Love is: 12 Rescue Dogs

3rd Nov, 2023

Left to right: Khaos, Aly, Miguel, Keiko, my husband, Michael, and Jordi

Written by Alycia Goedvolk

Professional photography by Robynne Prinsloo Photography    

The inexplicable but entirely predictable tale of how I came to have 12 rescue dogs

Its probably safe to say that very few people plan to rescue 12 dogs and have them take over their beds, couches, garden, car, friendships and daily routine. But, had I known then what I know now, well, I wouldnt have done anything differently when I rescued the first one. Except for dog-training. I cannot reiterate this enough. One dog is simple, two become friends, three are a little raucous, four become a logistical calculation, but five is the number when they become a pack. And then you have a situation on your hands. You’re no longer the alpha dog” and they know they have you under their proverbial paw. But if you’ve never owned this many dogs, you dont know what’s in store for you…

Still, that didnt stop me. Perhaps I’m not very bright, but I’m congenitally incapable of driving past an injured dog or a puppy a day away from the grave. I live in a little village on the Wild Coast and the small local township isnt unmanageable in terms of hounds, so a group of us fundraise any which way we can – quiz nights, raffles, Mutt of the Month competitions, and then the age-old but still effective begging and pleading to start a Spayathon (and various other treatments like worms, ticks and fleas).

Finding vets to come out this way was a challenge on its own, but we found willing vets and volunteers who’d perform the surgeries in the local township hall, with the help of much of the community. I include this information to demonstrate that I didnt continue bringing home puppies with no thought to a solution, and the breeding situation here is now largely under control.

First came Indi

But, before that, there came Indi, quite possibly the biggest Border Collie Ive ever seen. Dont be confused – just because he’s a legitimate” breed doesnt mean he wasnt going to be homeless. This is farm country and Collies are a dime a dozen.

I found his mother trying to give birth in a thorn bush, surrounded by other strays, and could see she was having a very hard time of it. I took her home and she delivered eight pups in quick succession – in my cupboard – which is where they lived until their eyes opened and a world of exploration appeared before them. Strangely enough, when I took them to the vet for their vaccinations and so forth, a woman there wanted to spay and adopt the mother. So, once they were weaned, I scrupulously found homes for seven of them, and the mom went on to a new, luxurious life on a boutique farm (the lady even had a helicopter) where she wouldnt have to be a breeding machine any longer. She went from street rat to sky queen in the time it took to sign a form.

I kept one of the pups, Indi, like a normal person (Id just watched a rerun of an Indiana Jones movie).

And then there were two

But it wasnt long before Jordan Baker came (I was reading The Great Gatsby at the time). Oddly enough, she’s also a Border Collie, a red one and much smaller, thankfully. She can thank Facebook for her life, as can another of my dogs, but Im still getting there.

I was looking at cute photos of puppies and kittens – Facebooks primary function it would seem – and there appeared a tiny, three-week old, bedraggled bundle, and I assume, the runt of the litter of some illegal breeding operation. Naively, I commented that I’d love to help her but she was 500km away, which I thought was a bit out of my rescue zone. Seven hours later I received a message: Please meet me at the intersection of the N2 and the Morgan Bay Road – I have your puppy.”

And then there were two. I dont know what hell Jordi had been through in her short life, but she was terrified of people and wet herself every time one hove into view. Slowly she started trusting me, and the uncontrollable urination was replaced with a terrifying, uncontrollable smile”. When one looks at her, she bares her teeth and snaps them, in what she imagines is a friendly gesture, but which has in fact kept many a visitor” far from my house. Some of my friends still find it alarming, and shes five years old now, and still a strange animal by anyones reckoning.

Indi and Jordi became instant friends, so I had no inkling of what was to come with future rescues, who hadnt even been born yet and were obviously not on my rescue radar.

Three’s company

Mkulu Kei arrived next, through no fault of my own. I was at some friendshouse on a Saturday night when the beer ran out. Qué horror! And so the men took it upon themselves to remedy the situation by visiting the local shebeen to replenish the stock. They were gone a long time, considering the township is less than a kilometre away.

