Written by Beverley Schellings
Professional photography by Strike a Pose Photography
A heavy U-bolt pierced the emaciated dog’s foot behind her Achilles tendon; she was tethered by this U-bolt to a pole in a filthy yard. The foot had begun to die off and infection had set in, and she was barely clinging to life.
This is the sickening horror sight that greeted one of CLAW’s then fieldworkers, Themba Buthelezi, when he arrived at a home in Snake Park, Soweto, after being alerted to her plight by a concerned neighbour. He immediately set about rescuing the poor, suffering animal.
On Saturday 11 March 2017, CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) was notified by a resident about a severely neglected dog. They reported that the dog was without proper food, water and shelter, and that they’d begun throwing food over the fence for her and the other five dogs on the property.
Of the six dogs on the property, five were loose but this one brown dog lived out her days at the end of the chain attached to her foot. She was skeletal, only able get enough burnt pap (porridge) that was thrown into the yard to keep her from death’s door. Why this one was so cruelly abused, nobody knows.
CLAW, situated on the Westrand of Johannesburg, is a project of IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). They offer basic vet care to impoverished communities, focusing on sterilisation, vaccinations and parasite treatment. Sick and injured animals are treated. Quite often, though, there are the extreme cruelty cases like this that do come in.
She wanted to live
The dog was immediately confiscated and taken to the CLAW clinic to be treated by the veterinary staff. There was a fair amount of deliberation about her future and her chances of overcoming her state of neglect. Nobody wanted to prolong her suffering but there was just something in her eyes – a spark of life, strength of spirit – telling them that she wanted to live.
The decision was made to give her painkillers and antibiotics, along with water and small amounts of food. Depending on how she responded to this, the next decision would be made.
The gut-wrenching photo of her, showing her skeletal body, was posted on CLAW’s page. Distressed, I showed my husband – he immediately said: “She should come to our home so that we can give her the overnight care and small feeds that she needs.”
CLAW foster Fiona MacDuff kindly collected her from the clinic and, throughout the trip to her house, had to keep checking to see if the dog was still alive. Each time Fiona spoke to her, she wagged her skinny tail and lifted her heavy head, delighted to be getting attention.
When we arrived at Fiona’s house, she gently lifted this sad bundle of bones out of her car and said, “Here’s Twiggy.”
Would she last the night?
It was early evening when Twiggy arrived at our home and she’d started to vomit up all the food that she’d been given at the clinic (unfortunately, a common occurrence in dogs that have been starved). We certainly didn’t hold out much hope that she would make the night.
Grumpy, as my husband is fondly named, made her a bed using every dog blanket and duvet that he could find so that it was a thick, comfortable pad. He then wrapped her in a fluffy warm blanket and laid her down next to his side of the bed. I offered her little bits of food but she refused.
We decided that there was a good chance she would not survive the night, but we’d make sure that she could at least pass away in comfort and warmth.
When the alarm went off at 5am Grumpy peeped over the side of the bed, heart in throat, expecting to find a dead dog. Instead, he was treated to the biggest lick across the face. Twiggy’s tail was wagging frantically and, with all enthusiasm, she scoffed the meagre ration of food that I gave her. What a great way to start a day!
Tarryn Day from Royal Canin had seen Twiggy’s story on CLAW’s Facebook page and had called to say that Royal Canin would like to send their vets out to advise on a feeding schedule, and to sponsor food and any vet care that Twiggy may need.
The wonderful team arrived on Sunday at 10am, loaded with food and lots of advice on how to feed her without causing harm or refeeding syndrome (metabolic disorders caused by reintroducing nutrition too quickly after starvation).
Twiggy weighed only 14kg. She was to be fed tiny amounts of good-quality food often. This would gradually be increased as she strengthened and gained weight. It’s a slow process but it’s best to take it slowly; she ultimately needed to gain around 10kg.
The foot had to go
She was dragging her dead foot behind her when she moved, but we were hoping to give her a few weeks of antibiotics to stop infection and build her up before amputating. Unfortunately, by Monday, her foot was so bad that we simply could not leave the amputation any longer. Amazingly, her bloodwork looked good and she was strong enough for the surgery.
Fourways Vet Hospital offered to take on her case, with Royal Canin generously sponsoring her costs. With this expert veterinary care, she had her foot amputated and the long road to recovery could begin.
We were so determined to keep her will to live going that we visited her every day, hoping that the routine and familiar visits would keep her going. She responded so well to the visits. We would take her out into the garden at the vet practice, and she would rush straight to one particular corner where we would spend our time loving and cuddling her.
Sadly, a few days later, an infection set in. Twiggy spent two-and-a-half weeks at the vet receiving around-the-clock treatment, a real setback in her recovery. But she kept fighting and, on 30 March, she came home with us. We visited the vet daily for a dressing change and check-up.
Finally, by Friday 21 April, one month after her rescue, a check-up showed that there was no sign of infection and she was booked in for 24 April to have the wound stitched closed (it had been left open to drain).
A new leg for Twiggy?
She sailed through the surgery and patiently put up with her return to more limited movement and regular dressing changes until the wound had fully healed. The aim was to fit her with an artificial limb in order to preserve her stability, thus supporting her hips.
But when she finally got her artificial limb fitted, it turned out that the skin over the wound was too thin and it kept splitting open; we worried about infections. So, for the next couple of weeks, we’d remove the dressing, quickly fit the prosthesis, and let her walk for 15 minutes. We’d then rush to remove the artificial limb, treat the wound again and re-dress the leg. All this was done to try and get her used to the prosthesis and toughen the skin in the hope that she’d be able to keep the artificial limb on all day.
In the end, it was time to really weigh up our options. We felt that we weren’t benefitting her with the artificial leg being fitted for 10 minutes, followed by a quick removal and putting a bandage back on her leg. Therefore, after much heartache and deliberation, it was decided that a full leg amputation would be the kindest thing to do for Twiggy.
A very special girl
In July, Twiggy’s leg was amputated up to the hip. This amazing dog came through so well and soon began adjusting to having three legs. She gets stronger every day – and that means she is finally ready for adoption to a special forever home.
She currently lives in luxury with us and her friends – dogs, cats, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and an array of other rescues. During her foster time, she’s even assisted with an orphaned lamb by allowing it to cuddle up to her. She did, however, feel that the foster pigs that were living here at one stage were rather mean as they refused to share their food with her, so pigs are not high on her list of friends. Nonetheless, this incredible survivor is a truly loving, forgiving and gentle soul, and we know that she has a bright and happy future ahead of her.
A huge thank you to everyone at CLAW, to the caring resident at Snake Park who saw something and did something about it, to Fourways Vet Hospital, to Tarryn Day and Royal Canin, and to every single person involved in Twiggy’s rescue and recovery.