Stray and abandoned dogs housed at the Tears animal shelter in Cape Town will have an unexpected break from their kennels as the charity launches its "Great Escape" campaign to temporarily re-home their charges ahead of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Within an hour of appealing for help after President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Monday night, more than 1 000 emails have poured in with offers of help as animal shelters get to grips with what the lockdown regulations mean for everybody, including animals.
There will be only specific circumstances to leave home, such as buying food, collecting a social grant or getting medical care.
The offers came in fast to temporarily foster the 110 dogs and puppies which will have no volunteers to look after them during the lockdown.
Like many other animal shelters, Tears is also expecting calls from people who will lose their jobs and will not be able to feed their animals, so they have appealed for donations too to help tide these pets over.
Some people are afraid that pets can pass on the zoonotic virus (which moves from an animal to a human) which is understood to have emanated from a wet market in China.
According to the World Health Organisation, there were extra guidelines for veterinarians, and people who work in animals markets, but: "Based on available information, it is not known whether Covid-19 has any impact on the health of animals and no particular event has been reported in any species."
Rising to the occasion
Capetonians rose to the occasion when Tears asked for help, and all its dogs have found temporary homes.
The cats are trickier, and are known to get stressed, so 130 will stay in the cattery with a volunteer looking after their food, water, and cat whims.
"We've had an incredible response from Capetonians," said Tears general manager Lauren Carlyle, in between managing the exodus and matching dogs and people.
The dogs' new people will get one week's supply of food, and will cover the rest out of their own pocket.
Placements are mostly with people who do not have pets or children, to make the transition easier.
The National Council for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), which is in the process of putting its emergency plans in place, also dispelled fears about contracting Covid-19 from pets, saying there was no evidence.
It discouraged any dumping of animals due to Covid-19.
"The NSPCA would also like to remind the public that if you cannot afford to take care of your pet, to rather surrender it to your local SPCA as opposed to abandoning, dumping, or discarding it," it stated.
"We also remind the public that while they are taking care of themselves, to remember their animals [domestic, farm, captive wild animals] at this time too, to ensure that there is adequate provision of the necessary resources for survival.
"We stand with South Africa through these uncertain and frightening times, let us all combat this virus together by following the advice and direction of the professionals, and our country's leadership."
However, the phones at SPCAs are ringing off the hook, with people asking for letters of permission to carry on feeding feral cats.
The SPCA said it had no authority to give permission, and advised people to go to the police to motivate their case to be put on the Joint Operations Committee's list of emergency responders and essential services.
Tin Can Town is well-known for its outreach to the pets of impoverished residents of Blikkiesdorp.
It will still respond to emergencies, but has switched to also collecting donations of sanitisers and other basic supplies for the people of the suburb with whom it has formed a strong bond with. It is also continuing their re-homing programmes.
"There is one toilet for every eight houses, one tap for every eight houses," said Tin Can Town's Rosie Kunneke who lives in Blikkiesdorp. "You don't have to think big. Every little bit helps," she added.
Tin Can Town's normal services include the free dipping of pets to prevent ticks, which ultimately prevents tick-bite fever in humans, and deworming, so there is usually a long queue of adults and children waiting for it to arrive.
The managing director of the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG) in Hout Bay, Faustina Gardner, said its volunteers had already implemented social distancing while working with the animals and during the lockdown only permanent staff would remain on the premises.
They will be supplied with food, and if they need to go to the shops, the DARG bakkie will take them in pairs for shopping.
The organisation is trying to re-home animals and get them fostered. It was also busy with home visits and screenings on Tuesday.
"We can't just neglect them, they are sentient beings," Gardner said of the animals.
The DARG usually sterilises between 20 and 30 dogs and cats per week in Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu.
The organisation has appealed for donations to cover expenses during the lockdown.
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