Written by Tashya Giyapersad, Christel Erasmus and Debbie Filmalter
Professional photography by Seven Oaks Photography and Bowditch Photography
Amber was abandoned on a property with two other adult dogs – a female who’s now called Tinker and a male Swiss Shepherd, now called Winston.
In January 2020, I was contacted by concerned neighbours. I immediately contacted PACT to assist in the extraction of the three adult dogs who were being fed by a purported “employee” on the premises.
A day before the extraction and rescue, we were contacted by the concerned neighbours who informed us that they believed the two female dogs had pups and were in a poor condition.
We immediately got into our vehicles and proceeded to a partially abandoned, derelict property in semi-rural Verulam.
What met us upon arrival was horrific. We found three emaciated dogs, with the two females having had six and eight puppies respectively. The male dog was seriously ill and could barely walk.
The dogs, who were once loved family pets, were discarded in the backyard of the family home in what looked like a working glue factory. There were several whoonga addicts lurking in the yard and outside the premises.
We knew that if we left any dog or pup behind that, upon our return, those animals would’ve long disappeared, having been sold or bartered for drugs and cheap thrills.
Leaving no pup and dog behind, we used all our resources to remove three adult dogs and 14 puppies.
Winston, our adult male, was immediately taken to the vet, as he was seriously ill with biliary. He was subsequently released into the care of Ria Potgieter on the South Coast, who’s since adopted him. He’s a constant work in progress and clearly has been beaten in the past. Although he has trust issues, he’s come a long way.
Tinker, our Chow, was sent to foster care together with her six puppies, and I’m happy to report that she was a foster failure too. All of her babies have since joined happy homes. She remained with Debbie, who adopted her.
Amber remained in my care with her eight pups, and she was, by far, the most broken of souls. She was an amazing mum, but everything scared her, including a gentle touch. She’d crouch onto the floor and almost cringe if you looked at her or touched her.
She cried bitterly as each of her puppies left her warmth and safety in order to go to their forever homes. Attempts to walk her and restrain her on a leash failed.
It was after much deliberation that we realised we were out of our depth. Amber needed more. It was on this basis that we reached out to Lynne and Johann Wilhelm of Retreat 2 Eden, and after teary goodbyes, Amber left us on a Watershed Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Fund-sponsored flight to Retreat to Eden.
She settled in well into her crate on the morning of her flight, and it was as if she knew she was going somewhere fabulous.
With every rescue, a rescuer parts with a piece of their hearts. Amber took a large chunk out of mine.
She arrived at Retreat 2 Eden and settled right in as if she knew she was home, even for a short while.
Her progress at Retreat 2 Eden was phenomenal, and she just blossomed. Lynne, Johan and I then turned our attention to homing her. We believed that she deserved a loving singular home where she’d be showered with love. Christel Erasmus was simply meant to meet Amber!
I’m so grateful and have expressed my sincere gratitude to Christel for adopting this gentle baby. I’ve never seen such a happy dog. She has confidence and knows she has a forever home. It takes a network to rescue and a hero to home. Thank you to this amazing team. I have no words to express my appreciation to not only Christel but to Ria and Debbie Filmalter too, for opening their homes to these precious babies.
Lynne Wilhelm of Retreat 2 Eden shares…
Retreat 2 Eden followed Amber’s progress from the beginning. Tashya sent us regular photos of her puppies and their progress – in doing so our friendship with Tashya developed, and we saw her as a rescuer with a heart of gold.
Once all the puppies were rehomed, Tashya mentioned that she was concerned about Amber. She’d been so abused that she was struggling to trust. After discussing the situation, Johann and I offered to assist further and find a suitable home for her. Thanks to Watershed flying her to the Eastern Cape, Amber was able to join us at Retreat 2 Eden.
Amber watched the other dogs, seeing how they interacted with each other and with us. Soon, shy little Amber began coming out of her shell, even to the point of playing with them – she loved cuddles and followed us around, just wanting to be with us. Although she still remained submissive to a degree with the other dogs, she began gaining confidence within herself.
We had several people interested in adopting Amber; however, we believed we needed to find a special, gentle home for her – someone who’d be able to build her confidence further and meet little Amber at her place of need.
