Written by Beverley Cooke-Tonnesen
Photography by Dee Donaldson
In June this year, my partner, Dee Donaldson, and I were devastated by the death of our beloved cockapoo, Paddington. We’d had a unique bond, and his death – although somewhat anticipated at his advanced age – left a huge hole in our hearts and in our home. Paddington was irreplaceable, but there’s always room for hearts to expand to love another dog.
We started casually scanning the rescue dog pages on Facebook. We live in a small complex of four units, so a big dog is out of the question. I’m also allergic to most dogs, but a bit of poodle in the mix makes for non-shedding hypoallergenic fur. We focused on the local shelters but soon discovered that small, fluffy dogs get adopted quickly in Durban, so we broadened our search to include a number of national small dog rescue pages. Many people were telling us we should get a new dog soon, but the loss of Paddington was still recent and very painful, so I was only thinking of adopting a dog next year. It was a good distraction to keep looking at the posts, though.
One evening, in July, “Oodles of Poodles” shared a post from SPCA Uitenhage. I stopped scrolling when I saw the cutest, happiest little face smiling at me with its tongue out. I chuckled as I read the name, “Mambo”, and noticed his very short legs and very long body. The name didn’t seem to suit him at all, and it really amused me. “Uitenhage … hmmm, way too far away,” I thought and continued scrolling. A few weeks later, Dee and I were sharing dog pictures, and “Mambo” popped up again. We both agreed that such a cute little guy would definitely get snapped up by someone and, anyway, Uitenhage was way too far away for us even to consider him, and so we scrolled on.
A month went by. Dee continued her nightly search and I, still battling grief and feelings of disloyalty to Paddington, joined in intermittently. Eventually we visited a local SPCA, but they didn’t have any available small dogs. I called two other SPCAs in our region, with the same result. It was then that I made the decision to stop looking for dogs. I told Dee that it was making me feel too sad and that I was going to wait until next year. I felt relieved with my decision.
That night, however, the little face appeared on my newsfeed once again. I showed Dee. “How would we get him?” she asked. “We’ll make a plan,” I answered. I sent a private message to the SPCA Uitenhage Facebook page manager. She replied within a few minutes that adoption papers had been filled in for Mambo that day, and she asked if I’d be interested in one of their other dogs. “Oh well – it wasn’t meant to be,” I thought and put myself to bed, along with any thoughts of adopting Mambo or any other dog for now. Truth be told, I felt rather disappointed. That little face had done something to me the first time I’d seen it a month or so previously… but it was a crazy idea to go all the way to Uitenhage, and I’d decided to wait till next year, after all.
The next day I woke to another Facebook message, “Good morning. Mambo available again. If you want to fill in adoption papers please go to our website …”. That was that! We decided to go for it.
I double-checked that he was dog-, cat- and child-friendly. A phone call to Clarissa van Deventer from Uitenhage SPCA confirmed that the reason his adoptions kept falling through had nothing to do with him but were all due to people either not being suitable, or not being able to travel to Uitenhage for the required meet and greet. I also learned that he’d come in as a stray and had been at the Uitenhage SPCA for six months!
Adopting a dog from the SPCA is stressful. Adopting one from out of one’s district is even more so. My advice to anyone who is considering adopting: do it anyway! Just stick to the process, stay calm and don’t give up. The waiting period between making the decision to adopt a dog and getting the final thumbs up is excruciating. You want to allow yourself to fall in love with the animal but are also protecting yourself in case, for some reason, you don’t get final approval. All was in order from Uitenhage’s side with regards to our forms.
Durban SPCA had sent an inspector around within a day to do our yard check. The longest wait happened once all our paperwork was with National SPCA, awaiting their approval. I think we only maintained our sanity thanks to the patience and encouragement of Tiffany Dicken, who runs the Uitenhage SPCA Facebook page, and Clarissa, who was handling the adoption at Uitenhage SPCA. They kept in daily contact with me and were extremely gracious and tolerant with my constant “nagging”.
After a nail-biting two weeks, Marion from the Uitenhage SPCA phoned on the afternoon of Thursday, 22nd of August, to give us the good news: our adoption had been approved!
I sprang into action, booking flights and accommodation, and renting a car. Dee and I cancelled our weekend appointments. With mixed feelings, I washed Paddington’s almost new dog bed and got his harness and leash ready. As painful as it was, it also felt that using his things was a way of honouring him. On Friday, in and around work obligations, we bought dog food and a collar, packed, and tried to sleep. On Saturday we were up at 4am and on our way!