It’s said that women have difficulty keeping to a shopping list, but when the guys returned they had the beer alright, but they also had two close-to-newborn puppies. It was decided my friends would keep one and I the other. Kei was so cute and helpless, giving no indication of the terror he’d one day become. It was winter, so I let him sleep under the duvet with me, and five years later we’re still wrestling for control of what is now a tattered and holey shred of bedding. This dog has a serious attitude problem, and who can blame him, having been born in a shebeen? But that wasn’t evident at the time. Oh no, on the contrary, he was the sweetest little thing until he hit puberty.

On all fours

Six months later, the phone rang and I inexplicably answered it (I’m not partial to telephone calls in general). It was a farm friend whose Border Collie had given birth, traumatically, and now wasnt producing any milk.

Along came Keiko Milano (after the Italian brand of eyeliner which she looked like she had on, even with her eyes still closed), a day old, weighing not even 200g. The vet told me not to hold out any hope for her survival, but survive she did, and how!

For two weeks I took her everywhere with me in a dog handbag, and (over)fed her premium puppy milk every hour. When she opened her eyes they were the bluest eyes Id ever seen, on a human or a dog. Everyone said they’d change colour as she grew, but they never did, and I can spot her in a bush on the other side of the river by those peepers. And I needed to, because she took to swimming the moment she clapped eyes on water. As I said, I clearly overfed her, because she almost rivals Indi in size, although lets just say its not all muscle and leave it at that. This gorgeous creature, whom I dare say I could have sold for a fortune (if I were so inclined), would also grow up to be a force of nature, picking poor urinating, smiling Jordi as her main competitor.

Party of five

Still, things were more or less under control even as Keiko grew into a 35kg wolf-dog like Indi and, at this point, I decided on a holiday to Europe. But of course, it didnt end there. One night in Santorini, I was awoken by the most pitiful crying and yelping that continued until sunrise, whereupon I went in search of the source of the wailing. It was a liver-coloured pup in an abandoned building right on the edge of the caldera. I couldnt believe no one had heard him or saved him, but I soon found out that dogs aren’t high on the hierarchy of the domesticated animal kingdom in Greece. Horses, yes. Donkeys, yes. Dogs, no. I swaddled him in a towel and walked several kilometres to find puppy food – or any dog food – and then set about trying to find him a home.

Santorini is a big island but, apart from dogslow status, almost everyone who lives there is involved in the tourism industry – hotels, tours, cruise ships, restaurants, island transfers, you name it – and while many people sympathised with his plight, it was a no-go on a home. I’d now been carrying him around for two days, snuck him into the hotel, and gained his trust. Now it was a Sunday, I was leaving the following day, and I hadnt the faintest idea of what to do with him, whom I’d temporarily and banally called Phoenix. I was referred to a kind-hearted vet, Margarita, where I cried and cried until the staff became convinced that the puppy didnt need a vet but that I needed a psychiatrist.

Margarita convinced me she would take care of Phoenix” (I swear, she rolled her eyes when I mentioned his name), and asked if I couldnt import him to wherever I lived when he was old enough to have his vaccines and blood work done. I laughed momentarily, thinking of the logistics of importing a dog into South Africa, but Margarita told me holidaymakers adopt dogs from the Greek islands all the time and that, money aside, she didnt think it was impossible. And it wasnt. But it was time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive. The first two problems were solved by a company called Paws and Claws in East London, who specialise in animal relocation, although they said it was far more common for foreigners to adopt South African strays than bring foreign ones in.

The second problem was solved by a good old Facebook crowd-funder. Friends and people I wasnt even friends with donated generously, including the American ex-wife of an ex-boyfriend, whom I’d never met or spoken to (the ex-wife, not the ex-boyfriend). She sent Phoenix R3,000, which in dollars is probably peanuts, but in this way I brought Phoenix” home to Morgan Bay, via Athens, Geneva, Berlin, Paris and Johannesburg. Well-travelled dog. He wasnt particularly traumatised, and is still one of my more relaxed hounds, although he still cant speak English. Ironically, since he’s been the best-behaved of them all, I changed his name to Khaos Theory (with a k” in deference to his Greek heritage), because even I knew that five dogs was going to be pandemonium. Furthermore, the only words any of them understand are “beach”, “ball”, “car”, and “I’m going to the shop to get you all pies”.

Perhaps due to his time in the Greek kennels, he mostly prefers his own company and has made one of my guest rooms his own, where he spends a lot of time contemplating life, as Greeks are wont to do. He does, however, have extremely long legs and has a penchant for standing on tables – coffee tables, dining room tables, kitchen tables, trestle tables – he doesnt discriminate, especially not regarding anything edible he may find on said table.

