Roscan Dog Sanctum and the graceful act of caring

Roscan Dog Sanctum and the graceful act of caring

Just off the N1, on a farm outside a town called Touws River, an extraordinary couple has created a canine retirement home for the elderly, the sick and the desperate, aptly named Roscan Dog Sanctum.


There is a scene at the end of South African Nobel laureate JM Coetzee’s most well-known novel, Disgrace. The fallen hero, David Lurie, has turned his back to life in the city and spends his days helping out at a friend’s dog shelter in the Eastern Cape. However, the influx of sick and broken dogs is just too big, resulting in the inevitable outcome after a period of grace for each dog: euthanasia. David gets attached to one particular maimed dog, but as the novel ends, this dog’s time has also come:


He opens the care door. ‘Come,’ he says, bends, opens his arms. The dog wags its crippled rear, sniffs his face, licks his cheeks, his lips, his ears. He does nothing to stop it. ‘Come.’


It’s a heartbreaking scene and a reality that most of us don’t want to face. Yet this is exactly what Duncan and Rosemary Briggs do day after day. However, at Roscan Dog Sanctum, each dog is given a chance to live out its last years or months surrounded by love and other dogs on a tranquil farm outside Touws River in the Karoo.


For Rosemary and Duncan, the act of caring for the old and the sick came naturally. After adopting their first rescue, Roxy, in 2015, three others, Dude, Max and Jack, followed. However, after following several groups on Facebook, they soon realised how great the need was to care for homeless dogs. After accepting their first foster dog, who came with mange off the street, their home’s doors were opened, never to be closed again.


“I had never had a dog that wasn’t healthy,” says Rosemary.

“We just fell in love with nursing the weak and frightened. Soon the house in Parow became too small for all the dogs, and we moved to a small holding in Atlantis… That is where we truly started to make a difference. After only a year, we found the farm in Touwsriver, and we knew that this was going to be our life forever.”


Currently, Roscan (the couple’s ‘take on Brangelina’ — Rosemary + Duncan) houses 42 dogs, with two in the process of finding their forever homes elsewhere. One of the challenges of being further away from the big cities is that transport costs are a major problem. The vet is 60km away, while potential adopters also want to see the dogs first, so prefer to rather visit animal shelters in and around Cape Town. Yet Rosemary and Duncan are determined to keep providing the safe, peaceful shelter to the canine souls under their care. One such soul is Grace.


“Grace was brought into a spay-day in Valhalla Park. She was near death from starvation and was obviously a bait/fight dog. The vet on duty decided that euthanasia was the most humane thing to do. She got the pre-med for the final injection. One of the volunteers just couldn’t let go and they called me and said: “If you say you will try, we will bring this girl to you… if you say no, we will send her over the rainbow bridge.”  I said yes and Grace arrived, still drunk from the meds. She is now the most beautiful, serene soul we have here.”


It’s stories like these that keep the Roscan Dog Sanctum filled with joy and the courage to continue their sacred work.


To help Rosemary and Duncan to keep doing what they do by adopting, sponsoring or donating, contact or phone Duncan on 076 694 6223 or visit

Roscan Dog Sanctum and the graceful act of caring

Hero Dancers

Dog Legends: Dancers LOVE Dogs

Dancing for the love of dogs


7 years ago, while holding a malnourished puppy in her arms, dancer Brigitte Reeve Taylor, made a decision to alleviate the suffering of stray dogs. With more than 30 years of experience in the dancing and theatre world, the solution was obvious: use the gift of dancing to raise money for the sterilization of dogs in shelters. And so, the annual show Dancers LOVE Dogs was set in motion.


So far, R2.3 million has been raised, with almost 10 000 dogs being sterilized. And Brigitte is not planning on stopping anytime soon, with the date of the next instalment of the show at the Artscape Opera House waiting to be confirmed. The show itself takes the form of a gala evening, where the best dance companies and dancing academies are invited to showcase their talent in aid of Dancers LOVE Dogs’ cause. Apart from classical ballet, the show features several other genres, including Modern, Jazz, Hip Hop, Contemporary and Irish dancing.