When Christel contacted us about meeting Amber, she sounded like the perfect home for her. For Christel, it was love at first sight when she saw Amber. When she sat down on the ground with Amber and gently tried to gain her trust, I knew that Amber had found her perfect home to heal.
Amber has blossomed under the tender loving care of Christel. We couldn’t have asked for a better human Mom for her.
Christel, Amber’s new owner, shares…
The house felt empty. The bounce of cat paws was silent after my longtime companion – my 12-year old cat, Lula – went missing. Only a month later, the pitter-patter of dog paws grew silent after the death of my beloved Rottweiler, Chloe.
And so the process of loss, grief and a new normal began. And, before I knew it, the bounce of cat paws was again heard as an abandoned kitty named Olivia made herself at home. But something was still missing. So the search began to find a new companion for Olivia and me.
On Facebook, a post from Retreat 2 Eden caught my attention – the description read “gentle and caring”, and without even knowing what type of dog it was, Olivia and I were in.
After contacting Lynne, I went to meet Amber. She was checking me out carefully, not totally sure if she could trust me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her. After sitting in the dust for a while, Amber made her move to come closer, and when she allowed me to stroke her, I knew she’d be coming home with me.
Within a week, Amber found herself in her new forever home. After taking some time to settle in, she’s finally found her feet – or shall we say paws.
Every new day she allows me to see a little more of her soul as she learns to trust me.
For now, Amber hates going on walks but loves drives in the car, where she perches herself on the front passenger seat. She loves Olivia – when the one sleeps, the other sleeps; when the one eats, the other eats; when the one washes herself, the other tries to do the same. They’ve started to play with one another, and beyond my wildest dreams, Amber has even started playing with a toy!
Amber and Olivia are like two peas in a pod, even teaming up to kick me out of bed in the morning.
Love conquers all, and just knowing we three are there for each other has healed Amber in so many ways. Initially she used to have nightmares, where she’d yelp and cry in pain. Every time this happened, I’d hold her and love her, and she’s not had one in a few weeks. She still experiences some anxiety if I need to leave the house, and then all my shoes and dirty clothes get carried to her bed. As soon as I get home, we enjoy the biggest cuddle ever, whether I was gone for 10 or 30 minutes. In time, I’m sure Amber will adjust to this too, and her anxiety will lessen.
Olivia and I are the luckiest cat and person in the world, because of Amber’s love and presence in our lives.
A big thank you to everyone involved in her rescue and rehabilitation. Amber sends her love, a big lick kiss and a massive thank you, to all of you.
Debbie, Tinker’s owner, shares…
A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN!
In January 2020, I received a phone call from Tashya. She mentioned that she’d just rescued three dogs from Verulam: a male dog and two mother dogs and their puppies. She outlined that they were in a poor condition and had been left to starve. They needed time to heal and lots of TLC. My heart was breaking. Tashya asked me if I’d be able to assist her and foster one of the dogs with her puppies. Being the animal lover that I am, I agreed immediately. Tashya brought the mother dog and her puppies to my house a few days later.
My initial meeting with Tinker was one of apprehension, and I wasn’t sure how she’d fit into my household of four Maltese poodles. I’m not really a big dog kind of person due to being bitten a few times in the past. Knowing that when a dog has puppies they’re usually very protective and sometimes aggressive to protect them, I kept her well away from my other dogs, and I settled her into her “own room” inside my house with her puppies, giving her the space to adjust and feel comfortable.
One morning, with the help of my neighbour, I gave her a bath. What a dirty dog she was. She rushed back to her puppies immediately after that.
My first opinion of Tinker was that she was a gentle girl and that she was literally starving. I fed her three to four times a day, not only because she was feeding six puppies, but also because she’d been deprived of food from where she’d been rescued. The way she ate her food told a story of its own. One morning I gave her some dry dog food, and she almost choked.
Upon closer observation, I realised that she didn’t know how to eat dry food, and her teeth were worn down to the gums; the canines were broken and she battled to eat any hard food. I then realised that this poor dog had obviously been surviving on rocks and sand to prevent complete starvation, which resulted in her teeth being ground right down to the gums. If I softened the dry food, she seemed to be fine to eat. I resorted to feeding her soft food that was easier for her to digest during that time. Not only did I observe that, but every time I fed her anything she’d eat like it was the last plate of food she’d ever get.