Pick-up six

Shortly after Khaoss arrival, Covid and lockdown hit. Not many people out here paid much attention to it, particularly regarding the walking of dogs, but the day before the restrictions came into force I received a call from a pet rescue outfit in East London, EL Pet Pals, some 100km away. By this stage they knew me and my house and were desperate to rehome animals as they wouldn’t be allowed to perform home inspections from the next day onwards.

This resulted in Lockdown Luna (I was reading Eva Luna at the time), a two-inch hobo hound found on possibly the most appalling rubbish dump Ive ever seen. She looked like she might have some Labrador in her, and she does – its just that she only grew to half the size. A Teacup Labrador, if you will. However, she doesn’t have the temperament of a Lab and labours under the illusion that she’s as big as the rest of the dogs and is prepared to fight any and all of them for the merest scrap of anything, not even necessarily food. She was also deprived of socialisation with people during lockdown and consequently has a burning desire to take a chunk out of anyone who isn’t me.

It was at this point that they formed a pack and became raucously disobedient, them against me. What they wanted, they got. Indi is still the leader, and I’m the emotional blanket. They blackmail me with a tremendous howling if I so much as go to the shop, which is 500m away, and try, often successfully, to escape the fencing and follow me every time I leave the house.

Now that there were six, it seemed essential they have a bigger garden, despite their daily and traumatic (for me) beach runs and swims. So I sold my house and bought one with an enormous garden, right on a greenbelt. This transpired to be an entirely pointless exercise, because they all want to be wherever I am at all times, so we could just as well all have lived in a one-roomed apartment.

Seventh heaven

Nevertheless, with all this space, I couldnt leave Miguel Cervantes (I was ironically reading CervantesDialogue of the Dogs at the time) in the black-water ditch I found him in, emaciated and very much on the path that leads to deaths door. He had parvo, TB (yes, dogs can get TB), worms, and was entirely black due to a blanket of ticks and fleas. A visit to the vet ensued, where she recommended I just put him down”. Outraged, I said I’d give him 48 hours of intensive care before even considering such a thing, and I dosed him with meds every hour, day and night, for five days. He was the boy who lived. I should’ve called him Harry Potter. Cleared of the ticks and fleas, Miguel was black, white, pink, brown, spotted and striped and couldnt keep his snout out of anything. He destroyed my entire irrigation system and ingested my cars seatbelts – do you have any idea how hard, not to mention expensive, it is to have seatbelts replaced?

Several months later, Miguels owner” arrived and demanded him back for hunting purposes. Not only is this area a protected reserve, but I’ve witnessed just how cruelly hunting dogs are treated, and I literally chased the man down the driveway with a horse whip. I suppose he could have sued me for assault, but he never came back.

By now Id acquired the sobriquet of That Crazy Dog Lady” and, despite the population of the town being no more than 200, there were many who still didnt know my actual name, even though Id lived here for close on five years at this point. However, luckily I’ve been surpassed by a new arrival in town who has 22 dogs, so my madness” has faded into insignificance and she now carries the Crazy Dog Lady” baton.

Anyway, by this stage I realised I had a serious problem on my hands. The only relatively well-behaved ones were Indi, Jordi, and Khaos, while Kei was growing into a passive-aggressive dog baby who insisted on sleeping in my bed but also liked to terrify other dogs on the beach. He didnt attack them so much as roll them in the sand, but the recipients of his ambushes didnt know he might only be playing and all kinds of terrifying situations ensued. I’ve never seen a faster dog in my life, and its obvious he was bred” for hunting. He now has to wear a harness and lead, and can only run free when there are no other dogs around, which, to be fair, is fairly often in these rural parts.

Eight, nine…

Keis speed could be supported by the fact that the next two arrivals emanated from the same mother and sordid shebeen as Kei – I was only driving past it on my way to a woman who’d called and asked me to come to her rondavel urgently. Assuming it was a dog problem, I was a little confused when on arrival I saw all her dogs healthy and happy playing in the yard. I went inside and there she was, in her pyjamas in bed with her goat.