And yes, in case you were wondering, dogs also feature in the show. The SA Guide Dogs Association and their beautiful dogs have opened the show a number of times, while Dancing with Dogs Cape Town, an organization who trains traumatized pets through therapy to dance to music as a form of healing, has also performed.


In terms of the beneficiaries of the show, Brigitte, the owner of two adopted dogs, is adamant that the project should help where it is desperately needed.

“I am trying to do “real” outreach, where there are no vets available for the animals. Dr Annelize Roos has been instrumental in helping with these projects. We try to assist any animal welfare organisations who are in need of sterilisations for township animals,” says Brigitte.

The response to the show from the public and the dancing community alike has been inspiring. The well-known poster photograph for the show even features the pointe shoe of famous American Prima Ballerina Absolut, Gelsey Kirkland. Brigitte herself is closely involved with every show with the help of Debbie Hadley and Robyn Dawson, whom she refers to as ‘the backbone of every show.’

What strikes one about Brigitte’s story is the realisation that one can use one’s own passions and skills to make a difference to suffering animals’ lives. For Brigitte, it’s dancing. For others, let’s wait and see…

For more information about Dancers LOVE Dogs, visit their website or contact Brigitte directly on 082 707 1110 or 021 671 2442.

Hero Dancers

Dancers love dogs

Hero Tears Puppy

Tears of sadness, TEARS of joy

After its humble beginnings in 1999 in the township of Masiphumelele in Cape Town, TEARS has grown to one of the most widely respected animal rescue organisations in the country. We had a chat with TEARS’ animal care manager Luke Kruyt about the challenges and triumphs of helping canine souls in need.


The name of the organization has a beautiful story behind it. It started in the late 1990s when three women, Emma Geary-Cooke, Joan Bown and Marilyn Hoole, saw the need to alleviate the suffering of dogs in Masiphumelele. After Emma’s passing in 1999, Joan and Marilyn decided to name the organisation in her memory: The Emma Animal Rescue Society, or TEARS. Since then, the organisation has grown in leaps and bounds. Today, it is situated in Lekkerwater Road in Sunnydale, with an animal clinic which offers free sterilisation, and a cattery situated on their secondary premises on Wenga Farm. At any given time, TEARS houses at least 100 dogs and just as many cats. The current figures are: 140 dogs & puppies, 170 cats & kittens and +/- 50 hospital patients.


TEARS has one rule: they never give up on an animal. The ultimate aim is to find a loving home for every single animal in their care. TEARS is also extensively involved in educating the communities in the False Bay area about taking proper care of domestic animals.


But what difference does helping animals in need make to the lives of volunteers?

For Luke, it’s more of a lifestyle than a job and has its fair share of heartbreak.

”People can learn so much from dogs:  how to live in the moment. Dogs are so forgiving and have such unconditional love,” says Luke.


Does Luke have a favourite success story?

“All dogs are worthy of love and devotion, but I’m pretty partial to elderly and special needs cases — the ones with behavioural problems or amputees who need a little more love, care and TLC,” says Luke. One such dog is Stoney, the first dog he was called out to rescue.

“Stoney was knocked over and dragged under the car and was in pretty bad shape. His tail and hind leg had to be amputated, and he had several surgeries to try and rectify his remaining hind leg. Yet he is such a joy and takes life in his stride — complete with a cool kid swagger!”


How can one get involved?

The easiest way to help is to donate towards TEARS’ cause. You can also volunteer to assist with events and fundraising, or take shelter dogs for a walk or help with admin.


And, of course, you can adopt one of the dogs. Says Luke:

“We are a pro-life shelter. The only way to make space for a new rescue is when one of our shelter pets get adopted. It’s literally a case of one out, one in. Our adoption counsellors can help you every step of the way to ensure that you adopt the best dog or cat for your lifestyle.”


Have a look at TEARS’ wonderful gallery of dogs which can be adopted today.


