10th Jan, 2020

Written by Matthew Harebottle

Professional photography by Jackie Wernberg Photography

This story is a special one, of love that goes beyond our calling as pet parents, and the bond between a dog and his owner. Matthew Harebottle became Zeus’ dad in 2017, and you can follow his adventures on Instagram, via www.instagram.com/zeus_the_brave and the Facebook page: Zeus the Brave.

Ever since Zeus came into my life he’s always been a massive part of it. He’s my ride or die, my day one, my right-hand man and all-round best bud! We’ve done nearly everything together. He’s travelled with me cross country on nearly every road trip I’ve done, stayed with me in different houses with different people, and bunked at friends when I’ve been unable to be around. It’s safe to say that I always feel more comfortable when he’s by my side, and I know he feels the same way. I got Zeus back in the June/July holidays of 2014, a month or so after he was born. I was 21 and in my second year of a Law and Economics degree at Rhodes University. At the time I was living alone and wanted the company. It was my choice to live alone, as I’d spent much of my high school career in various boarding schools both locally and internationally and, quite frankly, wanted the space and freedom.

I needed an active breed of dog to keep up with my active lifestyle, knowing I’d want to do everything with him. After much research I landed up making the decision to get a Staffie, and boy oh boy, I could honestly not have chosen a better breed of dog. As I’ve come to realise, Staffies are quite truthfully the gentlest, most loving, kind-hearted creatures out there, but much like Pit Bulls, they’re stereotyped as aggressive/vicious dogs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Towards other dogs maybe, because they’re a dominant breed, but towards people they have nothing but love.

I fell in love with Zeus the moment I saw his picture, and it happened all over again when I met him in real life. We spent a holiday up in Johannesburg, where he was, before having to return to Grahamstown for the start of term. I was nervous about the 8-10-hour car trip that awaited us, and I wondered how he’d handle it, but needless to say, it didn’t bother him in the slightest, and a car ride has since become one of his favourite activities.

For the next two years, Zeus and I lived alone in a house in Grahamstown, and because it was just the two of us, I’ve always treated him and spoken to him as a person and best friend. In my fourth year in Grahamstown, I moved into a digs with five other people, and Zeus quickly became a member of that household family. It goes without saying that everyone who’s ever met Zeus has fallen in love with him instantly, and he has a special place in each of their hearts.

In 2017, we moved to Cape Town so I could study a postgraduate degree in Marketing and pursue my business venture. We moved into a house in Rondebosch with three of my friends, and once again Zeus was a beloved member of the household.

The day he went missing

At around midday on the 20th of February 2018, approximately a week before our lease was up in that house where we were then moving to Bo-Kaap, Zeus went missing. It was load shedding at the time, and we’d left the gate on manual so the members of the house could get in and out. Zeus, unfortunately, propped himself up on the sliding gate, allowing it to open slightly, and he got out. I was in town at the time I received a call from my domestic worker informing me that Zeus had gotten out. I told him that I was on my way home and asked him to go out and start looking for Zeus in the meantime. I arrived home hoping to hear the good news that he’d been found, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. To be honest, I wasn’t too alarmed at the time, as he’d gotten out once before but was taken to the Rosemead Vet (down the road from our house) within a couple of hours.

I began searching high and low in the places I thought he might be, but to no avail. I then drove to the Rosemead Vet to see if he had, by any chance, been brought in there, and when they told me he hadn’t, I continued on to the other vets in the area, hoping someone would pick him up and take him to a vet nearby. The day quickly turned into night, but my hopes were still high that he’d be found, and everyone kept reassuring me that he would be. I didn’t sleep much that night. The next morning I put out the post on Facebook and Instagram and asked all of my friends to share to get the word out as much as possible. I then asked permission to join the various community groups in my area, as well as all of the Cape Town-based lost and found pet pages and posted the post there as well. Even at the time I was amazed to see how many people shared his post and were willing to help in any way they could, and it touched my heart to see how many people cared.

I put up posters at the police stations, as I’d been told to do, in the parks and roads near our house, and I left a poster with almost every vet and animal rescue organisation in Cape Town, letting them know that Zeus was missing and asking them to get in contact with me if he was brought in. The hardest part of the whole situation was definitely the fact that we had to move out of the area a week or so after he went missing, which meant I had to keep returning to the area hoping to catch him running in the street. I visited the SPCA almost every week for the first couple of months.

For the weeks and months that followed, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what had happened to him, where he was, whether he was safe, and the thoughts began to consume me, but I didn’t give up hope. Unfortunately, with him being a Staffie, the overriding thought in both my mind and the minds of friends was that he’d be used for fighting. The honest truth is that I could only hope that he’d either been taken in by a loving family, or was dead. I just didn’t want him to be out there suffering whilst knowing he deserved to be loved and only wanted to give it in return.

During the time he was missing, I received calls from lots of hopefuls saying that they thought they might have seen him running here or running there, and my response to them was always the same. I asked kindly if they could either hold on to him until I was able to get there, or take a picture so I could confirm or deny, because by the time I got to Rondebosch from town (approximately 20 minutes away) he could be anywhere, and then it would be, as it always had been, like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In my heart, however, I knew I wouldn’t find him unless someone was kind enough to take him somewhere and his microchip was scanned.

