Left to right: AWS SA Animal Care Centre Supervisor Lawrence Nkotha and Sibabalo (10), Agcobile (9), Zubenathi (7), Onke (9) and Luniko (9)
Written by Jenni Davies
Professional photography by Jackie Wernberg Photography and Cassandra Bright
Five boys walking with a dog. A common enough story, you would think. But this particular story is a special one. The boys, all between the ages of seven and ten years old, are from a severely impoverished community, and the dog in question was found at death’s door a few hours earlier. They are, in fact, his rescuers, and he has a whole new life ahead of him…
The Magnificent Five
Ten strong feet trod the path to the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa’s gate in Philippi, near Cape Town. Between them, four weary paws dragged in the sand. Five boys, faces grim with determination, advanced to the door, a dirty cream-coloured dog between them, their small hands the only thing preventing him from collapsing.
The boys, later dubbed The Magnificent Five, are from Sweet Home Farm, an informal settlement near AWS Philippi. Between the shelter and the settlement are a busy major road, crime-ridden areas, and rubble-covered wasteland – an almost insurmountable journey for five children and a dying dog.
Breathlessly, between them, the boys recounted to the AWS staff how they’d found the old, neglected Labrador lying in the bushes, either unwilling or unable to stand. Knowing that the dog was in a bad way, they decided that they had to act straight away to save his life. But with no access to a car, nothing with which to carry the dog, not even a piece of rope, how would they do it?
Saving a life
The five boys called the dog, they whistled and they cajoled, but the most he managed was a hesitant tail wag. So, between them, they came up with a plan – somehow they needed to get him up and onto his feet so that they could get him to the help he needed. They decided to find something to fashion into a collar and walk him to AWS. Not wanting to leave the emaciated animal alone, the group split up; two provided “bodyguard detail” for the dog, and the other three went off to search.
It wasn’t long before they found an old leather belt as a makeshift collar and lead. He must have been accustomed to wearing a collar, because when it settled around his neck, the dog stumbled to his feet straight away, ready to accompany his new friends.
If you look at a map, it’s not that far – a distance of some five kilometres. But, when you’re moving on foot on a hot September day, with a sick dog that doesn’t really know you, through bush, beside filthy canals, along litter-strewn footpaths and hills of broken bricks, and over busy roads, it must seem an eternity.
The journey took them several hours. But Zubenathi, Luniko, Onke, Angcobile, and Sibabalo wouldn’t give up. They were saving a life – the life of their new friend. And one doesn’t leave friends behind.
Promises made – and kept
Working with the community is of the utmost importance to an organisation like the Animal Welfare Society Philippi, and they put a great deal of work into this. Because of the emphasis placed on community work, these children knew that they could bring the dog to them to be helped.
The staff at AWS Philippi promised them that they’d be rewarded for their good deed and that they’d find the dog – now named Champ – a fantastic home.
Champ was admitted for treatment and his story shared on social media. Within hours, it was zooming around the world. There was an outpouring of both love and generosity with people only too happy to help AWS Philippi in their goal of rewarding the children and rehoming Champ.
An awards ceremony was held on the 16th of September 2020 at which the boys received certificates of bravery and proudly donned AWS hats. Spar and Pick n Pay joined in with donations so that food and clothing could be purchased for the families. But, to the boys, probably the most valuable thing they received at the ceremony was getting to see Champ – now looking much healthier and happier – who immediately recognised them and trotted over to say hello. He went straight to seven-year-old Zubenathi, the youngest of the group, and the one who’d led the charge to save. Everyone present felt deeply moved when Zubenathi placed his hands on Champ’s big head and gave him two big kisses on his nose.
Zubenathi explained: “Dogs love us. They are our friends. They protect us. So we must love and protect them. That’s why we helped Champ.” Wise words indeed.
A new life for Champ
Champ remained at AWS Philippi for almost two months after his rescue on the 8th of September. Nobody knows where he came from or what his story was prior to the Magnificent Five saving him; nobody claimed him as their own. So, he was put up for adoption.
On the 21st of September, AWS Philippi received a formal application from the McLachlan family to adopt him. He still had a way to go as he’d been in a terrible state when he arrived, but this didn’t deter his family-to-be. Every weekend following their application, the family visited Champ. On the 1st of November 2020, Champ officially “left the building” and went to start his wonderful new life.
Thank you to all those who support the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa. The importance of getting children to grow up in a world where there’s help and where they’re supported for doing good cannot be underemphasised.
Sueanne McLachlan, Champ’s new owner, shares…
I read about Champ’s rescue on the KFM radio website the day after he was rescued by the boys. My heart told me that I should apply to adopt him as we’d lost our 14-year-old Jack Russell a few months before and I felt that our younger Jack Russell needed a new playmate and companion. I grew up with a Labrador and have always wanted another one. I also needed to get a dog that was excellent with children as I have a two-year-old granddaughter.
I told my son and daughter about his story that evening, and they told me to immediately apply and that if it was meant to be, it would be.
We went to meet Champ the following weekend and fell in love with him immediately. At that time, he was undergoing treatment for mange and being “fattened up” from being severely underweight, so we had to wait a while to be able to bring him home. In the meantime, we were approved for the adoption and went to visit him every weekend.
When Champ joined our home, he slotted into our family as if he’d always been there. We also got to meet the five boys that saved him, and they’re all little heroes in our eyes.
We’re thrilled to have Champ as part of our family.
About Animal Welfare Society of South Africa
The Animal Welfare Society of SA is located in the rural area of Philippi, some 15km outside the Cape Town city centre. Philippi is a small rural area surrounded by troubled communities, characterised by poverty, lack of access to services, and high crime rates. AWS offers veterinary services to the underprivileged and disadvantaged communities of Cape Town from its clinic, which often houses over a hundred animals undergoing treatment for illness or injury. An inspectorate team tackles cases of cruelty and neglect. They also have a shelter on the premises from which surrendered, rescued, and homeless animals can be adopted.
For more information on how you can help AWS, visit their website at www.awscape.org.za, follow them on Facebook @awsphilippi, on Instagram @Animal Welfare Society of SA, and on Twitter @aws_philippi. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 021 692 2626.