Ask The Expert - Don't buy a dog as a gift

The gift that keeps on breathing

It was Christmas eve and Mark was sitting comfortably on the couch, watching the extended family’s children unwrap their presents. His nephew opened his parcel — a big, red remote-controlled truck! Then his niece — a pair of Hatchimals, the newest craze! Even better! Mark sat back with a knowing grin on his face. His 4-year old son, Adam, was about to open his big box, the one with the little air vents and the bright blue ribbon around it. The family heard a soft, high-pitched bark and something that sounded like little paws scratching on carton… Adam’s little face lit up. Surely, it can’t be what he thinks it is… That will top all the other gifts. That will be like the best gift in the world… EVER!


For like 15 minutes. And then someone will have to clean up the cute mess it made on the Persian carpet. And look after it, once Adam has lost interest and preferred the big, red truck of his nephew after all. In fact, someone will have to look after it, feed it, potty-train it and exercise it not just for the rest of the festive season, but for the next 15 years or so.


The truth is that many people will receive the ultimate gift of a cute puppy this festive season, and while some might be expecting it and be 100% prepared for the responsibility, unfortunately there will be those who didn’t even ask or want a dog in the first place. The bottom line is this: if you are unsure about whether someone might want a dog, then DON’T GIVE THEM A DOG.


The decision to own a dog should be one person’s only and that’s the person who has to take care of the dog every day. Often people make the mistake of thinking that giving a dog to their parents or other older or lonely people will be a good idea. It might be, of course, but it all depends on the person receiving the dog and their circumstances. Firstly, you’ll want to make sure the person actually wants a dog. Secondly, you’ll want to let the person choose the dog him or herself. It’s not a refundable item they can return or exchange for a better size. Thirdly, even though a person might want a dog, they might not be financially able to properly care for the dog or their working or living circumstances might make it very difficult for them to properly take care for and enjoy their dog.


The other pitfall is buying a child a dog if he or she is not yet old or emotionally mature enough to come to terms with the responsibility. Of course, any under-aged child’s parent or parents will end up carrying the financial burden. But you don’t want the scenario where your child loses interest in the dog and you then have to begrudgingly become its ‘real’ owner out of necessity.


Worse even is if the puppy or adult dog has to be taken to the SPCA or shelter because no one wants to care for it anymore after the puppy cuteness has worn off. There are literally thousands and thousands of homeless dogs out there looking for homes already, so adding to this problem is not just cruel towards the dog, it’s plainly irresponsible. Also remember that the festive season might not be the best time to get a dog as you’ll probably want to spend more time socialising with loved ones and not be at home as often.


However, if you have done your research and are as sure as you can be that you’re ready to get a dog, don’t forget that you don’t have to buy a puppy from a breeder, but can easily adopt one of the wonderful puppies or adult dogs at the many dog adoption organizations around the country.


One of these is Oscars Arc, a non-profit organization in the Western Cape that takes healthy, happy and ‘homeable’ dogs from shelters and places them in the WOOF Project. This dynamic pop-op project travels across the Western Cape and provides a customer-friendly and efficient adoption experience and gives incredible exposure and PR to dogs that would have otherwise been sitting in an overcrowded kennel somewhere.


The fun, interactive metal container has become a bit of a landmark in and around Cape Town as volunteers give the dogs exposure to potential new owners in a friendly, public space with the eye on finding a safe, happy home for the lucky dogs. The WOOF Project will be located on the Sea Point Promenade for the whole of December, and will even have Santa deliver your new best buddy on Christmas day.

Watch a video on their Facebook page

For more information on the project, visit Oscars Arc’s website and check out the schedule of the traveling WOOF PROJECT.

Oscars Ark



Stoffel, the undercover canine cop

There’s this public perception about your average police dog. It’s the vicious German Shepherd, riding at the back of a police van, ready to pounce with speed and aggression the moment its let loose on the unlucky souls who stepped onto the wrong side of the law. Or the English Bloodhound, slobbering away as he pulls Sherlock Holmes along the scent of a conniving criminal.


Yet, there’s another side to the brave K9 cops of South Africa. Meet Stoffel, one of the specialist dogs at the SAPS K9 unit in Pretoria. Stoffel does not fit the stereotype of ‘police dog’. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking old Stoffel is just your normal playmate of a family’s children in the suburb.


