The Pit Stop

Written by Erica Ferrey of Animal Welfare Society Port Elizabeth and photography by Luc Hosten

Marizanne Ferreira, well-known in PE as an animal rescue worker, has long dreamt of providing a special dog run for the Animal Welfare Society Port Elizabeth (AWS). She envisaged huge runs for the homeless dogs at the shelter, particularly Pit Bulls, for which she has a very special place in her heart. These areas would allow shelter dogs to spend time out of their kennels, running ‘free’.

How a pet cemetary breathed new life into shelter dogs’ days

Towards the end of 2014, the AWS PE Executive Committee, in consultation with their members, agreed that the land behind the shelter, a pet cemetery where many beloved pets were buried, would be turned into a free-run area. Those that had passed would give joy to those that were living and homeless. Once the go-ahead was given, Marizanne was unstoppable. Formalities were taken care of, quotes obtained, labourers secured and, before we knew it, the trucks arrived with building materials. The work had begun!

The free-run area was nicknamed the Pit Stop – a name which has stuck. An 18m x 24m run has been erected with 2.5m high fencing; within this are four runs, the biggest being for large breed dogs (including Pit Bulls), two slightly smaller runs, and one small one. Marizanne and her wonderful team of volunteers, now fondly referred to as The Pit Crew, worked tirelessly to get the runs ready, holding fundraising events, sourcing kennels, building tables and chairs for visitors, planting trees, and making sand pits.

The Pit Crew members (all unpaid volunteers), Amy Ratcliffe, Carol-Ann Kelleher, Chantel Strydom, Eleanore Raubenheimer, Cecile Stander, Leanda Gray, Heather Martens and Suzette Ludeke, including the pancake makers, Pieter Stander and Nick Gray, sacrificed many of their precious hours to assist in realising Marizanne’s dream. And let’s not forget about Marizanne’s hubby, Dr Stephan Ferreira, who accepted the long hours she was away from home, only to return with dirty, broken finger nails…

It was so heartwarming and humbling to witness the generosity and support of the public.

The Pit Stop and the Leeway

The Pit Stop Grand Opening and Market Day was held on Saturday 8 August 2015 – and it was a real celebration of this dream come true. The Pit Stop has been dedicated to Marizanne’s parents, Janneman and Bekkerina Kemp; what a wonderful legacy to leave behind. Following the opening of the Pit Stop, generous donors have donated enough for us to be able to improve the current kennel living conditions and to build another free run, now named The Leeway.

The shelter dogs get to spend a healthy amount of time playing and running so that they can experience relief from the boredom and stress of kennel life. As Marizanne commented, “…the Pit Stop has not just ‘saved lives’ (of the dogs who weren’t coping in the kennels and are now much less stressed), but has helped to socialise dogs, provided a place for meet-and-greets, and, due to the exposure of the Pit Stop, has helped them finding homes. The dogs appear more relaxed, playful and happier.”

Staff at AWS PE have seen a visible difference in the stress levels of dogs that go out regularly to the Pit Stop. According to Matthew Ferrey, Chairman of AWS PE, “The obvious difference that the runs are making to the dogs’ lives is profound. To see them bounding up and down with delight and then, at the end of the day, lying panting with their tails wagging in joy, is wonderful.” This project has been truly life-changing for AWS PE and the dogs in its care.

How The Pit Stop makes the difference

Kathryn Schmelzer, ADOPTion Specialist at AWS PE says that, “The day the Pit Stop – and, soon after, the Leeway - were built was the day that changed the lives of our shelter dogs. They’ve made the dogs’ time at our shelter stress-free and stimulating; they get to go to this special area and do what they love to do: be themselves!”

But it’s about much more than just fun for the dogs, ”The free run areas not only give dogs much-needed time away from their small kennels, but allow them to socialise with other dogs and are used to facilitate ‘meet and greets’ with potential adoptive families. Because it’s a calmer space, they help us to get to know our dogs better - and it's fantastic for taking photographs for networking purposes. 

The public is encouraged to visit as it's far more pleasant seeing dogs where they have the freedom to run, play, roll on the grass, take a dip to cool off, and meet new furry friends. People interact with our dogs in a happy environment and can get to know their personalities to make the best adoption choice.

The Pitstop and Leeway have been a blessing to AWS PE and have saved so many lives. We could not do without this fantastic area.

A big thank you to Marizanne Ferreira, Janine Lee and the members of the public who made this amazing project possible.”  


Photograph by Mariaan Browne

Celeb couple, Freya (Sia-Nala) and Floki (James), met at The Pit Stop. Freya was at AWS PE for 8 months; Floki arrived around 5 months after her. Both were very unhappy in the kennels. After a slow introduction, we put them together in the Pit Stop. Their relationship blossomed and both were adopted together by Mariska Nel. Without the Pit Stop this may never have happened.