What to do when you find a stray

Thando, who was rescued from the streets of Delft, took three years of rehabilitation.
Thando, who was rescued from the streets of Delft, took three years of rehabilitation.

Animal welfare organisations have noted a potential spike in the number of stray animals roaming the streets.

These are influenced by overbreeding of intact homeless and feral cats and dogs, the dire financial climate as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the past festive season – which usually sees an increase in abandoned pets.

According to the Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha, many locals visit their families in other provinces, and not having a solution for the care of their pets has resulted in many pets being handed over to the organisation or abandoned.

The financial strain placed on families by the Covid-19 pandemic has also had a “significant knock-on effect” with families unable to care for their pets.

“We are grateful that people are coming to us instead of abandoning their animals. Many people are truly devastated to hand over their pets. Unfortunately, we have now reached capacity and need to start turning pet owners away or direct them to other welfare organisations,” says Marcelle du Plessis, fundraising and communications manager for the clinic.

In 2011, the City of Cape Town estimated that there were around 230 000 stray animals roaming the streets.

According to the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa (AWS) this number has exploded with overbreeding of stray animals since then. While there are stray animals found throughout the metro, an AWS spokesperson says there are higher numbers of strays in the Cape Flats.

Animal welfare organisations such as the AWS and Cape of Good Hope SPCA work tirelessly to assist and rescue stray animals.

Most of the rescued animals, regardless of species, are admitted to the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, which has entered into a multi-year partnership with the City to provide animal pound and related animal control services.

The AWS also rescues and rehabilitates animals at their premises in Philippi. “The animal is our number one priority and, depending on the circumstances, we will do all we can to ensure that it does not come to any harm,” says Alan Perrins, AWS spokesperson.

“We regularly trap, sterilise and release feral cats. We have access to larger passive traps and specialist animal handling equipment to assist with the humane catching of dogs and other large animals,” continues Perrins.

Pets are also rehabilitated as far as possible so that they can be rehomed.

“We have invested countless hours and a significant amount of money in the transformation of animals. Almost all have gone on to make a remarkable recovery and wonderful family pets,” says Perrins.

Other than dangers to your household pets and humans, stray animals also pose a threat to wildlife.

“Many stray animals are severely neglected and unhealthy and harbour contagious diseases including diseases that can be detrimental to people, like zoonosis,” Perrins says.

“Many stray animals become feral and form packs that present a potential danger to people and pets. The devastation that stray and feral cats and dogs wreak on wild animal populations – they kill thousands of birds, frogs, chameleons, etc, annually – causing some species to become extinct in certain areas. They have reportedly also become a nuisance on farms targeting small livestock that are no match for their instinctive predatory skills.”

Lost pets are often distressed and traumatised and involved in vehicle accidents, with intact animals breeding and multiplying adding to the problem.

Covid-19 saw an increase in AWS’s outreach, assisting families with pet food. However, the demand quickly grew beyond their means. This is indicative of the need.

“The negative impact of a protracted lockdown has hurt many households. We are battling the consequences of a year like no other and it is heart breaking. Pets are a definite casualty of Covid-19. The consequences are there for all to see and we foresee a lot more hardship before the light at the end of the tunnel shines again,” says Perrins.

Instead of resorting to abandoning pets, Perrins says the AWS has an open-door policy that is non-exclusive and non-judgemental. They will accept pets with no charge, however donations are welcome.

“We salute those pet owners who made the selfless sacrifice to surrender their pets when they realised that they could no longer afford them. They are part of the solution, not part of the problem,” says Perrins.

The same courtesy is extended to stray animals.

“We have a battery of scanners that are able to read all makes of microchips and we have the capacity to render emergency first aid or stabilisation treatment,” he says.

Stray animals are also covered by the Animals Protection Act and anyone causing them any harm will be contravening the act.

Perpetrators found guilty face the possibility of imprisonment and or a hefty fine.

“If the animal was microchipped the possibility of finding its owner is very good. If the animal is wearing a collar with a name tag the possibility is good. If the animal has no identity the chances are slim. Sadly most strays admitted into our care (about 90%) have no form of identification, making it very difficult for us to trace the owner who (in the case of missing dogs and cats) has 10 days from the date of admission to claim their lost pet,” he says.

But finders do not equal keepers, Perrins explains.

“If you safely catch the animal, you should take it to their nearest animal shelter, veterinarian or police station,” he says, especially if it is not a stray, but rather a lost pet.

“It would be unlawful and unethical to expect a distraught owner to pay a ‘ransom’ for information leading to the return of his lost pet,” he says.

Flyers of the found pet and where it was recovered from are useful, especially with the help of WhatsApp and other social media groups.

In the case of stray animals, residents are urged to try and confine the animal and call an organisation for help.

A photograph, a location where the animal was spotted and its condition can be shared with authorities.

If the animal is not sick or injured, law enforcement is mandated to collect healthy strays.

  • Call the AWS 24/7 on 021 692 2626 during office hours and 082 601 1761 after hours.

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