But don’t be deceived. Behind the friendly, happy-go-lucky face is a detective brain that works overtime. Because Stoffel, the small 6-year old Jack Russell, is, in fact, a specialist biological detection dog who has been working alongside his handler, Warrant Officer Tommie van Staden, for more than 4 years. Stoffel can smell trouble a mile away, and is the unlikely hero they introduce when biological evidence is what they’re looking for at a crime scene. Stoffel’s thing is sniffing out blood and other bodily fluids. If a murderer or rapist left DNA evidence behind, you can bet your life on it that Stoffel will find it and wag his tail enthusiastically.


Yet not every dog is cut out for this kind of work. According to Warrant Office Theo Taljaard, the Training Manager at the Pretoria K9 Unit, dogs are carefully selected and accessed by an expert panel. Potential candidates then go through rigorous training at the Roodeplaat K9 Training Academy before earning their stripes as either patrol dogs or specialist (sniffer) dogs.


Police dogs perform a range of tasks. These include tracking and apprehending dangerous criminals, narcotic and explosive detection, fire detection, biological body fluid detection (like Stoffel), currency detection, carcass-and-hide and protected species detection as well as the gathering of sheep during theft investigations (hello Border Collies!).


Not all dogs have the right temperament or ability. Traditionally, certain breeds are preferred across the world for police work. Border Collies, German and Belgian Shepherds, Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels and Dobermans were the usual suspects. Yet, surprisingly for many, the majority of specialist dogs, or ‘sniffer’ dogs, today are Labradors or Golden Retrievers. Even Rottweilers work in the unit to sniff out explosives and drugs. And then, the enthusiastic Jack Russells like Stoffel.


“We look at a dog’s eagerness and abilities. If a dog is keen to play and retrieve a ball, it’s the first sign that it has the willingness and intelligence to be trained as a police dog.” Sadly, the numbers of trained police dogs nationwide have been dwindling. Buying purebreds dogs are expensive, so SAPS relies heavily on donations of young dogs from the public. Dogs between 9 months and 2 years are considered. If a slightly older dog shows exceptional potential, he might make the cut.


Naturally, there is a very close bond between the dogs and their human handlers. Every dog has one handler, and often the bond is a lifelong one. When a dog reaches its ‘retirement’ age, usually after 10 or more years, its handler gets the first option to buy the dog and let it live its retired life at home — a well-deserved rest after many years of loyal and unselfish work in the service of the general public.

Here’s a warm JOCK salute to Stoffel, and all the other unknown K9 cop heroes!

If you want to donate a young dog to the SAPS K9 Academy, contact the K9 Donation Office on 012 808 8787, Warrant Officer Taljaard on 082 778 9326 or email

‘I should be so lucky’: a canine hero called Kylie

In the heart of the north-east Free State, just outside the town of Frankfurt, lies the farm Palmietput. This part of the country is a landscape of sepia tones. A landscape made up of subtle, rolling hills and grassland painted with a subdued palette of rustic hues. For over twenty years, Elize Janse van Rensburg and her husband, Izak, have farmed on this picturesque piece of land, providing milk for a big supermarket group and the town’s retirement home.


But on 15 September all hell broke loose when a runaway fire erupted along the Heilbron road, racing along the dry grassland with thirsty red tongues, crossing the fence and tearing its way through the cattle’s wide open pastures.


For a couple like the Janse van Rensburgs, leaving their beloved farm behind to the mercy of the flames was not an option. Besides, the farm is the only home of not just them, but a family of their ‘children’. There are the chief mischief-makers, two pet weeper capuchin monkeys. Then there’s Kat, a stray cat rescued years ago, and then there’s a mixed breed rescue dog called Kenzie. Which brings us to the second dog in the family — Kylie.


Five years ago, Izak heard of the Australian Cattle Dog. This breed, stemming partly from the Australian dingo, is renowned for its intelligence in herding cattle and was, of course, the perfect farming partner for a dairy farm. As luck would have it, there was a local breeder in Frankfurt, and soon Kylie — yes, you guessed it: named after Australian pop star Kylie Minogue — made Palmietput her home. Elize says of the day Kylie chose them as parents:

“You know, my husband always says you don’t choose a dog, a dog chooses you. The day my husband went to view the dogs, he went on his knees and called the puppies. The only dog that came to him was Kylie, and so she picked my husband.”


