeth), in 2015 and I soon noticed the many stray dogs in the area. They broke my heart and I started bringing leftover food from home or the school’s nutrition programme for the dogs that visited the schoolyard. After a while there were about five stray dogs in front of my classroom waiting for the leftovers – and one of them was a small tricolour female called Mamma. 

At first she just lay in the doorway

Little Mamma came every day looking for her food and water. She was a very scared dog in the beginning; she ran away the moment I tried to get close to her. But I didn’t give up. Eventually she realised that I wasn’t there to hurt her. She gained trust towards me and came closer and, finally, took a biscuit out of my hand. 

A few weeks went by and, of course, Mamma came back every day. Her tail began to wag when she saw me and she began to trust me even more. Soon she wanted to follow me everywhere I went – but she stopped at my classroom door and refused to enter. Bribing her with cookies, I tried to get her familiar with the class and surroundings, and to become confident enough to come into the classroom.

At first she just lay in the doorway. Later she crept into the class but was too scared to stay long and quickly trotted out again. I don’t think she’d ever seen the inside of a building before and she didn’t know what to expect. But, slowly but surely, Mamma made progress; she gained confidence and stayed longer and longer in the classroom.

Now Mamma has such a bond with me that she waits for me every day in the parking area where I park my car. When I arrive, she is so happy to see me and walks with me from my car to my class, then waits patiently for me to open the door. She’s so eager to go inside that she’s always first to enter (I sometimes think it’s her way to make sure it’s safe for me to enter). Once inside, she goes straight to her flower mat, sits down, and patiently waits for me to make her food. And when the food arrives she jumps and twirls around with much happiness. She has her own food and water bowl in the class and the other stray dogs have theirs outside. 

The children love her

With help from Mamma, I teach the children how to care for animals – how to give them food, water, love and attention. They get turns to give her a biscuit and food, and to give her fresh water every day. What’s more, Mamma brings a sense of calm and atmosphere of love to the class. The children love her – and she definitely loves the attention of the children.

I buy her medication to prevent ticks and fleas from attacking her and the children help me bath her regularly; they take turns holding her and massaging in the shampoo. They absolutely love helping me with Mamma.

She stays in my class all day and snoozes on her flower mat. When she is done sleeping, up she gets and cruises around in the classroom looking for a rub on the head. During break time, when I have to go to the office or staff room, Mamma is right there, sitting at my feet, waiting patiently for me to finish. Fortunately, all the staff members, including the principal, have accepted her with me and don’t mind if she’s in the office or staffroom. During breaks when I’m in my class, she goes outside with the children and plays with them on the grass. And when the bell rings, she’s back inside the class just as though she’s one of the Grade 2 learners. 

Teacher’s assistant

Her favourite time of the day is when the children sit on the mat. She walks between them, getting attention from everyone, then stops at the child she wants to play with, climbs onto his/her lap and begins rubbing her head on their chest to play. I’ve taught the children how to play with her and not to hurt her. At first she didn’t know what a ball was – when I rolled one to her she literally ran away. Now she loves the ball! 

With 48 Grade 2 learners in my class, it’s impossible to give them all individual attention at the same time. And some need more attention than the others. They all love spending time with her, so if they finish their work and have done it correctly, they can play with her or give her a biscuit. She motivates them to concentrate and finish their work. Mamma helps me by giving all the children attention – she’s my teacher’s assistant. 

Getting Mamma spayed

Mamma is about three or four years old and has had a few litters of pups. When I started getting to know her she gave birth to six beautiful puppies. Accompanied by another teacher, Mrs Deysel, I took them to the animal welfare for rehoming and then I decided to contact P.E.A.R. (Port Elizabeth Animal Rescue) for help to spay her before she could get pregnant again. P.E.A.R is doing such a great job with the animals; they are always willing to give advice and to help animals in need. Thank you very much for your hard work! They were so kind and Havilah Designer Jewellers sponsored Mamma’s sterilisation. Within a few days she was spayed and ready to go home – and take up her honoured place in our classroom again.

This little dog is such a beautiful soul. I’ve never heard her growling or barking at someone; she’s so calm and loving. Mamma came into my life for a reason – to teach children about animals so that they can make a difference in an animal’s life. So that they can realise a dog isn’t “just a dog” but can be your best friend! 

Estelle Timms, founder of Port Elizabeth Animal Rescue (P.E.A.R.), shares…

To Rozuan and all the children at the Republiek Primary School in Windvogel, all I can say is WELL DONE! You are a wonderful example of love and compassion towards animals and I can only hope that other schools will follow your example. After her last litter of puppies in November, Rozuan contacted P.E.A.R. for help and, thanks to the generosity of Havilah Designer Jewellers, P.E.A.R. was able to have her spayed. 

As an added happy moment, in anticipation of her op the children all helped their teacher to bath her so that she would be nice and clean when going for surgery. And before she left for the vet, they said a prayer for her.