Khayelitsha veterinary clinic brings hope and happiness to community

What started as a community member with a big heart wanting to help out with his neighbours’ pets, turned into the success that is the Mdzananda Animal Clinic, based in Khayelitsha, just outside Cape Town. Serving up to 1000 pets every month, the clinic started with only a handful of volunteers and became an animal haven over a period of 21 years.

Mdzananda Animal Clinic’s story started in 1996, with a community hero who wanted to help animals in his neighbourhood. Mr Joe, a local Khayelitsha resident, took it upon himself to push a trolley and water bucket around the community, bathing and feeding community pets. He soon attracted volunteers who helped out and over time, they secured funding and the clinic grew into what it is today: a permanent, non-profit animal hospital providing primary veterinary healthcare services to the fast growing community of Khayelitsha, which never had access to such services before.

The early days weren’t easy, as the volunteers – including Animal Welfare Assistants Lazola Sotyingwa and Maria Limani, and veterinarian Brian Bergman – functioned from a single donated shipping container with no running water or electricity. Today, thanks to the support of donors and funders, the clinic is a fully functioning animal hospital running six days a week.

“The general opinion among the public is that people in townships should not own pets,” explains Marcelle du Plessis, Fundraising and Communications Manager. “At Mdzananda we have a different opinion. Anyone who visits us has the pleasure of meeting owners who adore their animals.”

A day in the life of a veterinarian at Mdzananda can take on many forms, including emergency surgeries, numerous sterilisations and deworming, educating community members and getting to know everyone who enters the clinic’s doors. “Our reception is the first stop for people who are visiting the clinic. Here you can buy goodies needed for pets, such as food, leads, collars, flea products, and so on,” says Marcelle. “From basic treatments such as vaccinations, deworming, and treating minor wounds, to surgeries – including sterilisations, X-rays and orthopaedic surgeries – our days can be filled with any amount of activities. No day at Mdzananda is the same.”

Although Mdzananda doesn’t have shelter facilities, they are determined to help out where they can. “Many pets are left at our doorstep or handed over due to their owners’ inability to look after them, while others are confiscated due to severe neglect or abuse,” explains Marcelle. “We try to find new homes for them as soon as possible, but it’s not easy as we don’t have a dedicated adoption team in place. We desperately need volunteers who can assist with adoptions and fostering of these pets, who all deserve a second chance.”

Mdzananda also has a mobile clinic that visits the community two days a week for door-to-door education, and three days a week for medical procedures, such as vaccinations and deworming, while pets that are very ill are taken back to the clinic for in-house treatment. Additionally, the animal ambulance responds to distress calls from community members in cases where animals are severely abused or neglected, or too ill or injured to make it to the clinic. Marcelle explains that they have a strong focus on community empowerment and education, and on understanding the community’s needs, embracing it, and gaining their respect and trust.

“There are happy times and sad times, but I practice my profession with one philosophy and that is to do the best for each and every animal that enters my life,” says veterinarian, Dr Nicolaas Kriek. He continues, “Every day is different – different challenges, different cases and different emergencies.”

Mdzananda has 22 staff members, 77% of whom are from the Khayelitsha or surrounding communities, who have all received training from the clinic’s veterinarians. “The thought of meeting new dogs, conversing with new people, challenging them with questions about animals and, most of all, saving another animal’s life, gets me up every morning,” says Animal Welfare Assistant, Lazola Sotyingwa.

With a drive to make a real difference within the community, Mdzananda Animal Clinic and its staff are adamant to use animal welfare to reach the heart of Khayelitsha residents. “Our belief is that a community that loves animals is a healthy community,” says Marcelle. “Through loving an animal one learns respect for life, non-violence, responsibility, compassion and companionship – and this spills over into all aspects of life.”

From the days of Mr Joe – who is now an elderly man who still visits the clinic often and loves to sit in the consultation room speaking to visitors – to what the clinic has become today, Mdzananda Animal Clinic is a place unlike any other. Its character lies in its staff and supporters who so generously give of their time and skills to contribute to the bigger picture of animal education.

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