Fast forward to 15 September 2017.

“My husband and my sister-in-law, Judy, were helping to fight the fire. Her friend, Belinda, and I took the motorcycle to get some of the cattle out of the fire’s path. Kylie always follows my husband on the motorcycle, but this day she followed us. I was concerned about her safety and chased her back to the house. She obeyed, which was very strange indeed as she normally doesn’t want to miss out on any action.


“We were herding the cattle about 2 kilometres from the house. There were still some calves at the house, so I instructed Belinda to go back while I continued herding the cattle on foot. But I underestimated the strength of the wind and the flames were approaching faster than I thought possible. When the flames hit the poplar wood close to the house, it looked as if someone threw petrol on it. I started praying out loud. My monkey-children were still at home and I was fearing for their lives as well.”


At this point, Elize was starting to struggle.

“The smoke had become so thick that I lost any sense of direction, and I started coughing badly. I kept running but the wind kept changing direction and caused the fire to start spreading from all sides. I asked the Lord to help me, because I simply did not know which way to go, and I actually started making peace with the fact that I could burn to death that day.


“Then, as I looked up, I saw Kylie standing in front of me. At this point, I was actually close to the road but I would never have found it if it wasn’t for her. She was obviously exhausted but guided me to the road, staying by my side all the way to the farm gate —  and safety.”


Elize insists that a divine hand was involved in guiding Kylie to find her that day.

“I believe it was a miracle and that Kylie was sent that day to come and find me.”

Of course, it’s been proven that dogs have an incredible sense of directional knowledge. On top of their exceptional sense of smell and hearing, research also points to dogs’ ability to detect the earth’s electromagnetic waves — aiding them further to find their way home.


Whichever way you choose to explain it, that day Kylie found more than just the road home. She also found new respect as the undisputed star of the Janse van Rensburg’s loving household.

Celebrating the gift of giving this Mandela Day

If it’s true that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated, as Mahatma Gandhi once put it, the pupils of Edenglen Primary on Johannesburg’s East Rand represent a tiny universe of animal heroes.

Launched on July 18 in 2009, the annual Mandela Day — or “Nelson Mandela International Day” as it’s formally known — marks the famous South African leader’s birthday and extraordinary lifetime of sacrifice.

To observe his legacy as part of this year’s event, the school’s 1 250 pupils collected donations for organisations across the city. But with so much hardship everywhere in the city, how did they decide which organisations most needed their help?

“We gave the kids a selection list: from organisations dealing with animals to babies, to general social welfare,” says principal Heather Broodryk. “They then had to create a presentation with a speech and poster, advertising why their charity should be chosen.”

“Animals appealed to the little ones,” says Heather. “So we decided that our pre-primary school, as well as grades one and seven, would collect donations for the nearby Edenvale SPCA and other animal shelters.”

Once the parents were notified, it was “full-steam ahead”. But with 500 pupils assigned to the operation, it was no modest undertaking.

“We placed huge boxes in the classrooms, which the kids filled with supplies like biscuits, wet food and blankets,” she said.

It wasn’t long before the class containers started overflowing with dog goodies, and the school’s staff had to heap it all at a collection point in the hall.

“One or two parents even got their companies to sign up,” says Heather — but adds that this “giant effort was all based on the kids’ initiative”.

It was so ambitious, the final offering pile weighed close to 500kg, or several bakkie loads — not only for the local SPCA, but the South African Guide Dogs Association and Paws R Us, an animal-rescue and rehoming group.

“It’s been phenomenal. Our staff actually had to make some of the deliveries before Mandela Day because we couldn’t keep it all on the premises. It was just getting too big,” she smiles.

One delivery was made at the end of June, and the others will be made after the school holidays towards the end of July.

Maureen Robinson of the Edenvale SPCA adds: “The dog food has ensured that each animal got a delicious bowl of food daily during the harsh winter months. Donated blankets have provided cozy spots, helping to give warmth during these cold days and nights.”

