The Healing Power of Animals – how a DARG dog changed my life

14th Sep, 2021

Written by Sonia Peck

This is a remarkable story about how a rescue dog rescued me.

A few years ago, I was going through an incredibly challenging time, where it seemed like every door I tried to open not only closed but closed with a collection of yet more and more difficulties. I was left feeling lost, anxious and very unsettled, with no direction or purpose; eventually coming to the disconcerting conclusion that it would be best if I started afresh, anew. I needed a new focus.

Discovering DARG

After a long tearful conversation with my mother, I decided under her nurturing direction (which one seemingly never grows out of) to visit DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group) in Hout Bay, which I’d been curious about for many years. So, acting on this decision whilst it was still fresh and clear, I used the emotional momentum to take the thirty-minute drive from Muizenberg to Hout Bay the very next morning.

I’ve never really been a dog person but more of a cat fancier. This is purely down to the fact that dogs have more needs… that I, as rather a free spirit, find somewhat overwhelming. Cats tend to flow in and out of your time independently, with just the odd “check-in” to make sure all is well. I’ve worked with all sorts of animals in my life, from sheep to pigs, rabbits to parrots, penguins to lions, but had never worked at an establishment that was dog-specific.

The driveway to DARG is marked with a blue-and-white panelled fence that beckons you in off the main road of Hout Bay, opposite Imizamo Yethu informal settlement. I entered and parked. It took me a few moments to compose myself as the sight and sound of over one hundred dogs all reacting to my arrival really took my breath away. This was bound to be a bittersweet experience; bitter with contemplation over the sad reality of the fate of many township dogs; sweet with the knowledge that I could hopefully make a difference.

Time for a walk

I padded sheepishly to the front office, mind full of all of the clutter and chaos of personal issues. I nervously introduced myself and asked, “What can I do to help?” A loaded question! I was kindly asked to take Snoopy out for a walk on premises; an older dog with a beautiful temperament – a displaced Africanis from the devastating fires of May 2017.

I obediently entered Snoopy’s enclosure and petted her whilst putting the lead around her neck. There was something profoundly alluring in her beautiful gaze, her pupils standing apart from her chestnut irises. With that connection came a wave of presence – where my mind’s contaminants fell away for just one moment. In the next breath, she jumped to her feet and pranced around like a puppy, excited by the realisation of the imminent walk.

DARG is blessed to be set in grounds large enough to offer diverse exercise and enrichment. I decided to walk her around a field on her lead first, which I discovered much to my horror was also the playground for three cows, a species that I’m terrified of, thanks to some over-curious young bulls during a hike in the UK when I was at school. But I soon pulled myself together as Snoopy didn't seem to mind them, nor did any of the other volunteers!

After a quick ten-minute walk around the field, overcoming my fears whilst being distracted by the enjoyment and elation of a dog sniffing everything sniff-able, I took her to the “donkey pen” (historically a donkey pen, but no longer). This is a large, fenced space where the DARG dogs can run, socialise and feel free. I walked to the far left of the field as I’d spotted a stone bench and table that was placed under a tree that cast the only shadows in the pen on this hot summer’s day. Being from the UK, these hot temperatures are somewhat of a challenge, shade speaks to me like my cat does at feeding time.

I took Snoopy off her lead and gave her the universal signal to “run free”, which entailed my right arm being temptingly thrust forward whilst confidently whispering “go girl!”...!

The power of a rescue dog

But instead, she sat down next to me, wriggled herself tightly into the side of my thigh, looked up at me, then rested her head on my leg. Even writing that sentence brings tears to my eyes as I remember the powerful wave of emotion that came over me. It was as if she knew my woes and could feel my pain. She had, without even knowing, comforted me – understood me – heard me – unspoken. She didn’t wander off. Instead, she sat by my side and stayed with me. I wished to respond to her loving gesture, so I slipped off the bench onto the grass, at which point she lay next to me, alongside me, and placed her leg over mine.

In that moment, I was drawn out of my darkness and lifted by the hypnotic simplicity of animal therapy. Different species, yet connected with such true sincerity that I could feel gratitude replacing fear. From that day on, I found myself driving the sixty-kilometre round trip many days a week to come and see Snoopy and take her for walks. Since then, I’ve continued to dedicate much of my time to this wonderful establishment, helping where I can.

When Snoopy hears my voice, she’s filled with such glee that my pores ooze with adoration. And to this day, she continues to place her leg over mine whilst I’m spending time in her pen, just sitting, just being.

You might wonder why I didn’t adopt her myself? Well, I wanted to, but the concoction of having a cat, a small apartment and an insecure future here, courtesy of home affairs, meant I couldn’t offer her the provisions and security that she so wholly deserved. But I’d treasure her until someone else could.

Until then, I’ll unreservedly cherish this gift, the gentle yet unmistakable power of this rescue dog. Mutual symbiosis. Magic.

About DARG

The Domestic Animal Rescue Group, located in Hout Bay, Cape Town, is a pro-life, non-profit organisation that rescues, cares for, sterilises and rehomes previously abused, neglected and abandoned cats and dogs. DARG also provides a crucial role for the impoverished neighbouring communities of Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg and the greater Hout Bay area. To find out more about this incredible organisation, which was founded in 1995, visit their website at www.darg.org.za and follow them on Facebook at @DARG.org.za, and on Instagram and Twitter at @dargdays.