High Five

26th Jan, 2024

Valie with special needs Toku on his lap, with Clara, Corlia cuddling Winston and in the forefront is Dimbi, Soda  

Written by Alycia Goedvolk

Photography by Brenton Geach Photography

You awake in a lush jungle with the gentle sound of a babbling brook as it makes its way over pebbles and ferns. This from the comfort of a couch or, even better, the double bed of your “people”. Of course, being a dog, you don’t realise the nirvana you’re living in, and perhaps (hopefully) not the life your people saved you from.

A life in green

Covered from head to toe in multi-coloured ink and dreadlocks to rival Bob Marley, with no plans of stopping, Corlia Perry and Wilhelm “Valie” Vallengoedt decided in 2017 that city life was simply not for them and moved from suburban Durban to tiny Morgan Bay on the Wild Coast into a house unseen, with the plan to open a backpackers, which they did – “In the Green”. It’s become something of a small-town legend here, and it’s certainly “in the green” – there’s nothing they haven’t managed to grow there, and their property leads straight into a lush sub-tropical greenbelt.

Corlia is a trained chef, which helps with the backpacker guests, and Valie is an IT consultant, so living on the Wild Coast is an ideal set-up if one has accommodation to spare, Wi-Fi and back-up Wi-Fi…

It would be no stretch of anyone’s imagination when I describe Corlia and Valie as a non-conformist and idiosyncratic couple. I met them soon after I moved here six years ago and, for reasons that would make for an entirely different tale, we started collecting dogs.

The dog collection begins

First came Soda and Toku from a decentish home in Makhanda (Grahamstown). It was when the original owners realised that Toku would need special care all his life that they asked for help on social media. They already had a fair number of dogs, and now a litter of puppies, and were concerned they wouldn’t be able to give them the care and attention they’d need, so Corlia and Valie decided to assist.

First, they adopted Soda, and once the original owners were satisfied she’d gone to a good home, they relinquished Toku to them as well, because Toku is a special case, and by that I mean he was deprived of oxygen at birth and has never behaved normally. He runs in circles, if not into actual objects, is often not quite aware of where he is, has bad paw-paw coordination and is a loner, whether out of choice or because other dogs pick up on his idiosyncrasies, no one will ever know. It’s a bit like he’s high. Corlia and Valie adopted him, knowing he’d need constant attention, and he soon became Valie’s “spirit animal”. Toku is short for Tokubetsu, which means specialin Japanese, and Valie even has a tattoo of Toku on his leg.

As Staffie-Jack Russell siblings, the two look virtually identical, except for a few scars on Soda’s face, due to her love-hate relationship with another of their rescues, Clara, the Ice Queen, who came next. Clara, a pure white Staffie-Jack Russell mix Jack Russell (if that makes any sense) is a case in point of how idiotic and cruel people can be.

Next up is Clara

An acquaintance of Corlia’s – let’s call her Jill – had been in a relationship with a less-than-savoury character (don’t judge – we’ve all been there) – let’s call him Jack – who’d given her Clara as a gift – an absolute no-no to anyone who knows about animals. One simply doesn’t give someone a potentially 15-year commitment without their knowledge and consent. Because, inevitably, this relationship came to its unpleasant conclusion, which left the girlfriend holding the baby, so to speak. Jack then threatened to euthanise Clara if Jill didn’t get her out of the house. It doesn’t seem necessary to point out the absurdity of giving someone a gift and then threatening to kill it after the breakup, but I am, just to reiterate my point on idiocy and vindictiveness. Jack abused Clara to a certain extent, unnecessarily caging her and virtually choking her with her own collar as she grew too big for it.

Jill tried her utmost to find a suitable, pet-friendly rental but eventually appealed to her Facebook friends for help, and Corlia and Valie stepped up and took on the traumatised pup, neck raw from the too-tight collar and covered in wounds and scabs from trying to escape the cage. Well. Bitches will fight, and Soda and Clara did and still do. But, when all is clawed and scratched, the two make up and cuddle up on the sofa every night, where they lick each other’s wounds and sleep in luxury. Meanwhile, they’ve both become Olympic swimmers and champion crab-catchers.

And puppy makes…more!

Some months later, the couple heard of the plight of a Dobermann pup, a victim of an illegal breeding ring in Johannesburg, whose intended fate one needn’t bother even guessing at. Corlia and Valie drove to Gauteng to rescue her and now, some four years and 35kgs later, she’s the Main Bitch. That being said, she’s also The Negotiator when it comes to resolving dog disputes, but is terrified of thunder and lightning, a Wild Coast guarantee, and also, inexplicably, of Chihuahuas.

From the gutters of Potch

There appears to be a tipping point when it comes to rescuing dogs. By the time you have four, five seems inevitable, and this thought process ushered in Winston, a wiry Wolfhound mix of some sort who’d been rescued from the gutters of Potchefstroom.

A guest of the backpackers had taken Winston into her dog sanctuary and was looking for someone who’d give him his forever home and rehabilitate him, as he was extremely traumatised. The guest told Corlia that when she found Winston he was so emaciated he couldn’t walk and was barely recognisable as a dog. Naturally, that tactic landed him just what the guest was hoping for – adoption. Little Winston was three months old before he uttered his first tiny bark – to protect Corlia – and he’s been her personal bodyguard ever since.

Now 18 months old (by the vet’s estimate), he’s metamorphosised into a large, protective, loyal and fearless hound who’s well socialised with dogs and people alike. He has a somewhat comical look – a permanent expression of having stuck his paw into an electrical outlet, what with all that bristly, wiry fur.

This is the life!

Feeding time at In the Green Backpackers is something to behold: handfuls of pellets are lobbed into the garden and something of an Easter egg hunt ensues. Says Valie: “We’ve never managed to get them to feed from bowls – this causes them to fight – so we make a game of it instead.”

They get at least one walk a day, if not two, where they live out every Wild Coast dog’s fantasy – dreaming about chasing cows, goats or sheep. It must be said that certain dogs are only interested in the cows, but these five go for the entire range.

We don’t leave the house without them, whether it be to restaurants, pubs, social evenings, braais, you name it,” explains Corlia. “Our life revolves around the dogs in terms of where we go. If they’re not welcome at an establishment, said establishment won’t be getting our business.”

That being said, Morgan Bay is a supremely dog-friendly village, but with very few establishments of any kind, so this doesn’t exclude the pack from much. “But we often travel around the Eastern Cape, for example, inland to Hogsback or up the Wild Coast to other backpackers, where the dogs are in their element. Sometimes we don’t take them all on each trip, depending on where we’ll be staying, and we sometimes rotate them because five dogs can be excessive, even at the most laid-back of places. As a backpackers, we always have someone here to welcome and accommodate guests and look after the dogs if need be.

But, because we got them young enough, they’re very socialised and generally make easy travel companions, so it’s easy for us to take them almost anywhere,” says Corlia.

There’s a movie called ‘Must Love Dogs’, and this is the motto of In the Green Backpackers. This is their home – everyone else is just passing through.”

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