SA.MAST is making a difference

Over 5,000 cats and dogs are euthanized each month in the Western Province, mostly because the supply exceeds the demand. Fortunately for those of the four-legged furry brigade, a saviour is on hand in the form of Tamsin Nel, founder of SA.MAST.

“Each and every sentient being deserves love and protection, and it is this love that led me to establish SA.MAST, where our core function is to prevent unnecessary abuse, neglect and death through our mass animal sterilisation and primary treatment programme,” she says.

Where it all began

Almost four years ago SA.MAST worked with established animal welfare organisations, but this became complicated and Tamsin said it often compromised the objective - which is the transformation of areas in crisis, through to a maintenance, management and education programme.

Click here for a gallery showing how SA.MAST makes a difference

 “Essentially, our mass animal sterilisation programme is an integral part of urban renewal and empowerment of disadvantaged communities.  So, to fulfil our mandate we established a completely independent facility in G Section of Khayelitsha which receives patients from all four corners of this massive community.”

The road has not been easy, but despite many challenges, SA.MAST has to date successfully sterilised - for free – 3,372 ‘patients’.

Every one of those ‘patients’, as Tamsin calls them, plus thousands of other pets in Khayelitsha, have also received free primary treatment as well.

Sterilisation, treatments all free

Given that the community of Khayelitsha is so poor, this project would never have worked if people were being charged for the sterilisation of their animals. This is why it is all done for free.

 “We strongly believe that in a country which has such a brutal history that we owe it to both our animals and people to encourage even the smallest act of compassion  - which is why we operate from a compassionate and animal rights stand point. This means that the patient’s or pet’s rights come first.

"Obviously it does cost money to look after a pet, but it must be borne in mind that it will still take decades before most people in this area will live above the breadline – and that includes having transport to transport their pets to and from a clinic where they can access sterilisation services and it would simply be counter-productive to insist on first world norms in a third world environment,” she says.

 Aim: 500 cats and dogs sterilised a month

 Since this is such a big project, that is clearly ongoing and always has a sense of urgency about it, at the moment it is confined to only Khayelitsha, although Tamsin hopes to expand their reach in coming years.

“We average between 80 to 120 sterilisation patients per month, but this urgently needs to be radically increased and obviously we hope to have many more facilities where they are most needed in the years to come,” she says.

Why mass sterilisation is necessary

It takes a special kind of person to do what Tamsin and her colleagues at SA.MAST do on a daily basis, and while no-one refutes the significance of their work, Tamsin says it’s stories such as this which prove how necessary this programme is:

“A few weeks ago we received an alert that three bitches and 26 puppies needed to be rescued and apparently the appeal for help came from the pet’s guardian. Obviously SA.MAST had to do something and within 12 hours we arrived on site.

When we got there the situation was worse than originally reported, there were only nine puppies left, some had died and according to locals had been thrown into the river, one or two had been scooped up by passers-by and a mysterious report was also received that two men in a white unmarked bakkie had arrived out of the blue and randomly taken two of the older puppies.

One can only hope that their fate was not going to be horrific... one of the puppies was also found tied up in a tiny, tiny enclosure with no water and only dried porridge on the sand.

We located the guardian of all the dogs and saw that he was very unwell - I would go so far as to say that this young man looked like he was dying.

He told us that he no longer wanted the dogs and that we could take them all. We asked him how it had come about that he had so many dogs in the first and this is what he told us: the eldest bitch, was the mother of the six four-day-old puppies we had found – but she was also the mother of the two younger bitches who were, according to him, already on their third litter.

 Fortunately, barely an hour before we had arrived on site, we had received confirmation that all these animals had somewhere to go without there being any fear of them being put to sleep.  

 My biggest regret? That ‘granny’ had not been sterilised in the first place.”

How SA.MAST does it for free

As admirable as their work is, ultimately animal sterilisation still costs money. Which means that this organisation can only exist and continue to prevent horror stories such as the one above if they receive enough funding to continue.

According to Tamsin, each ‘patient’ costs approximately R375, including their operation, vaccinations, inoculations, de-worming and tick and flea treatment.

It also includes the cost of collecting them and returning them to their homes, kennelling and food – which Tamsin says is a vital part of the programme as most Khayelitsha residents don’t have transport.

“The bonus though is that every household we visit to collect and return patients is an opportunity we use to engage in humane education and impart general knowledge and know-how on caring for their pets, and of course if we come across neglect or abuse we are able to do something about it.

“The impact our work has on the human health of the population is also a very important factor. Our programme means there are fewer sick, diseased, or ‘feral’ animals mixing with the human population and therefore a positive influence on the human health status is achieved as well.”

But the point is that the money has to come from somewhere, and SA.MAST is completely reliant on donors to continue.

“We have to do it for free because there really is other way - this is an extremely poor community who are unable to access sterilisation services or are unaware that there was something that could be done to stop their pets from breeding. Without this programme the result would be a pet overpopulation epidemic.”

 Donors desperately needed

One of the major reasons donors support SA.MAST, according to Tamsin, is because they give ‘bang for your buck’.  

“Donors always know exactly where their funds are going and every patient we sterilise equals the prevention of 473 more births over a 25 month period.

“Our conservative calculation is that it costs R523 to rescue, kennel for ten days, euthanize and dispose of a medium size dog and up to half of this amount is, unwittingly, paid out by the tax payer,” she explains.

It would, therefore, make more economical sense to conduct consistent mass animal sterilisation programmes and gain control of the problem, rather than for the tax payer to unknowingly keep on paying for mass euthanasia’s.

How to make a donation

As they are a registered non-profit Public Benefit organisation (PBO no. 930028769) they can issue tax donation certificates. Here is how to go about donating to them: 

  • E-mail them and request your debit order form so that you donate an amount of your own choosing once a month.
  • Go to  to make a secure credit card donation. 
  • Or make a direct deposit into the bank account: SA.MAST, Nedbank, Acc 167 603 1707, Bcc: 167 609, Swift code: nedszajj

 How to get involved

If you would like to get involved but cannot contribute financially, Tamsin has a few ideas: 

  • Organise an office collection for pet food, leads etc.
  • Once a month sell outrageously expensive muffins to your co-workers and tell them they have to buy them so that our four legged friends can be sterilised – alternatively organise a raffle.
  • Get everybody you know to get their free MyPlanet card. This card only records how much a person has spent at Woolworths and some other participating businesses and then a percentage of the expenditure is donated to SA.MAST.
  • Tell your boss that you’re quitting if the company doesn’t decide to fund at least one sterilisation per month.
  • Email your local councillor and tell him/her that you won’t be voting for them again unless they lobby the powers that be to make animal sterilisation, no matter which area, mandatory.
  • Contact us and offer to volunteer your time to man our MyPlanet exhibition stalls where we try to get as many shoppers as possible to fill out their form and get their MyPlanet card.
  • Send out a message to all your friends and family and ask them to donate to SA.MAST instead of buying you Christmas or birthday presents.

Click here to see a gallery of images showing how SA.MAST works and why their work is so important in Khayelitsha. 

Details: Phone SA.MAST at O 21-712-2170 or O84-778-1215.                     

(Amy Froneman, Health24, November 2010)

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