The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Written by Mandy Robinson, founder and manager of Spaniel Rescue South Africa

As all rescuers will tell you, every dog we save owns a little piece of our hearts, but, every now and again, a special dog comes along and steals your entire heart. Molly is such a dog…

Finding Molly

Her story begins in May 2014, with a call from a concerned citizen. A backyard breeder had vacated his Skeerpoort, Brits, property like a thief in the night, leaving a Spaniel and her two pups to fend for themselves outside, with the cold winter looming. 

Julia Bickel, my Spaniel Rescue colleague, and I rushed off to help but, by the time we arrived, Molly (as we’d later name her) had vanished. We looked everywhere, but, with darkness and temperatures falling, we eventually had to make the heartbreaking decision of taking the pups and leaving her behind. We didn’t leave it there, however, and over the next two weeks we repeatedly returned to look for her and I left my contact details with some of the labourers in the area. Finally, Molly was spotted! The trip to Skeerpoort became a ‘song and prayer’ trip – singing because I was happy and praying that she would stay put until we arrived. We were afraid that she’d become semi-feral, but this precious girl was so happy to hear a kind voice. She came up to us, albeit hesitantly, allowing herself to be collared. One could almost feel the relief in her body – she knew she was safe. 

In the car, she put her front paws and head on my lap, staring adoringly at this human. I silently made her a promise: “You will never know hunger, fear or abandonment again, girl.” Sadly, this was a promise I wasn’t to keep until much later…

Home and away

She was in pretty bad shape – malnourished, severely matted, dehydrated, and her body showing the scars of being used as a cash cow. In foster care, this amazing girl showed herself to be a loving, happy dog, appreciative of having somebody care for her for the first time in her life. Molly’s story resonated with people, and it wasn’t long before she was adopted by a Northcliff family. Yet what should have been her ‘happily ever after’ turned into a nightmare that would only end more than a year later. 

On 19th June 2014, we received a call that every rescuer dreads: Molly had disappeared. The Spaniel Rescue team – Lesley-Ann Marshall, Simone Wallace, Julia, and I – dropped what we were doing and rushed to the scene to start coordinating a search plan, mapping the area, making posters, etc. What followed was an unprecedented quest lasting for well over a year, involving hundreds of people, the media, and Spaniel Rescue.

We were touched by people’s generosity and help, like Sue and Pete Choppin, an elderly couple who drove all the way from Potchefstroom every single weekend, for months on end, to assist in the search for Molly. There are so many people to give thanks to: Allison Kennedy, Lynden Cotterell, Natalie Erasmus, Beverly Gavronsky and Michael Honein of Mykel’s Hairdressers, Wendy Clarke and Jabu…and many more. We would be doing an injustice to single out individuals as so many people undertook their own searches after work and on weekends.  

This story would be incomplete without mentioning an amazing man called Jabulani Sibiya. This humble gardener offered his services and recruited a team of full-time ‘searchers’, comprising unemployed gentlemen, who walked the streets, putting up posters and spreading the word. Molly’s plight became theirs, and they would often start their searches as early as 5am, only going home well after dark. 

Molly at large

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months; morale dwindled. With every reported sighting, we’d drop everything and rush off; when it wasn’t her, the disappointment was crushing. Despite Herculean efforts, including sleeping on Northcliff hill mid-winter, there was still no sign of Molly. Every night I sent up a little prayer for Molly; it was the middle of winter... Was she warm? Did she have food? Was she scared and alone? 

Desperation began to take precedence over common sense; once, Julia and I were lured into a dangerous area known to be a drug lord’s den. Thanks to our bodyguard, Heinrich, we walked out of there alive, without loss of vehicle and reward money. We conducted many late-night searches, battling to see the road through a haze of tears. But, still no Molly.  

As the months passed, Molly’s story became yesterday’s news to most, yet we never gave up. And then, 475 days after she’d disappeared, the phone call we’d been waiting for finally came…

Animal Anti-Cruelty League Johannesburg’s Inspector Denton Infield was assisting with a routine inspection in Claremont, not far from Northcliff. He was approached by a woman who said that she could no longer afford to keep her dog, a Cocker Spaniel. He took the nameless dog back to AACL where Kennel Supervisor, Miriam Bezuidenhout, scanned her for a microchip. Something seemed off, however, and she phoned the microchip company. Her gut feeling was spot on: this bewildered, scruffy, tick-infested dog was none other than our Molly. Miriam contacted my colleague Simone, who immediately called me. 

I think her ears are still ringing after I literally screamed “WHAT?!” Although I desperately wanted to believe, after so many disappointments, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. We rushed to AACL Johannesburg, too scared to even get excited…

The real happily ever after

The moment I saw the small, dejected dog sitting in that cage, with her back turned to me, I knew it was Molly. I called to her and she slowly turned her head; I saw recognition in her eyes and I am sure we both shared the same feelings: “Is it true? Is it really you?” The moment was surreal; no words could adequately describe the myriad emotions when I, at long last, held Molly in my arms. She dug her head into my chest and sighed – she knew she was safe, and I whispered in her ear: “I told you I’d find you.” I could almost hear her saying: “What took you so long?”

The ride home was too short; I just wanted to sit there and stare at this miracle dog. The tears flowing this time were tears of pure joy. Julia and me with Molly in the car had come full circle. We’ll never know what happened to Molly when she was gone, but this time she knew who her rescuers were and, despite her ordeal, she was the happiest dog in the world. Sleep wouldn’t come that night – I was afraid that when I woke up, I’d find that it was just a dream – so I stayed up until the early hours, my hand on her, just listening and watching. Those who’ve met her in person understand why we couldn’t let go, why we would have crossed the Himalayas barefoot in our underwear if it meant getting her home.

Molly’s story had far-reaching effects: in the process of our long search, we met many wonderful people whom we now count as friends, reunited over 30 dogs with their owners, and even stumbled across a litter of tiny puppies dumped in a field.

Our ‘unsinkable Molly Brown’ is home and living a pampered pooch's life with Sue Choppin and her husband, Peter.