Where there’s life there’s hope

13th May, 2022

Written by Jenni Davies and Allan Perrins – Resource Development & Communications Officer, Animal Welfare Society of South Africa

Professional photography by Nat Gold ZA

The horrific story of a gentle dog that was flung from the second-floor stairwell railing of a Hanover Park apartment block by a group of children created outrage throughout the nation – justifiably so. A gang of five children, aged between six and nine years old, had, for no apparent reason, caught, beaten, and hung the defenceless white-and-black dog with a rope.

The spectre of such appalling viciousness from young children filled South Africans with revulsion. But thanks to the kind heart and bravery of another child and his grandfather, this story does have a very happy ending.

In the nick of time

That day, the 15th of April 2021, Chico, as he was named, would have strangled to death, had help not come in the form of a heroic young boy* who saw their vicious deed and, despite risking retribution, acted swiftly to save its life.

As he saw the dog thrown from the stairs, the noose tightening, the bloodthirsty expressions on its tormentors’ faces, the boy couldn’t ignore the cruelty being perpetrated before his eyes. Realising that he was too small to lift the dog alone, and outnumbered by the thugs, the distressed child raced home for help.

When he and his grandfather* arrived on the scene, their hearts sank as they saw the dog dangling lifelessly from the rope, apparently no longer breathing. From the side-lines, the cruel perpetrators jeered at their rescue efforts. But the boy and his grandfather would not give up.

Where there’s life there’s hope

The pair worked together to haul Chico back up to the landing, and fought desperately to untie the tightly knotted rope. The dog lay still and lifeless. Had they been too late?

But, beneath his soft coat, a faint flutter could be felt: a heartbeat. Urging him to breathe, they stayed with him until, miraculously, he took a breath. And then another. And another. Chico had a chance. Hope was not lost.

The grandfather carefully scooped the exhausted dog into his arms and carried him to safety, leaving his grandson to watch over him while he went to find the culprits’ parents. To his dismay, they were completely disinterested in the atrocity that their children had committed and unwilling to do anything to stop them. Knowing now that the chances of the children returning to finish off the job were high, he decided that his only option was to report the incident to the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) of South Africa (some two-and-a-half kilometres away), where he’d also get the veterinary care he needed.

Fighting for justice

Allan Perrins of the AWS recalls that, “It was obvious that this dog had taken a severe beating – with the handle of a mop – and flinched every time he was touched. Both he and his rescuers were deeply traumatised, not only by what they had had to endure and witness, but by the indifference of the parents.”

Hanover Park is a severely impoverished area, rife with crime and gangsterism. Vulnerable children without strong parental figures are preyed upon by gangsters and may turn to a life of crime at an early age. It’s also important to understand that those who stand up for what’s right, as Chico’s rescuers did, are putting themselves in harm’s way by so doing, which makes their deed even more heroic.

Both grandfather and grandson have a deep love of animals and want justice for Chico. But it goes beyond that, says Perrins, “This tenacious grandfather is deeply concerned about society turning a blind eye to such heinous acts of cruelty by minors who appear to lack any form of compassion and parental supervision. He’s able to identify those involved – and isn’t afraid to do what’s right. Thanks to him and his grandson, Chico’s future holds promise… but unless the parents of those under-aged criminals take an interest in the welfare of their children, they’re destined to become career criminals – and that would be a serious indictment on them.”

From healed to healer

Chico’s road to recovery was an arduous one but, although it took many months, recover he did. It took patient, hard work by the staff and volunteers at AWS but, slowly but surely, Chico healed. He turned out to be an absolutely wonderful dog with a sweet, loving nature.

This incredible dog then went on to heal others too. Perrins says that Chico is a special dog with selfless qualities and has helped many an anxious new dog settle into their new surroundings during his stay at AWS. Moreover, in October 2021, some five months after his dramatic rescue, Chico saved the day for another canine in need. A tiny seven-year-old dog named Spikey, from nearby Schaapkraal, was admitted to the AWS hospital, close to death from tick bite fever. He needed a blood transfusion if he was to survive.

Chico, with his gentle, unflappable nature, was the obvious choice to be a donor. The painless procedure caused him no distress and his blood literally saved Spikey’s life. Once both dogs had recovered, they were introduced to each other. Says Perrins, “It was so heartening to see Chico touching noses with Spikey, who’s doing so well following his near-fatal illness.”

Just over a year since his incredible rescue, Chico got the ultimate reward: a loving forever home.

The day that Chico – now Bandit – was adopted by Isotta Zardo and her beautiful family, we were over the moon,” smiles Perrins. “Although everyone at AWS South Africa will miss Chico’s smiley face, we wish him and his new family all the best on their journey.”

Isotta Zardo, Chico’s new owner, shares...

I first learnt of Chico, who we renamed Bandit because of his striking face markings, when I read the articles in the papers at the time of the incident and saw the posts on the AWS Facebook page about the terrible things that had been done to this poor soul about a year ago.

It was a shocking story, especially because of the age of the kids involved, and it left me very disturbed, as I’m sure it did many other people. It’s almost even worse now, though, that I have gotten to know and experience this sweet creature and discovered what an incredibly good-natured animal he is.

Considering all that has happened to him, he’s still the most trusting, calm and loving soul imaginable – he just wants to be close to us all the time.

AWS has done an excellent job, as they do with all their animals, to train him, socialise him and get him ready to be a house pet. The transition from kennel to couch has gone very smoothly! We can definitely see that he’s been very well looked after at AWS, both physically and emotionally, and a lot of effort has been made to get him ready for adoption from them.

Bandit has adapted well to the house environment, considering he was never a house pet before. He hasn’t made any mess anywhere or caused any trouble whatsoever. We’re used to rescues and bringing strays into our home, so we were prepared for some adjustments, but he’s just been so easy and calm – just wanting to please and share his endless supply of love and affection.

I think there’s a real misconception when it comes to adopting animals from shelters; people believe they’re often problematic and have behavioural issues. We’ve adopted a few animals before and will only ever take in rescues, either from shelters or “directly from the pavement”, and have never had any problems with regards to aggression or fears or strange behaviours. Like Bandit, who’s experienced the ugliest of aspects of society, most only crave to be in a home where they can feel safe, loved and give love.

Bandit has gotten on well with our four other rescue dogs, although he needed a bit of time to figure out whether he likes cats (he now seems to be convinced that he does!), and hasn’t been bothered by our four chickens in their pen. Most surprising maybe, is that he’s a complete sweetheart with our two children, aged 10 and 11, and sprawls himself on them every chance he gets.

He simply oozes unconditional love. We’re just lucky to have him and very happy we decided to give him a home.

*Names withheld.

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