Tearfully, she said he was depressed and wouldnt eat or drink a thing, so I loaded him into my ruin of a car and took him to the vet, bleating all the way – the nearest one being a 40-minute drive away. The goat had some kind of goat-specific disease, curable with an injection and a course of pills. But I digress. After giving the goat back to its ecstatic owner, I again drove past the shebeen and took a closer look at the pups Id seen earlier. It was clear they werent going to survive another 24 hours without intervention, and the owner told me he didnt want them, so what could I do?

Back to the vet, who again recommended I just put them down. It seemed they had every known dog disease besides rabies, and I went home with a virtual paramedic kit bag of pills, injections, shampoos, lotions, supplements and special food. This time it took two weeks of intensive care every hour on the hour in the hospital wing” before they turned the corner and I was beyond exhausted. I called them Gabriela and Marquez (obviously I was reading Marquez at the time, and I could surely have come up with something more original, but my nerves and imagination were fraying at the edges).

Ten and eleven

Several months went by in relative peace, with behavioural adjustments being attempted, mostly unsuccessfully. Then, one very early morning, I heard a pitiful yapping at my gate. My heart sank as I walked down the panhandle driveway towards a box that had been left there, and sure enough, inside were two more.

One was your typical Transkei township dog, by which I mean a creamy beige mutt with a pointy face and peculiar triangular ears that flopped down over her eyes. She was the most emaciated dog I’ve seen to this day, and even I didnt hold out much hope for her. The other looked very much like Khaos, and this would indeed turn out to be true once he’d recovered from whatever horror story he’d been living prior to the box-drop. He was also skeletal and dehydrated, but by now I had a cornucopia of remedies and had long since discovered that two rashers of bacon a day mixed into their diet will fatten up a puppy quickly. I’d also given up on the vet, who seemed to be more than keen to just put every puppy or dog I brought her to sleep.

Since my life was (and is) consumed by dogs, I now had very little time for anything else, much less reading novels, so these two were called Supernova and Comet (I’d just read an astrophysics article on Quora), and just as Miguel had, they recovered and thrived and fitted into the pack.

However, my sanity was now under serious threat and I also knew that, despite the large, rural area in which I live and the fact that there’s no functional government, the time was soon approaching that a neighbour or a legally fastidious ratepayer was going to report the situation to an authority of some kind. I’d also been forced to hire a gardener and a house cleaner due to the whirlwind of dog hair and deposits of dog excrement that now needed constant attention if I were still intent on calling the house my home and not a dog shelter.

Clock strikes twelve

It must be said that, in my opinion anyway, I’m not completely insane, and had all along also been rehoming dogs wherever I could. There was Cody, Shadow, Spirit, Miss Muffet, Hamlet, Heidi, Coco, Pea, and more, whom I managed to foist on any friend or acquaintance who showed the slightest sign of weakness. Moreover, as I said, our spayathons were having their intended effect and the stray dog and starving puppy was virtually under control. I felt Id done all I could in the interim. With one exception

I was driving to East London one day and there, on the highway, about to be obliterated by traffic, was what appeared to be some kind of small, frantic animal. As I got closer, I realised it was a puppy in the middle of the road and knew that if I didnt help it I may as well have run it over myself, because it was seconds away from being hit. I stopped on the side of the N2, took my life into my hands, and ran into the traffic and grabbed it.

It was freezing, starving, terrified, pest-infected, and completely hairless. Even the vet I took her to in East London didnt want to touch her. Okay, this is the last one,” I told myself, knowing full well that if she survived I’d keep her, having run out of people to palm dogs onto. I called her Zero, because I was reading nothing at the time and she had zero hair. She had to wear a jersey for weeks while her hair grew, because being so cold had caused pneumonia. She’s grown into a Collie mix of some sort and, being at the bottom of the pecking order, just does what the others do, no questions asked, and not necessarily a good thing. Once, when she was on the road to recovery, I spent a frantic 20 minutes looking for her, only to find her, in her jersey, inside the open dishwasher, fastidiously cleaning the crockery and cutlery.

Now that I’ve driven myself and my husband insane, now that we cant walk anywhere without falling over a dog, now that we have to walk them in batches, now that we have no functional bedding or furniture, now that the dog car” is unsellable, now that our dogs have health insurance but we dont, and now that I spend half my salary on the dogs, the madness has to stop.

Ill tell you one thing, though: we sleep with the door wide open – I dont even know where the keys to the house are – because if anyone wants to burgle this house, well, they might get in, but they sure as hell aint getting out. My Transkei Razorbacks” will see to that.

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