One lucky dog who benefited from Edenglen’s entrepreneurial spirit was a “beautiful girl called Dusty”.

“She and her pups had been dropped off in front of the SPCA. They were all very thin, especially Dusty. The donations helped us build her up. Her pups have all found a wonderful home. Dusty is still with us but we feel positive she’ll soon have a home of her own,” says Maureen. “Without public donations, we would be unable to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

The 500 participating pupils took to the project “with such heart” that one or two even adopted their own shelter pets.

The SPCA’s motto is ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ was taken to heart by Connor in Grade One who adopted two little dogs, including a Jack Russell-type terrier, with his mom’s help. “He was so excited,” says Heather,  “when his class had to do a project on their favourite thing, he chose his new dogs.”

Heather suspects there’ll be more adoptions. “We took a few children for adoption visits, so I’m sure more will be forthcoming once everyone returns to school.”

It’s inspiring to consider the difference a single school can make to the wider community. Edenglen’s Mandela Day drive also collected toys, clothes, toiletries and baby food —“whatever was on that organisation’s priority list” — to social causes at the Johannesburg General Hospital, as well as the Forest Town School Foundation for children with special needs, among others.

Reflecting on how the experience shaped the children’s worldview, Heather echoed an observation by the French poet and novelist Anatole France — that the “soul remains unawakened… until one has loved an animal”.

“The big thing is they weren’t aware of people or animals in need beyond their household. This has created a broader social consciousness. Now they’re volunteering services like, ‘Can we walk the dogs, can we go and pet the dogs, can we clean the cages?’” she comments. “When children immerse themselves in the well-being of animals, it deepens their humanity.

“I’m hoping it won’t stop here. That the experience has inspired them. That the children will continue to give of their time, effort and resources.”

Visit; as well as ‘Paws R Us: SA’ and the Edenvale SPCA’s Facebook pages to support their work.


Celebrating the gift of giving this Mandela Day - JOCK Dog Food

Celebrating the gift of giving this Mandela Day

If it’s true that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated, as Mahatma Gandhi once put it, the pupils of Edenglen Primary on Johannesburg’s East Rand represent a tiny universe of animal heroes.

Animal Heroes: The Cape of Storms and Flames

“Has anyone brought in my dachsies?” a distraught — but still hopeful — Knysna resident queries as he rushes into the town’s animal-rescue shelter. He has just lost everything in the hellish, early-June fires ripping through the historical Western Cape town. But his home and possessions are insignificant compared with his irreplaceable dachshund companions.

Elsewhere, the man’s girlfriend is stumbling through the smoked-up streets, repeatedly calling after the dogs. They’ll magically emerge from this dystopian dust — they must, they must — she keeps reassuring herself.

If anyone has turned them in, he knows they must be here, at the shelter.

“I’m sorry, I … no,” is all manager Annelien Kitley can offer, amid hosing down the building to brace it against the approaching flames, and taking in emergency cases by the minute. Trapped as they are at the edge of town, will she and the tens of dogs, cats and other animals in her care live to see sunrise? She has sent home most of the workers, except skeleton staff. Still, she has the presence of mind to ask for his contact details. They’ll call him.

“I … I don’t know … my phone was burnt,” the man splutters. There’s nothing for it: he’ll have to come back another time … maybe tomorrow? Kitley looks on helplessly as he melts into the carroty dusk outside.

Ten, perhaps 20, minutes later, the South African Police enter reception carrying two wary dachsies —  Kitley wastes no time trying to soothe them with her obligatory dose of Rescue Remedy.

The dachsies’ arrival would have been scripted to Disney perfection — if only they had turned up a moment or two before. Now the owner might be gone for good.

But a hunch  — or perhaps it is sheer hope — sends Kitley’s office manager racing into the parking area, only to find the devastated man has not left: strapped up for a drive to nowhere in a burning town, broken down over his tightly gripped steering wheel in racking sobs.

“We got the dogs,” comes the whisper through the window.

