Tosca, Hout Bay’s happy hound


Written by Liz Bester, Shaygam’s Shelter Helper

Photography by Hey Doggo

The friendly, playful white-and-brown Pit Bull Terrier who loved to swim and play in the waves and with other dogs was a well-known sight on the white-sand bay of Hout Bay. 

From about 18 months ago, on our daily beach walks in Hout Bay, we often met her. All the regular beach walkers knew her – people would throw balls, sticks and even seaweed into the surf for her to fetch; more often than not, we never saw the balls again.

Many people, especially tourists, would look on in amazement as this little dog would joyfully leap off the rocks near Mariner’s Wharf and then swim or even surf back to the beach – I have never seen a dog swim so well!

Free spirit

Nobody knew who her owners were, only that she lived in the nearby impoverished township area of Hangberg and that she knew her way home. She was often seen strolling around the shopping centres and coffee shops in Hout Bay, where people would give her water and serve her a bowl of scrumptious food. 

She was frequently mistaken for a “lost” dog, loaded into a kind-hearted but unknowing do-gooder’s car and driven to various shelters in Cape Town, where she often overnighted. Most workers and volunteers at Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG), Hout Bay’s local animal rescue centre, knew Tosca well and always delivered her back home in Hangberg. 

She was given numerous collars and tags, but, unfortunately, these were always stolen. She was a “serial wanderer” – Tosca simply enjoyed the freedom of the open road and of socialising.

Stabbed

In 2017, disaster struck: Shaygam was alerted by a neighbour about a dog that had been brutally stabbed and needed urgent vet treatment. 

Karen Oosterbaan – another of Shaygam’s Helpers – and I rushed to the Hangklip address we were given. To our shock and horror, we saw that the dog was Tosca! 

This sweet, gentle dog had been sleeping outside the block of flats where she lived and, in the early hours of the morning, was stabbed numerous times by a gang of drug-crazed youths. She was protecting her people and property, and these thugs thought they’d have a bit of “fun”.

We rushed the injured, bleeding dog to the vet where her wounds were attended to, after which we returned her home. But when we arrived, Tosca’s owner told us that she’d decided that she no longer wanted to keep her and asked us to find her a new home. Before we could tell her that it’s not easy to rehome Pit Bulls, the owner’s boyfriend, Bernard, appeared and told us that he wanted to keep her and that he’d take care of her. 

And, so, Tosca stayed. We bought her yet another collar and tag and then had her microchipped.

Taken away

For the next few months, Tosca could be seen happily following Bernard all over Hout Bay, especially on bin day (Tuesdays) as he put into practice that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”! 

Every Tuesday morning Tosca would sit outside my gate while Bernard went hunting for treasures; she knew she’d get a bowl of breakfast and some delicious treats. I also made sure Bernard had a few bags of food for the week.

Then, in mid-2018, a very sad Bernard arrived at my gate… without Tosca. He told me that “they” had taken Tosca away and that he had no idea as to where she’d been taken – only that his now ex-girlfriend had signed papers and that Tosca was gone. After some investigating, I discovered that her owner had surrendered her to the SPCA, where she was now residing. 

Bernard was extremely upset, but, sadly, he couldn’t do anything about it – not only was Tosca not his dog, but he no longer lived in the flat. And, even worse, as he had no fixed abode, there was no way he would have been able to care for the dog.

The face of Hout Bay

I contacted the SPCA who confirmed that Tosca was in fact there… and definitely not doing well in kennels. This wasn’t surprising. Can you imagine the frustration of being in a kennel after having the whole of Hout Bay at her disposal?

At that stage Tosca hadn’t been advertised, but I was assured that she was very “adoptable”, having all the positive attributes – socialised, cat- and child-friendly, spayed, microchipped, etc.

I couldn’t bear the thought of joyful Tosca being caged for a few more weeks whilst waiting to be adopted, so I decided to post her story on our Shaygam’s Shelter Facebook page as well as the local Hout Bay page (where there are over 22,000 members). 

To say the least, the response was overwhelming, especially from Hout Bay Organised. So many people said that they’d been wondering what had happened to Tosca as they missed seeing her on the beach and in and around the village. Some people even said that Tosca was the “face of Hout Bay” – she was certainly loved by so many.

The same day as my post appeared, Nicky Standbridge contacted me and told me about the most extraordinary coincidence and how it was absolutely meant to be that that she had to adopt Tosca…

MEANT TO BE

By Nicky Standbridge, Tosca’s new owner

I met Tosca one evening earlier in 2018 while I was waiting at Hout Bay harbour for a friend to bring my car keys that she’d accidentally driven off with. I was sitting on the ground and this very sweet dog came up to me and plonked herself on my lap. Straight away, I felt such a connection with her. 

On asking, I established that she was a well-known local wanderer who lived in Hangberg. She did have a family and a home, so I thought nothing further of it, although I never forgot her.

She belonged to our family

Fast forward to a month ago. I was on Facebook when I saw the post from Liz Bester of Shaygam’s Shelter appealing for someone to adopt Tosca. I recognised her immediately as the sweet, friendly dog I’d met that evening.

I couldn’t let it go. We had had such an amazing connection, and I knew I needed to look into this. I contacted Liz, who was overjoyed that we could be a potential family for this sweet little girl. After speaking to Liz, I phoned the SPCA and said we wanted her and went through to see her and pay our deposit.

I was going to keep it a secret from my kids as I wanted her to be a surprise, but on the day of the SPCA’s home check, our eldest son, 19-year-old Max, happened to be home, so I had to explain what was going on. 

When I showed him the photo of Tosca, he couldn’t believe it. He, too, knew Tosca! This was the dog that had come up to him on Hout Bay beach one day, joined his surf lesson (he is a surf instructor) and proceeded to surf the waves on his board. What were the chances? I knew without a doubt: this dog belonged to our family.

An absolute delight

From the moment we brought Tosca home she’s been an absolute delight. She’s very calm and sweet but also full of energy and excitement when it comes to her walks. She took to her little bed immediately and does everything she’s meant to do as if she’d been with us her whole life. 

She loves our big garden and spends her days chasing geese (we’re grateful as they’re a bit of a pest with our pool) and the peacocks (not so good, but how do you explain to her one from the other when they’re all fun to chase?).

Tosca is very attached to us and is always very nearby. When we walk her, she stays with us and always checks to see if we are close behind.

But her absolute favourite pastime is being on the beach. She absolutely loves swimming in the waves and chasing after balls, sticks and whatever else is on the menu for the day.

We’re so grateful and blessed to have her as part of our family, and we hope that she’ll spend the rest of her days feeling safe, happy and loved.

About Shaygam’s Shelter

Shaygam Newman lives in the often-dangerous, impoverished township of Hangberg, near Hout Bay, Western Cape. Since he was a child, Shaygam has loved animals, and, as soon as he was able, he began helping and rescuing the neglected and abused animals of his neighbourhood. Shaygam’s Shelter was started by Hout Bay residents to support Shaygam in his quest to help animals in need. Find out more on their website at www.shaygamshelter.ukit.me/ and by following on Facebook @ShaygamsShelter (https://www.facebook.com/ShaygamsShelter/) or email shaygamshelter@gmail.com.