The last solid lead I had was about three months after he went missing, from a lady who said she was certain she’d seen him on the day he went missing walking with a group of street kids who she’d seen before hanging around the Rosemead Spar. She said she tried to confront them, as she could see the dog didn’t belong to them, but they got quite hostile with her and ended up running away. I pursued this lead and went back to speak to the manager of Spar, as well as the security guards in the parking lots, and asked if they’d please let me know if they saw the kids return, or noticed them with a dog, so I could come and speak to them. Unfortunately, despite my attempts at following up, this lead went dead after that.

After about a year of him being missing, I had to come to terms with the fact that he was gone, but I continued to wonder what could’ve happened to him or where he was. I thought about him nearly every day and wished he’d come home safely.

The day I received a call telling me he’d been found

I was working from home at the time I received the call, which I almost didn’t answer because of all the spam calls I’d been receiving from 021 numbers. Nonetheless, I answered the call, and an amazing lady named Veronica Nel (from the PDSA) told me that they might have found Zeus.

She informed me that they’d found a dog and scanned for a microchip and saw that his name was registered as Zeus, but the contact number on his chip was incorrect. Veronica had remembered the Facebook posts from the previous year and went back and managed to find my number.

When she told me this, my heart began beating fast, as this now sounded much more promising. She asked me for his microchip number, and as I was reading it out, she completed it. All I could say was “WOW” as the emotions began to rush in, and I followed this up with the question of “how is he?”.

Both Veronica and I were over the moon, and she nearly began to cry tears of joy whilst I struggled to handle the million emotions going on inside me. She told me that I was going to be shocked at the poor state he was found in, but she continued to reassure me that with the right amount of TLC and the correct treatment, we’d be able to nurse him back to good health in no time. And she was absolutely right.

Zeus was found by Yvonne Read, a volunteer at the PDSA. She’s truly one of the most amazing ladies on earth and definitely the most amazing, selfless woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Yvonne spends her days (Monday – Sunday) feeding and rescuing stray and abused animals in the Athlone area.

On the 5th of November she received a call from someone in the Mowbray area who reported a dog with no hair roaming the streets. She immediately jumped in her car and rushed over to try and find him. She drove for nearly three hours, and just before giving up and heading home, she saw him on the last street corner. She put food down and he came straight away, and she opened the car door and he jumped right in, and it was this that told her he was from a good home and had once been loved before. She then took him directly to the PDSA, where he was then scanned for a microchip and the contact was made. I’ll forever be indebted to Yvonne for rescuing my boy and for all the amazing work that she does, day in and day out.

I went to PDSA the very next morning. 

The morning of our reunion (Wednesday 6th of November)

I dreamt about him the night before I went to pick him up and tried to prepare myself for our reunion, but nothing could quite prepare me for the reality of it all. Fortunately, Veronica sent me a couple of pictures the day before to prepare me for the state I was about to see him in.

We led him to the car and he walked straight over to my bakkie; we popped him on the back seat and he went straight to his spot in the car with two legs on the centre console before curling up on the back seat and sleeping the rest of the way home. This was probably one of the most amazing days of my life.

The recovery

Zeus slept for the first two to three days of being home, waking up only to eat, drink and go outside for the toilet. I was rather surprised at the fact that he was still house trained. He was clearly exhausted from having to fight for his life but couldn’t be happier to be snuggled up in a warm, cosy bed. I could tell he knew he was home.

Towards the end of the third day, he slowly started to come back round, walking around, exploring his new house, coming to get some love. But still sleeping an awful lot.

Both my girlfriend and I were covered in bites from the mange, fleas and various other pests he’d contracted and have since had to spray all of our furniture and linen with anti-pest this and that. We still have bites today, but honestly it didn’t faze us in the slightest, and we made our very best effort to help him on his road to recovery. We took him for a couple of small walks on the beach, which you could see he was beginning to love again, but the poor boy tired easily and was still very frail. On Saturday night, we rubbed him with coconut oil after hearing from numerous people that it worked wonders, and it really did; the next day, much of the scabbing from the mange had begun to dry up and flake off.

The fourth day (Sunday, the 10th of November) saw the most noticeable improvement. It was time to give him his bath. The vet suggested we use a product called Pyoderm by Virbac, saying that we should leave it in for 15 minutes so it could work effectively. In that 15 minutes, I slowly massaged it into the skin and peeled off any scabbing I could feel had detached from the surface of the skin, being careful not to force any off and not to hurt him. He walked out of that shower like a new pup with a new lease on life. His energy levels were on the rise and his appearance was getting better day by day.

We’ve been back for weekly check-ups ever since, and the ladies at the PDSA have been just as shocked as I have at how quickly he’s recovering. The fight in this little guy’s soul is absolutely inspiring, and I’m in awe of him each and every day. He truly is an amazing boy with an amazing story that will touch even the toughest of souls, and it’s been a beacon of hope to many.