PICS: Healing the pets of Blikkiesdorp

2018-01-02 10:16
(Tin Can Town via Facebook)

(Tin Can Town via Facebook)

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Cape Town - The lines snake through the dusty heart of one of Cape Town’s most infamous informal settlements as residents line up for service.

They are among the city’s poorest, but have not assembled for food or handouts – they’re here to ensure their pets get the best treatment possible.

Tin Can Town, a pro-life organisation providing medical care, rescue, and rehabilitation for neglected, abandoned and abused domestic animals in Blikkiesdorp, has been offering free services to pet owners since 2012.

People walk for kilometres, ferrying their pets in makeshift prams and even carrying them in backpacks, to help their furry friends get the help they need.

How it all started

One of the organisations’s founding members, Rosie Kunneke – a veterinary practice manager in a more affluent part of the city – remembers walking between the corrugated steel structures on a rainy Sunday with three animal-loving friends in 2012, armed only with 14kg of dog food and seven tick and flea treatment packages.

Within 10 minutes, they had run out of supplies.

"Literally all the dogs we saw had mange. Many also needed urgent medical attention. We walked the streets and saw these pets were in really bad condition," she recalled.

They appealed to their friends and family to donate towards the necessary treatments, returning regularly with supplies to treat the animals of Blikkiesdorp.

Some were in such a bad condition that euthanasia was the only option. Up to 10 animals were at times put to sleep in a week.

They collected animals in need of veterinary services, taking them to animal organisations who "fixed them up" before returning them to their grateful owners.

                                                       (Tin Can Town via Facebook)

The team eventually decided to host an outreach day every second Sunday in an open section in the centre of the camp. 

Pets were treated for ticks, fleas and mange, the animals were dewormed and vaccinations were provided. 

Once treated, its owner is handed a small bag of dog food.

Most of Tin Can Town’s funding comes from its members’ friends, families, animal activist networks and overseas donations.

All services are free, but appreciative locals often push crumpled R10 or R20 notes into the volunteers' hands out of gratitude for the work they do.

Most residents don’t have cars to transport their injured pets for the care they require, and taxis refuse to let animals into their vehicles.

                                                    (Tin Can Town via Facebook)

Kunneke's colleague, vet Dr Rozanne Visser, decided to step in, treating the injured four-legged patients in the organisation’s "ambulance station".

Kunneke says there is a common misconception that poor people don’t care for their animals.

"Cruelty and neglect are not linked to a specific class of person. You get really bad cases in upper class neighbourhoods as well," she insists.

As it is a rescue organisation and not a shelter, Tin Can Town relies on foster parents when an animal is removed from an abusive home. It then deals with adoption through its Facebook page.

Caring pet owners

While their clientele is poor, 99% of them really care for their animals, Kunneke says.

"They try their best. They give their pets something to eat even when they themselves don’t have food. They do what they can.

"We are often hammered on Facebook about why we give the animals back when they return from the vet. Yes, the animal is skinnier than they think it should be, it may suffer from ticks, fleas and mange, but that that doesn’t mean its owner doesn’t love him. That’s where we step in. We help them."

One particularly heartbreaking call Kunneke received was from a woman who asked her to collect her beloved dog and give him a better home.

                                                         (Tin Can Town via Facebook)

"She said she loved him dearly but all she and her children had eaten for the day was a piece of bread with sugar on it. She didn’t have money to feed her dog."

Before Tin Can Town started their work in Blikkiesdorp, locals waited for their sick animals to die because they couldn’t afford to pay for a private vet or travel to seek assistance, resident Farida Ismail recalls.

"But now we have people who come here to help. I can’t explain how much we appreciate them," she says.

An avid animal lover, Ismail takes in stray animals and has over the years collected six dogs and 11 cats.

She recently started volunteering with the organisation, acting as their local liaison when an animal needs attention.

Offering help

She examines the pet and determines whether a call-out is necessary or whether she can dispense treatment from the kit she has at home.

"Most people take really good care of their animals, and we are grateful to Rosie and the team for coming here to try and give them better lives. We love our pets, but we wouldn’t be able to do as much for them on our own as we can with their help." 

The volunteers spend most of their free time in Blikkiesdorp, focusing much of their efforts on educating people on how to best care for their pets.

They address misconceptions, such as the myth that mange can be treated with car oil. 

Sterilisation is a major necessity in the settlement as the area is severely overpopulated. To encourage people to bring their dogs, Tin Can Town rewards pet owners with a kennel once a dog is sterilised.

In partnership with the Animal Rescue Organisation, between 1 and 15 animals are sterilised per week at a reduced rate.

A team of five volunteers can easily see up to 350 animals on a Sunday, with one outreach day carrying a cost of about R10 000.

                                                     (Tin Can Town via Facebook)

A business woman who on numerous occasion accompanied the team to Blikkiesdorp was so impressed by their work that she on more than one occasion joined them at outreaches, makes regular donations and sponsored them with an "ambulance" – a bakkie with a high canopy to allow kennels to fit in.

The vehicle is used when an emergency is reported to the team, who will then go out to see to the animal.

Kunneke and her friends were under no illusion that the environment they are working in is safe – gang violence and violent crime is common in the temporary relocation area established by the City of Cape Town for evicted residents a decade ago.

A safety net

"Many people asked us how we could work in such a dangerous area. But we safeguarded ourselves by forming relationships within the community."

Recently a new volunteer was robbed of her cellphone and camera, but this was returned within an hour after a resident retrieved it, promising the incident "would never happen again".

Many animal lovers have despite their fears ventured into Blikkiesdorp to help the team and their impact has grown since they ventured among the tinny structures all those years ago.

But Kunneke says she will always remember that rainy day she and her friends walked the streets with only two bags of pet food and a mere seven packages of tick and flea treatment and started a movement.

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Read more on:    cape town  |  good news  |  animals

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