She also had a lot of hair loss. It just fell out in huge clumps, and she had a hot spot on her back and developed a second one. Her coat was very coarse and had no lustre or shine. She was checked over by a vet who treated these hot spots with medication.
As time went by, and the puppies grew, she got to know me and I got to know her and what food she liked. She was very protective of her puppies when the other dogs were a little too inquisitive.
The puppies were finally old enough to find new forever homes, and they slowly departed one by one, until it was just Tinker again. Tashya asked me if I’d consider keeping her, and I was a little reluctant at the time, as I couldn’t really afford another dog. But Tinker had crept into my heart, and being a dog with such a gentle and loving nature, I couldn’t bear the thought of her leaving me. Besides, finding a home for an older dog is usually a difficult mission. She’d also grown to be dependent on me. So, after a few days of thinking about it, I decided she could and had to stay with me forever.
So now, Tinker was part of the happy family of me and my dogs. She was shipped off to the vet to be sterilised. The day she departed for her surgery was so traumatic for her, as this was the first time she was leaving me after six or seven weeks. My neighbour took her to the vet for me. I clearly remember the look in her eyes as she left. It was almost as if she was crying, and thinking, “Where am I going? Please don’t leave me!” She had to stay overnight at the vet, and my neighbour collected her when she was discharged after her surgery the next day. When she arrived back home, she was so excited to see me; she couldn’t wait to get out of the car. I think she knew she was home at her safe haven. I had tears in my eyes just from her reaction. When she finally got out of the car she came straight to me and nudged my hand, and I just crouched down to her level and welcomed her home with a big doggy hug. She was wagging her tail and was happy to be home. What a reunion!
Tinker was now officially introduced to the Poodles, and they all adapted very quickly. And now the Poodles just love Tinker, and I often see them playing together or giving her the odd ear wash. She’s like the big sister they always wanted.
As the months have passed, Tinker has come to realise that there’s always going to be food, and she won’t ever be starved again. Nowadays, her eating habits have become like a normal, well-adjusted dog. I had to feed the other dogs in another area for a while or Tinker would polish off her own food and then theirs, all in one sitting. But it’s no longer like that.
At one stage Tinker was acting very strangely. Although she had a warm, comfortable kennel on a covered patio, she’d just disappear, and I’d find her sleeping under a bush and shivering. I even took her to the vet, but he failed to find anything wrong with her. He just prescribed some anxiety medication, which I gave her for a few days. Then, I discovered what the problem was… I had one of those electric insect zappers on the patio where the dog kennels are located, and every time a moth or a fly landed on the electric prongs of this device, it made a loud noise. She was obviously petrified of this noise. I immediately disconnected this device, and now the problem has been solved. Was this something she was exposed to in her life before she was rescued?
She also doesn’t really like being inside the house. But when she does come in, she goes straight to the toilet and lies on the floor there. Was this where she was kept previously? I usually have to force her to come into the lounge or any other part of my home. She seems to get claustrophobic inside the house, but she usually calms down after a while. But if she doesn’t always want to come inside, I don’t force her. She has a well-insulated kennel, and she hides right in the back of it if I call her to come inside.
Just recently I opened my gate, and Tinker spotted one of my neighbour’s cats relaxing in the driveway. She bolted out of the gate, and I attempted to call her back, but to no avail. She made a beeline for the cat and I just closed my eyes, expecting the worst. And then I remembered – she couldn’t hurt a fly, as her teeth don’t allow that. The cat just sat there and stared at her. She came back to her yard, looking somewhat defeated. I just smiled and patted her, saying, “Never mind, girl.” At least she had a good run and some exercise during that mission.
She’s living in the best place; the monkeys often make their presence known, and Tinker has great fun patrolling the perimeter of the fence, keeping them at bay. There’s plenty of other wildlife on the farm that Tinker alerts me of, too. She’s the best guard dog ever, and if someone as much as touches the gate, Tinker will let me know with her big bark that there’s a stranger lurking.
Since being sterilised and getting fed proper nutritional dog food, I can’t believe the difference in her coat. Her fur no longer falls out, and her coat has become thick and shiny. She’s put on some weight and is a happy soul. She’s loved and gets all the attention she so badly craved in those past days, which are now all gone forever.
Tinker is an absolute pleasure to be part of our little family, and she has an amazing character and a loving nature.