Kitley’s voice breaks when she recalls what happened next: “He ran out of his car, and fell down, flat on the ground, in front of his animals… let me tell you… that guy simply lost it. And his two dachsies were kissing and jumping all over him — they were practically climbing down his throat.”


Inferno erupting all around the shelter


And the sun had not even set yet on the nightmarish night to follow, punctuated by the horrific soundtrack of “things exploding in town”.

“It was rough,” is all Kitley can offer. Or, put it this way: imagine being at home as your neighbourhood turns to charcoal during an uncontrollable fire — fanned by some of the greatest winds in generations. For the sake of your family — your life — you know you should leave, and yet destitute community members keep turning up with their pets, begging you to take them in: you’re their only hope. What would you do?

For Kitley, abandoning the 50-odd, and growing,  number of animals at the shelter to save her own life was not an option, even as the trees on the property started caving in.

While attending to the distressed pensioner, Kitley heard a sickening sound outside: a resounding, drawn-out crack, followed by a thud. It was coming from near the animal clinic.


When community means everything

“I was like, ‘What on earth is happening?’” she shudders. “It was a massive tree. It had snapped, missing the clinic’s roof by centimetres. I was overcome by relief.  That clinic was keeping us alive.”

Both sides of town had been closed off by the seemingly boundless, fateful fire that mysteriously erupted on June 7 — and would ultimately incinerate 100-odd kilometres of world-famous Afromontane woodland, strand thousands of people, claim several human lives, and kill many domestic and wild animals.

By midnight Kitley had not had a moment’s rest. The phone lines were “down” and they had lost cellphone reception. She and her brave smattering of staff heroes were on their own. It seemed there was not a cat’s chance any of the sister shelters in neighbouring towns would reach them that night to evacuate the animals pouring in through the door.

“We had no space left, but I just thought, ‘We’ll make a plan. We’ll make a plan.’ And I kept telling everyone who came in, ‘Don’t worry, just get out of here. We’ll keep your animals safe. It’ll be okay. I’ll do what I can. I promise.’”

The smoke was “so bad” Kitley, her staff and the animals breathed with “great difficulty”.

At thirty past midnight: a miracle. When the SPCA group in neighbouring George could not reach Kitley by phone, they gathered a small army of vehicles in the small hours, and drove 60 kilometres east towards Knysna, where they waited at the infernal barricades before emergency services would let them through.

“I had no idea they were coming — there was no way of knowing. ‘You’re angels,’ I cried. They loaded up every one of my animals — old and new — and drove them back to George.”


Help from animals lovers across the world

The fire never did make it to the premises, allowing Kitley to take in more destitute animals: “I met so many heroes during this time. One man was barricaded from entering his farm. The police said, ‘You can’t go in. It’s burning.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care. I’m going in there, and I’m going to get my mom, and my cat.’ We are now treating the cat: her paws were burnt, but the medicine is working. Gemma’s such a trooper.”

During the next few weeks, as the fires died, flared up and subsided again, help came from all over South Africa, as well as pharmaceutical companies and animal lovers in the United Kingdom and US, in the form of financial donations, burn-wound medication, antibiotics, painkillers, dog food, blankets, bowls and leads.

“I have no words. The way this community of heroes has banded together, taking in strangers and their animals… People drove from Johannesburg to help. I had so much surplus I could share supplies with the town vets.”

Still a long way from ‘normal’

Kitley, her staff and local veterinarians have treated and safely homed so many animals that she has lost count of the patient list. The motley mix has included a pony, some 30 geese and 50 chickens.

“I’m only getting back to some kind of routine now. We’ve been working nonstop. We even had a pig sleeping in the dog kennel… we are still looking for his owner,” says Kitley.

Many animals must still be reunited with their owners: “I would never say no to anything that comes in. I will organise safe-keeping. Whatever it takes.”

Reflecting on the transformative experience of the past weeks, she says: “My staff are awesome. No one moans to work extra hours — they just keep going, transporting bakkie-loads of food all over town. Their bodies are sore and yet we’re all still out there in the veld, looking for animals.

“Yesterday I sat here and I said, ‘I am tired. Me. My body. Mentally. Physically. Tired.’ Then I got a good night’s sleep and today I’m ready to go again.”


