Ridgebacks From Heaven

13th Apr, 2022

Zack (left) and Sadie

Written by Sue van der Gaast

Professional photography by Lucid Dream Photography

As a previous owner and breeder of the incredible Ridgeback, I always knew that at some point I’d want another one. When I thought the time was right, I started looking for the right dog – one that could settle into our home, already occupied by an elderly kelpie, a very dominant tripod Yorkshire terrier, and a paralysed Dachshund, all very loved, and 27 free-roaming geese plus abundant wildlife. So the search began with me believing that the right dog would come along.

During this time, I was dealing with personal trauma; my beautiful, outgoing and precious sister was diagnosed with ALS (a motor neuron disease). And so my walk with her began; a heartbreaking path of ups and downs, tears, laughter, sadness and madness – such madness that I stopped looking at the dogs needing homes because I was so focused on her.

My beautiful sister took her own life on the 11th of January this year, unable to accept her diagnosis and refusing to, in her words, be a burden to her son and me.

It doesn’t matter how much you’re expecting a death – the harsh reality and the absolute devastation leads you to a very, very dark place. This is where I found myself following my sister’s death. Then, slowly, as the haze of my trauma started to lift, I began to spend a bit more time on Facebook dog pages again. I contacted a few people looking for homes for their beloved dogs and even chatted to a few breeders.

When my sweet nephew came to celebrate his first birthday without my sister, my phone beeped: I’d been tagged in a post about a dog that was wandering on the Seven Passes and had been picked up and taken to SAM (Sedgefield Animal Welfare); a beautiful girl who was, sadly, in poor condition.

I immediately contacted SAM and said I’d be interested (she’d arrived on a difficult day for me). We arranged to go and see her (I’m in Plettenberg Bay) on Monday, only to get a very late-night message saying her owner had claimed her. Not my dog, was my thought, so I put her out of my mind with a side note to my sister: “If you want me to have a rescue Ridgeback, you’d best send me one”. Then, lying in bed a week after, while scrolling through Facebook, a small paragraph caught my eye: “Looking to rehome my ridgebacks, I want a guard dog”. The post, understandably, caused an outcry on the SA Rhodesian Ridgeback page, as we Ridgeback owners see the magic in this breed but also know that they’re not for everyone.

I contacted the owner and, lo and behold, it was the same dog. She’d orbited back to me. I arranged to meet her and her mate in Hoekvil. At the time, we had a house full of guests, and my partner asked that I “just look” and then we’d chat. It sounded like a good plan... but then we arrived and took one look at these two magnificent but underfed and misunderstood dogs, and we pretty much fell in love! We were faced with logistical issues because we couldn’t leave them, so I needed to make arrangements quickly.

Thank goodness for my incredible friends Tammy Havenga and her husband, who took the dogs in, loved them and cooked amazing meals for them while I was preparing my home to welcome them.

Sadie and Seun (now named Zack) arrived a week later from Knysna, and it’s like these dogs have always been here, always been ours, and always been part of our little family. They now live on our magnificent farm in Plettenberg Bay. I have no doubt that Sadie and Zack were meant to be the dogs for us, and slowly, day by day as I gradually try to put the pieces of my heart back together, these two keep us busy!

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