Saturday’s travel plans didn’t go as anticipated. We ended up stranded at Lanseria airport, in transit to PE, due to a flight delay of over five hours. Uitenhage SPCA closes at 12 on Saturdays, but we eventually only landed in PE at 3pm. Clarissa and the Uitenhage SPCA team were amazing. Not only did they arrange to go back and open up for our meet and greet, they’d also arranged accommodation for us in Uitenhage, as they didn’t want us driving to East London so late on a Saturday afternoon. Exhausted, anxious and excited, we hopped into our rental car and navigated our way to Uitenhage.
When we first laid eyes on Mambo he was even cuter than we’d expected. He was trotting happily around the exercise enclosure and came to us immediately, greeting us sweetly. He didn’t respond to the name “Mambo” at all, nor to any of the other possibilities we’d picked out. We spent a fair amount of time playing with him in the enclosure, under the supervision of Marion, Clarissa, and Kevin from the Uitenhage SPCA. I was impressed with the condition he was in. He’d been to the groomer on Thursday and had his sterilisation surgery on Friday, but his general condition was good. Uitenhage SPCA had clearly taken good care of him during his six-month stay with them.
It hadn’t occurred to us that he might not like us, or that they may not approve us at the meet and greet. Thankfully, he seemed to approve of us as much as we approved of him. We loved the little guy before we even met him, and even more so upon meeting him. After nearly an hour, some latest photos with his SPCA guardians and some important paperwork, we set off with our nameless doggie, with me driving and Dee in the back seat with him to keep him happy and secure.
We pulled up in front of the guesthouse and looked at the big sign: “Barkly Street Guesthouse and Theatre”. We were both silent, thinking the same thing. Dee said it aloud first: “Barkly?” “I think so,” I replied with a smile. We both tried it on our doggy. He responded positively, and so it was that Mambo became “Barkly”.
From the moment we arrived Barkly began to transform. The little creature who’d jumped and spun around on the leash at the SPCA got out of the car and walked calmly and happily on the leash, eagerly sniffing his new surroundings. We were welcomed like long-lost friends by the manager, and a water bowl was brought for Barkly, along with a bottle of wine for the weary travellers.
In the room, we began to get to know our new “child”. What a sweetie-pie! He wagged and licked and high-fived and came when we called as we hand-fed him his supper, taking advantage of our first opportunity to begin training him. After just one little marking of territory, he didn’t pee inside again and even asked to go out when nature called. We were absolutely besotted with him – and him with us, by the look of things. His sterilisation site was still sore, so he warned us not to get too close to that region, but he allowed himself to be petted everywhere else. When our pizza delivery arrived, he laid down next to the bed and left us to eat in peace.
He was an absolute angel! That night he was understandably stressed. Dee managed to sleep, but I spent a lot of time on the floor with Barkly as he panted with both pain and anxiety and moved around a lot. He wouldn’t stay on the bed and preferred the hard floor to a soft blanket. Eventually, we both got some sleep. We were up again before sunrise for our long drive back to Durban.
Barkly is a star in the car! Thank heavens for that, as our journey was over 14 hours long, with all the stops for walkies and water. Finally, on Sunday night, we welcomed Barkly into his new home.
It’s been two weeks now, and Barkly has relaxed more and more each day. His night-time anxiety has abated a lot, and he’s even starting to sleep in his soft, cosy dog bed, rather than on the floor or under our bed. Every day we’re seeing more of his personality coming out. He’s definitely a “people-dog” and just loves to greet new friends. Most of all, he loves us. He’s happiest when we’re all together at home, and mornings are a miracle of utter joy for him. We had our first session with dog trainer Bev Davis on Tuesday, and we’ll continue working with her to ensure Barkly adjusts to his new life happily and completely.
Rescue dogs need time to adjust and require patience from their families as they work through their fears and past traumas and learn to feel safe. With the right care and positive reinforcement training, they’re able to learn any number of new things and become amazing companions. Barkly is already amazing. We’re incredibly lucky to have found such a loving, clever, gorgeous little fellow. I have no doubt that Paddington would approve of him completely!
P.S. Because Barkly had been shared on various social media sites for six months before we adopted him, there were many people who were following his story. When we saw how many hundreds of people responded to the SPCA post when we fetched him, we decided to start an Instagram account and a Facebook page for him. We plan to let him be an ambassador for all rescue dogs and, hopefully, inspire more people to #adoptdontshop. You can follow Barkly on Instagram at @barklyambassador – Barkly’s New Life and on his Facebook page “Barkly’s New Life”