Written by Paulene Hardy as relayed by Etta van der Merwe
Professional photography by Beverley Anne Page
It really was a miracle that Etta got her gorgeous dog, Koos, back. Lost for 16 days, he covered a vast area before being found. We feel that he seemed to know that he was circling his home, but was certainly very lost. Etta has four rescue dogs and five cats, and she adores each one of them.
Here’s her story…
On Monday, 11th of November 2019, I knew my first job of the week was to drive into our village of St Francis Bay, go to the Internet café and print two important documents. As I was leaving my house in Cape St Francis, two of my dogs, Koos and Dolf, insisted on coming with me.
It was a hot day, but luckily the Internet café is just a very short drive away. As I pulled up outside the café, I decided to keep the passenger window lowered for the dogs’ comfort. I was parked directly outside the shop so that my vehicle would only be about four metres away from the counter. The shop door was open, and I was there for only around 10 minutes.
With the documents safely in my hand, I walked to my vehicle and saw Dolf trotting around outside the shop, but there was NO sign of Koos!
Koos is not a particularly social dog and tends to avoid people. In my panic, I drove around for an hour covering the area of the shops, expecting to see him wandering around. As there were so many people and cars around, I decided to drive back home to drop off Dolf and return again at 17:00. I knew that the village would be much quieter by that time and my chance of finding him much improved. When I returned, I drove around searching and calling everywhere, but there was still no sign of him.
The next morning, I made an early search, returning to the Internet café. They made posters with a photo of Koos, and I promptly put them up everywhere, but to no avail. I called the nearby “Pop In” beauty salon to cancel my appointment, at which time the owner heard my plea and notified St Francis Animal Rescue, headed up by Sue Rae Fox. The details of my missing Koos were immediately posted on Facebook and the big search began.
I never expected our search to last for 16 long days. During the second week I received a call from a helpful man, Bazil Pattinson, from Lourie. He’d seen the post on Facebook and informed me that Koos was near the Lourie Dam. At the time of the sighting he apparently appeared to be in pretty good condition.
With Sue driving, off we went to Lourie again – all to no avail; there was no sign of my beautiful boy. We drove back and forth to Lourie, continuing our search for about three days, hoping to see him wandering about somewhere. I was very distressed by now as my cat had also disappeared, and I was scheduled to vacate my house due to it being rented out to friends for the Christmas season. I was leaving St Francis Bay and driving up to Bloemfontein for the holidays. All the time I kept thinking, “Why is this happening to me during the busiest time of the year – now when I must leave my home? What have I done to deserve this worry and fear?” I realised my cat went on a “walkabout” on Sunday, the day before I lost Koos. By this time I was in a total state of sheer panic.
Later that week, I received another phone call from a man by the name of Justin Moolman; evidently posts on Facebook were certainly being viewed. Justin had seen Koos on his farm in the Gamtoos Valley, and he sent me a photo via WhatsApp. I identified my dog immediately, and I begged Justin to stay with him until I got there. By then, Koos had been lost for 10 days, and I was quickly losing any hope of getting him back home.
Sue drove me around the Gamtoos area. Justin had three vehicles aiding in the search, but it seemed Koos had panicked and ran even further away out of our sight. It appeared that, yet again, our search was in vain.
It was a couple of days after the Gamtoos search that the Ajubatus Foundation in the United States of America saw our posts on Facebook and alerted their sister company here in South Africa. They suggested that Ajubatus send out a drone in the area and continue searching. They generoulsy offered to help at no cost incurred on my part, for which I was so grateful, although I was losing hope fast and worrying even more about my pending departure from my home in Cape St Francis.
Sue and I met them a few times, and they covered a vast area over the Gamtoos on four to five occasions, but there was still no sign of my precious boy! I knew I had to leave my home for Christmas, simply because it was rented out to friends, but Sue kindly reassured me that if, in the meantime, she found Koos, she’d keep him safe until my return. By then, with Sue, we’d already covered about 1,000 kilometres, and there was still not a sign of Koos. I had no choice; I knew I had to leave my home and go to Bloemfontein. I was in total despair, and I knew I’d done everything possible. There were posters displayed everywhere, posts on Facebook, and drone searches continuing. I felt completely defeated, and this was the day before my departure. I’d lost hope and felt exhausted and miserable.
About two days prior to my departure, my cell phone rang and a lady from Kareedouw informed me that Koos had been seen looking totally exhausted, very weak, thin and frail. This sweet lady, Suzan Mostert, told me that 15:00 is her daily prayer time, but that day she prayed for one thing only: that Koos would be found.
The distance from St Francis Bay, through to Lourie, then to Gamtoos, and then to Kareedouw is about 150 kilometres from point to point. I received a call from a caring man, Rhyno Carelse, who, by following the map on his cellphone, was aware of the location. He informed me that he was only about a 20-minute drive from where Koos had been spotted by the lady. He asked what he should do. I was rapidly running out of airtime, so I panicked even more, and I was already packed and ready to leave my home for the season. With little hope in my heart I replied for him to “please drive to where you think my dog is and please stay with him”.
He drove straight there with his wife and daughters. He did reach Koos, who, by then, was far too weak to run anywhere; he was extremely thin, his ribs were showing, his bones were sticking out, and his feet were so sore with his pads totally worn away and the flesh exposed – my poor boy!
It seemed that he’d run through the nights and slept and rested during the day. Rhyno and I kept in close contact by phone as he reached Koos and placed him in his car. He thoughtfully met me halfway. When I first set my eyes on Koos, I wasn’t even sure whether he was my dog. He looked as if he wouldn’t have lasted much longer; he was in a very bad state. Koos looked at me and, at first, there was no response. He definitely recognised the scent as he sniffed me and knew that he finally had his mom holding him again! I cried with relief, as I couldn’t believe that he was in my arms again, and only a few hours before I was leaving my home for a few weeks.
Koos was missing for 16 long days, lost, confused, exhausted and weak. But thanks to wonderful people, strangers to me, who were determined NOT to give up, he was found.
When we arrived home, Koos was far too weak to do anything but sleep. The next day I had to finally vacate my home. The friends who stay each year in my house happily look after my pets whilst there. Lo and behold, even my lost cat returned home. The next day I loaded my car up, taking the tired Koos with me.
He’s different in many ways. He isn’t as confident as he used to be, and he never lets me out of his sight. I doubt he’ll completely forget his 16-day ordeal, his incredible journey and the fear and suffering. I’ll never forget the kindness and dedication that so many people showed me, thus making it possible to be reunited with my precious boy. I’d like to say, if anyone ever finds themselves in a similar distressing situation, please don’t EVER give up. Miracles do happen.
Paulene Hardy adds…
During this experience I kept in touch with Etta, messaging her with quotes and prayers and trying to keep her morale up. We’ve become good friends as a result of this event.
It was a day after Koos and Etta finally came back to Cape St Francis that I went to see them. Koos was still tired and rather sad. The day prior thereto, the Monday, I returned and gave each one of her dogs a Beano. Koos is a little quiet, but happily back home with his mommy and siblings.
It’s been very traumatic for Koos and Etta. All of us here in St Francis Bay had been praying and hoping for a good outcome, which we got.