When pet goat Kayla fell off the dining room table and broke her leg she was immediately rushed to the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) in Philippi, where a team of veterinarians set to work to successfully mend her bones.
Kayla was one of thousands of animals who have received help from the society which was started all the way back in March 1929 as a response to the Great Depression.
AWS aimed to alleviate cruelty and sickness in animals.
If it wasn’t for donors’ generosity and the trust and confidence that the community has in AWS, they would not have been able to transform the lives of many animals across the Cape Peninsula for the past 89 years.
Starting from humble beginnings in Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, meetings were held in the Argus boardroom by chairperson Colonel B C Judd O.B.E from 1929 to 1937.
The hardship suffered during the depression was not limited to people. Many animals would have suffered hardship, abuse and neglect as their owners struggled to survive and make ends meet.
Back then many people still depended on draft animals as a means of transport so one can assume that the possible plight of these beasts of burden, such as cart horses would have escalated as owners over-loaded, over-worked or over drove them to maximise their profits.
It must also have been extraordinarily expensive to feed and care for these animals while juggling a tight budget.
Access to affordable veterinary services and primary animal healthcare could also have been a challenge.
Horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and oxen would have had to pull their loads along sandy tracks as many of the roads leading to Cape Town those days were untarred.
The founder members of AWS were a group of Capetonians from the middle class such as archbishops, members of the army and leading officials of the Cape Town city council. They initially operated from horse and cart and later used a bike with a trailer to transport animals.
Today’s vice-chairman, Dr John Mc Mullen joined AWS in the 1970s as a young man and said he doesn’t operate on animals anymore. “I came from Ireland to visit my brother but I fell in love with Cape Town in 1975. I had no job but Animal Welfare gave me a job. They said I would leave after a year, but I’m still here,” he smiled.
He said AWS moved to Philippi in the 1970s and prior to that they were in makeshift premises in an underdeveloped part of Ottery.
Since then AWS has been open seven days a week and “very busy especially at weekends where we will see up to 300 patients,” said Dr Mc Mullen.
Despite the high demand for their services, there was still time to perform skillful operations.
Neglected and abused animals are treated at AWS, said Dr Mc Mullen, and one painful experience to see was when a dog who had a 9cm knife pushed through its eye and skull by the owner. The dog was operated on and survived, said Dr Mc Mullen
Many unusual pets were also rescued by the doc. “A duck lost half of its beak bitten off by a dog. I had to make him a new beak out of teflon,” said Dr Mc Mullen.
A pet chicken was brought in one day, he recalled, and it had a broken leg but they managed to have it pinned.
With so many animals needing help, AWS relies on volunteers to give a helping hand. Fortunately, many eager helpers have come from all over the Cape Peninsula to assist them.
Carmen Hoy from Philippi started as a volunteer in 1996 and after 22 years was promoted from manning the kennels to seeing to the adoption of dogs, assisting in administration work and even managing the financial books.
Dr Mc Mullen said another volunteer, Lawrence Nkotha from Delft, used to visit the animals often and was taught how to take care of them. He fell in love with the animals and has been working at AWS for six years.
Many schools use AWS as part of the Life Orientation community service project.
Dr Mc Mullen said AWS also relies on donations and bequests where people leave money to the society in their wills.
“We are a niche organisation centred only in Cape Town so we cannot compare ourselves to a national organisation like the SPCA,” he said.
Allan Perrins, head of resource development and communications at AWS, said: “Our area of operation encompasses the whole of the Cape Metro. There are no planned or deliberate exclusions. Calls from Grassy Park and Ottery are usually referred to the SPCA and Animal Rescue Organisation (ARO) respectively as they are based in these areas. If they are unable to help or require additional resources they call on us.
“We do serve these communities but on a reactive basis or as explained, in collaboration with the local organisations,” said Mr Perrins.
When asked what happens to the animals that are not adopted, he said: “We have 49 kennels and they are fairly large and can if necessary house more than an individual dog. So dogs admitted from the same home are usually accommodated together as a family unit. We currently have 68 dogs up for adoption as well as a selection of cats and farm animals.”
Mr Perrins said resources permitting, they keep all healthy stray or surrendered animals for a minimum of 10 days at their “sole expense and there is no minimum kennelling period.”
If an animal is healthy and has or shows adoption potential and is not suffering from kennel stress or any illness then they will keep it until they are able to find him or her a loving forever home.
“For us it is all about the animals’ quality not quantity of life. The animals’ best interests always come first. They are our priority and we make it our business to ensure that their stay with us is as comfortable and pleasant as possible.”
Mr Perrins said they also have a list of responsible foster homes that they can call upon in a case of adoption until the animal is ready to be adopted. “Humane euthanasia is always an absolute last resort.” Mr Perrins said AWS has an 89th birthday gift list and top of it is a replacement inspectorate vehicle – a half ton bakkie would be ideal.
“In order for us to operate safely and efficiently, we need a reliable vehicle fleet. This allows us to take AWS to the community and allows us to be pro-active,” he said. For more information, call AWS on 021 692 2626 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or search for awsphilippi on Facebook.