A barking good idea

2009-08-27 00:00

HOW do you tell a dog to “sit”, “stay”, “come” or “lie down” in Zulu*? If you want to find out and happen to be near Mooi River on a Saturday morning, take a short drive into Bruntville, the township hunkered down on the hillside opposite the town.

On the open space near the entrance to the township, among the cow pats, you will witness a remarkable sight. It was certainly worth giving up my Saturday morning to watch it. You will find as many as 40 township youngsters doing obedience training with their dogs.

The logo printed on the instructors’ red T-shirts gives a clue to the project’s purpose: “Say no 2 crime, train a dog”. The project was the idea of Phumlani Majola, a qualified K9 (canine) trainer with TGI Security in Rosetta. “I live in Bruntville and was worried about the children and young people who had nothing to do. Then there was trouble when some of them started to throw stones at cars on the N3. Many people have dogs but their knowledge of how to train and care for them is often limited. I decided that I could do something to help the children of Bruntville — and the dogs — by offering to share my skills with them.”

What started out as a holiday project in the 2008 July holidays has developed into a popular Saturday morning event. Majola was joined by Moira Low, owner of TGI Security and the two have now trained several young people to help train the children.

The lessons are free and each participant receives a donated collar and lead for his or her dog. Local businesses and professionals have gradually stepped in to donate dog food, tick and flea prevention and deworming medication, vaccine, and prizes for competitions held in the holidays. The children get a healthy snack on Saturdays and weekly food parcels to supplement their dogs’ diet. The SPCA visits regularly to encourage the training and a local vet has donated her time to deworm and vaccinate the dogs.

“When we started many of the dogs were wild and could hardly bear to be touched. We first taught the children how to handle and care for their dogs, and then we moved on to obedience training. They enjoyed it so much that they asked us to come regularly,” said Low.

“There was a soccer team training here one Saturday and they were intrigued. They said they thought only German Shepherds could be trained, but any dog can. Many of the children have developed a real interest in the subject, so I want to develop a resource library for them of books and DVDs about dogs and dog training.

“Hill’s Pet Nutrition and TGI Security donated T-shirts, caps and jeans, and we have taken groups to do fund-raising obedience demonstrations in Ladysmith, Roset­ta and Mpophomeni for the SPCA and Animal Anti-Cruelty League. The children have loved it and people have respon­ded very warmly to them. I would like to thank everyone who has encouraged and supported us in this programme, especially my husband and partner, Don,” she said.

Majola and Low beam as they describe the effect that the obedience classes have had. “We have seen a great change in the children. Firstly, there is no more stone-throwing and they have more confidence and belief in themselves. Parents and grandparents tell me that they are more disciplined and responsible. They are doing better in school and get on with their chores at home without complaining,” said Majola.

“Our dream is that this project will spread into townships all across the country. It has started in Mpophomeni (see box) and there has been interest from Wembezi too,” Low concluded.

* The children training dogs give them commands in Zulu, English or a mix of both.

For more information or to help, phone Moira Low at 082 853 1318 tgi@futurenet.co.za

What do the Bruntville children say?

Ndomiso Mbhele (12) with puppy Chippy: “I have been coming with my puppy for about four months. I come every Saturday and now my dog is learning to sit. The training is not hard and I enjoy it very much. Before I got my puppy, I borrowed a dog from TGI Security to practise training.”

Khayelihle Pungula (Grade 9) with two-year-old Bathine: “We have learnt how to look after our dogs. My dog no longer fights with other dogs and doesn’t bite people.”

Siyabonga Dhlamini (Grade 9) with one-year-old Final: “I have been coming since the classes started. It is good for my dog to meet other dogs and he is much better behaved now. I have been to demonstrations in Rosetta and Ladysmith that I enjoyed very much.”

Mpophomeni dog training group

A similar project to teach children in Mpophomeni to train their dogs was started some six weeks ago by well-known dog trainer Adrienne Olivier and the uMngeni SPCA. The project saw the grounds of Zamuthule Higher Primary School turned into what Olivier called “organised chaos” on a recent Friday afternoon. Approximately 50 children with about 45 dogs, including many puppies, flocked to the school to receive a donated collar and lead, and have their dogs vaccinated and dewormed by uMngeni SPCA workers with donated medications. They were then divided into groups for obedience training classes. Olivier­ said she and several volunteers have seen “wonderful transformation in many of the dogs that have come since we started. They are much more relaxed now that the children know how to treat them. Many of the children have shown lots of promise, so it’s my hope that some of them will consider animal-related careers as dog handlers, for example. My only disappointment is that it’s mostly boys who attend­, very few girls.”

For more information or to help, phone Adrienne Olivier at 083 636 0891 or e-mail adrienneo@mweb.co.za

How can you help?

Both dog training projects welcome donations of dog food, collars and leads (pre-used welcome), vaccine, medicines and other dog care products.

The Bruntville project would also welcome healthy snacks for the children and used books or DVDs about dogs.

Leave donations for the Bruntville project at The Village Vet in Nottingham Road and for the Mpophomeni group at the uMngeni SPCA kennels or their charity shops in Howick, Hilton and Merrivale, Dargledale Kennel or Howick Small Animal Clinic.

Contact Moira Low at 082 853 1318 or tgi@futurenet.co.za or Adrienne Olivier at 083 636 0891 or adrienneo@mweb.co.za

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