With a little help from my furriends — here’s how to help: 

Get in touch with any of the animal shelters affected by the 2017 Cape disasters.




Finding Emma: The remarkable tale of a canine escape artist and her homecoming

Our story begins on a hot summer’s day in Cape Town. Batty, an eight-year-old pavement special, is sniffing around Alan and Marianne McLean’s home. His partner-in-crime, Emma, a beautiful German Shepherd is nowhere to be found. His puzzlement has a simple cause: Emma has been taken to the local vet to be spayed. She will be back later that day. Well, that was what the script said…


The great escape

Later that same morning, the family receives a call. In an odds-defying act of bewilderment, Emma has not only escaped the vet’s rooms, but also managed to scale the wall and jump over a live electric fence, shocking herself and falling three and a half metres on the other side before making a beeline past astonished peak-hour traffic motorists and disappearing towards the suburb of Observatory. And that’s the last anyone sees of Emma for a couple of days.

How does a dog simply disappear in the middle of a big city, one might be forgiven for asking. Surely, it will simply come to its owners if you just know where to look and call her name? Not so simple, in this case. Firstly, the live electric wire traumatised Emma to such a degree that she fled as far away from any perceived danger as possible. Secondly, Emma is a loving, but shy and skittish dog to begin with. Thirdly, along the suburb of Observatory runs the Liesbeek River with its surrounding marsh and grasslands — the perfect hiding place for a dog that feels the need to go undercover.


The search is on

After initial efforts to find Emma proves unsuccessful, posters are also put up at the Cape of Good Hope SPCA in Grassy Park and a Facebook group, ‘Finding Emma’, is set up. This has the desired effect, with several people coming forward with sightings of the shy German Shepherd in the area. After a couple of false alarms, Alan McLean is called at work on the 23rd of February— Emma has been spotted by workers cleaning the river. He races to the river and, along with the workers, manages to locate Emma in a bed of reeds. Unfortunately, Emma wants nothing to do with being found. She’s clearly still traumatised and goes on the run again. This game of hide and seek continues for several days.

At this point, Emma’s owners realise that a different tactic is needed. Emma clearly needs a little help to come to her senses. They hire a porcupine trap from the SPCA and start leaving chunks of KFC inside — to no avail. However, as days turn into weeks, the official search party grows. Marianne and Alan’s daughter, Helen, a veterinarian living in Robertson offers invaluable encouragement and advice on a daily basis. Her brother, Eddie, who lives near the river, joins the search, and family friend, Jason Mears, takes careful note of Emma’s tracks along the riverbed — recognisable by her lead dragging behind her. They also notice that the food being left out for her is disappearing — a good sign.


A snapshot of a porcupine and a clever cat

The McLeans decide to set up a night camera to try and figure out who is eating the food and to see if they can catch Emma on camera. It pays off. The first night’s footage shows images of a porcupine, but also of Emma, eating food from her bowl. After much research, a decision is made that a leopard trap is the way to go. On 21 March (now more than a month after Emma’s great escape), the camera is set up again. What it reveals, is that a big black homeless cat has been taking full advantage of the food left out for Emma every night — having a feast early evening before Emma’s appearance around midnight. After a reshuffling of the feeding routine, the time finally arrives for the leopard trap, donated by the Graham Beck Wildlife, to be set up.



Finally, on 27 March, everything is in place for the last final gambit. At 22h30 the leopard trap is set up. At 01h30 the family return to the trap and, lo and behold, there’s Emma in the cage, calm as a millpond — like she’s actually waiting for her owners to come get her! So, after a month and 7 days, Emma is finally reunited with her family! Apart from severe weight loss, Emma shows no signs of injury and seems to slide back into daily life with the McLeans, and her best friend, Batty, as if nothing happened. When the McLeans’ eighteen-month-old grandson, Michael John, comes to visit, she even recognizes him and spends the day getting grubby with him.


All in all, a truly remarkable story of one family’s determination to defy all odds and bring their beloved K9 back to the warmth of a loving, caring family. The kind of feel good story that we, at Jock, love to hear.



By Eckhard Cloete