Written by Naomi de Beer
Photography by Marilamay fotografie
At the end of August 2019, my son’s dog managed to jump our 2-metre wall, as an idiot who always comes past hits the wall to tempt the animals while we aren’t at home. Because he’s quite aggressive, we began a frantic search for our missing hound. We put up flyers everywhere, posted on Facebook, and also asked armed reaction officers to be on the lookout for him.
On the Saturday afternoon, we were contacted by a group of people in Randfontein – Randfontein Verlore Diere/Lost Animals – who wanted to assist us with a search party. We got together and drove up and down but had no luck finding Rambo, although they did manage to locate two other strays.
That Sunday we received a call from a reaction officer informing us that there was a dog at the English High School that could possibly be my son’s dog. We raced there – but it wasn’t our Rambo!
This brindle-coloured dog really ran for her life and vanished very quickly, which prompted my children to call her “Houdini”. We reported the dog to the Randfontein Verlore Diere/Lost Animal group, but they also had no success catching her.
Rambo was found four days later by an armed reaction officer; he’d taken shelter in a closed-down doggy parlour.
After New Year, someone spotted the dog we’d found limping around in the area. Even with the injury she managed to evade the rescuers. Stephan Hendricks, administrator on the Randfontein Verlore Diere/Lost Animal Facebook group and ardent animal rescuer, asked the public for assistance by keeping an eye out for her and to follow her from a distance so that he could get Dr Naude from Randfontein Animal Hospital to come and dart her. She was spotted several times, but her skills in getting away were much sharper and quicker than the efforts of the rescuers.
On the 6th of January 2020 I was on my way home at around lunchtime, and to my surprise, there she was in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in Randfontein. As I got out of my car, an SPCA van also passed and saw her. Rene van Straten from the Randfontein SPCA and I tried getting her out of the intersection, but she ran towards the bridge. Oncoming cars wouldn’t have been able to see her in time, so it was quite a nerve-racking experience. Rene phoned Stephan, unbeknown to me as I was asking for help on the lost animal group. By the time I called Stephan, it was his second frantic call.
Stephan joined us within minutes, and we managed to get her out of the street and into an open area of veld. She was lying under a tree in the shade, obviously tired and hot.
I quickly raced home to collect my husband and son so that we’d have more people to help. Upon my return she once again managed to evade the rescuers. She ran for the stadium, and by this time Dr Naude had also joined the search-and-rescue party.
She obviously knew the grounds well, as we lost sight of her quite a few times, but Dr Naude managed to dart her. At this stage, Brigitte Gȕther from the Lost Animal group and CPF also joined us.
When the tranquiliser took effect, my son Armandt jumped over the fence to get to her, with a lead and a blanket in hand that Rene from the SPCA had supplied him with. We raced around, and when I saw her up close, I just knew she was a survivor. Apart from a cut on her front paw, she otherwise appeared to be in good condition.
Dr Naude quickly checked her, confirming that she was in quite good condition, then loaded her into his vehicle and raced back to the hospital. Whilst she was still sedated, Dr Naude tended to her paw and the spot where she’d been darted. He also sterilised her, as Stephan informed us a while later.
Stephan called her “Savannah”, as a dog must have a name. He posted about her on the Lost Animal group and on various other Facebook pages, seeking assistance with the vet bill and a foster or furever home for her. The posts were shared many times over, but nobody came forward! The animal shelters in the area are full with lost animals after New Year, and even if they’d wanted to, they couldn’t assist.
I visited her the next morning, and my heart just melted when I saw her cowering in the cage. When I touched her, her whole body pulled together, but she allowed me to rub her without displaying any aggression. Savannah would need a lot of love and patience, as she was definitely not used to human interaction. Living and fending for herself for as long as she had been – probably far longer than we knew – Dr Naude estimated her to be about a year old. She’d spent at least half her existence alone.
At home, I saw another post on Facebook from Stephan, urgently seeking help with finding her a home. After all the shares from his previous posts, he still had no offers for a home for her.
If she had to go to the SPCA, she’d be kept in a small cage, and I couldn’t comprehend that anybody would adopt an animal with her needs. She’d been through so much: living in the veld at the school for months; being chased all around; being darted, falling asleep and waking up in a strange place with another wound. This haunted me, so I contacted Stephan and offered to help Savannah.
When we fetched her from the hospital, she had to be carried to the car; she had no idea what this thing we put around her neck was, and she pulled and jerked at it. At home I also had to carry her into the house. She didn’t growl or snap at me.
We gave her some time to relax, but every time we entered the room she stuck her face in the corner as if she were a naughty child. Although we tried feeding her dog biltong out of our hands, she just wouldn’t take it. The toys we gave her went unnoticed.
My kids still called her Houdini, and I called her Savannah, so my husband said were going to confuse her even more with the two names, and he dubbed her “Gypsy”, which is quite fitting considering all the travelling she’d done before we found her.
The next morning, when I entered the room her eyes followed me the whole time and she didn’t flinch as before. I sat down with her and started scratching her ears, and to my surprise, she closed her eyes. She even allowed me to scratch her tummy and throat, but still no tail wag. This was the moment when I realised that there was definitely hope for her! My family believes that love conquers all and that Gypsy would learn to trust again, going on to have an amazing life.
Even though we left the door open, she didn’t want to venture outside. We introduced her to one of our dogs, Toffie – also a rescue that I raised with a bottle – and it really went well; no growling, just sniffing and wagging tails.
I wasn’t very optimistic about Gypsy’s photo session for this Happy Tale – I really didn’t think we’d be able to get good photos. When the photographer, Alandi Niemand, arrived, Gypsy had no idea why everyone was faffing around, and she began looking for a hiding place. Alandi managed to take some photos, although we had to get my daughter, Megan, to help by holding her Jack Russell, Champ, so that Gypsy would lift her head.
Taking photos outside was another mission, as she didn’t want to venture outdoors, so once again we brought in Toffie. Imagine my surprise when she started playing with Toffie and ran out the door with no problem, hot on Toffie’s heels. Toffie was a bit rough in the way he played with her, and I was scared that Gypsy would hurt herself after her sterilisation, so we brought out my daughter’s Great Dane, Skyler. Now, Skyler is two years old, but a bigger, more playful “puppy” you won’t find. We had such a good laugh at the antics of the two.
We took Gypsy inside, this time with no problems, and she dropped down on her blanket. Tired, happy, and a new dog from what we’d experienced over previous days. When we went to check on her, she greeted us with a beautiful dog smile.
Gypsy ran into our lives whilst we searched for Rambo, never knowing that one day she’d be part of our family with dog brothers and sisters.