Schwoz – Safe and Sound

25th Feb, 2022

Written by Louise van der Klashorst

Professional photography by Louise Lacante

Both my dogs – Schwoz and Storm – are rescue dogs and scared of people; Schwoz much more than Storm. He’s so scared of people that he’s been prescribed anti-anxiety medication by my vet. This is why I was extremely reluctant to leave my dogs in the care of strangers, but since my entire family was on vacation in various parts of South Africa, I had no other choice but to book my dogs into a doggy hotel for the week that our family was going to be out of town.

I did my homework. I asked for a referral from a friend and even sent my husband and daughter to inspect the premises where our dogs would be accommodated, just to make sure that it would be safe for them. We were happy with the doggy hotel, so I made the booking and paid in advance to secure the booking, as requested.

The doggy hotel also offers a pick-up and a drop-off service, which I chose to use as the hotel was quite far from our home.

On the morning of the 24th of December 2021, my dogs were picked up from my home and loaded into the doggy hotel’s van with their leashes on. While Storm seemed very excited, Schwoz wasn’t too keen, but off they went. At 1pm, I sent a WhatsApp to enquire about my dogs, but the person who’d fetched them didn’t reply. I sent another WhatsApp to the doggy hotel owner who assured me that my dogs were both fine and settling in nicely. He added that they were going to have a photo session the next day and then he’d send me pictures of my dogs.

The next day was Christmas Day and I didn’t hear anything from the doggy hotel. But I thought, “Ok, give the guys a break, it is Christmas after all.”

On the 26th of December, just before 9am, I sent another WhatsApp to the owner of the doggy hotel asking about my dogs’ welfare, and he assured me that both dogs were doing fine. He also told me that they were doing the photoshoot later that day. Then… just after 4pm, when I enquired about the photographs, I received the dreaded phone call... my baby, Schwoz, had escaped from the doggy hotel’s premises!

According to the owner, he’d picked up Schwoz, and then when he put him down to take the photo, he ran off. Schwoz ran past all the staff, through the electric fencing, down the dirt road and into the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, straight past the guard at the gate. He then disappeared into the bushes and hadn’t been seen again. The owner also said that he and all his staff ran after Schwoz, and he later took a drive through the nature reserve but couldn’t find him.

We stayed in contact over the next few days, but Schwoz had not been found. We returned from our trip on the 2nd of January 2022, and the following day, my husband, daughter and I set out for Rietvlei Nature Reserve to go and look for our dog.

The guard at the gate knew nothing about a missing dog and suggested that we go to reception and the coffee shop to ask if anybody had seen or heard of a missing dog. Nobody seemed to know what we were talking about. We left our contact details and a description of Schwoz at reception and the coffee shop. Then we took an almost two-hour drive through the reserve, calling out for our baby, but were very disappointed that we couldn’t find him. We then drove to the doggy hotel, which is literally within a kilometre of the reserve, to fetch Storm. All we got was a “sorry” and a gift basket, which at the time I thought was thoughtful.

Enter the angels

On the 4th of January, just before 1pm, the first of several angels crossed my path. Tagan Teixeira, a resident of the Rietvlei Heights Country Estate, phoned me to ask if I had a medium-sized brown dog with a purple leash. I immediately said yes and asked where she’d got my number. She said that she’d phoned Rietvlei Nature Reserve and they’d given her my details. She told me that she and some other residents had been trying to catch my dog for over three hours, but they needed the dog’s owners to assist. I phoned my husband, and he went there immediately. I also contacted the owner of the doggy hotel and sent him Tagan’s number. Unfortunately, after hours of searching and calling, my husband came home totally discouraged, having not located Schwoz.

Later that evening, a second angel crossed my path. Another resident of Rietvlei Heights Country Estate, Lidia Pretorius, contacted me via WhatsApp to say that she’d put out food and water for Schwoz and that he’d eaten everything and drank almost half of the water. Arrangements were made for my daughter, Storm and me to go to the estate the following day and search for Schwoz.

On the morning of the 5th of January, the three of us set off to the estate to look for Schwoz. Lidia and another angel named Jaco assisted us, showing us where they’d spotted him and where he’d been picked up on security camera footage around the estate. Once again, we couldn’t find Schwoz; he just didn’t come out of hiding when we called him.

We spent the day there in the scorching sun to no avail. Lidia graciously invited us into her home and gave us plenty of cool drink. She also helped us get rid of all the ticks that had attached themselves to us and Storm.

Later that evening, Lidia sent me a Facebook advertisement for Healthy Hound and suggested that I contact them. I did so immediately, and that’s when the fourth angel crossed my path. Healthy Hound came back to us within an hour and suggested that we contact Thys Mulder, who deals with trapping.

On the 6th of January, a fifth angel crossed our path! My husband contacted Thys, who lent us a dog trapper free of charge and showed us in detail how to use it. He suggested what to use as bait (a Russian sausage) and also where to set up the trap. We drove to Muldersdrift to collect the trapper cage and then returned to Lidia’s house. Once again, she graciously opened her house to us, ordering us food and helping us to set the trap in the same spot where she’d previously left food for Schwoz. Since Schwoz only seemed to come out of hiding between 10pm and 4am, we were convinced we were going to spend the night there.

The guards at the estate were also angels in their own right, as they constantly watched the camera footage and reported every sighting of Schwoz to Lidia. Just before 8pm, Lidia received a call from the gate to say that Schwoz was in sight of the camera close to the cage. At 8pm they called again to say that he’d been captured.

Lidia, Bongani (a friend of Lidia’s), my husband and I raced to the cage to see whether it was in fact Schwoz, and great was our delight to realise that we’d finally captured him and that he immediately recognised us. Because he still had his leash on, we could take him out of the trap safely. We fed him the sausage and then went off to Lidia’s house where we gave him more food and water and took some photographs.

Schwoz was truly ecstatic and didn’t leave our side for a second. We then went home, gave him a good bath, removed all the ticks, and gave him his anti-anxiety medication. Our nightmare was finally over!

I really doubt that Schwoz went missing on the 26th of December for the following reasons:

  1. He was still sporting his leash after two days’ stay at the doggy hotel.
  2. None of his medication had been given to him; I counted the pills.
  3. More than one guard told me they’d already seen Schwoz roaming around on the 24th of December 2021.

I’d like to offer a few words of advice to dog owners who have no other choice but to book in their dogs at a doggy hotel:

  1. Do your homework well. Ask for more than one reference and follow up on these.
  2. Visit the facility and check for any possible escape routes.
  3. Drop off your pets yourself and ensure that they’re okay before you leave.
  4. Video-call on a regular basis and ask to physically see your dogs.

This experience has taught me that there are people out there who only care about the money, but I’ve also learnt that there are angels who are willing to help you out of the pure goodness of their hearts. This has been a horrific experience for my dogs and my family! Never again will I leave them anywhere; they’ll either be with me or with a trusted family member.

I close off with some of the lyrics of Christina Perri’s song “A Thousand Years”. This is for Schwoz: “One step closer. I have died every day waiting for you. Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you for a thousand years, I’ll love you for a thousand more. Every breath, every hour has come to this. One step closer. I have died every day waiting for you. Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years, I’ll love you for a thousand more. And all along I believed I would find you. Time has brought your heart to me. I have loved you for a thousand years. I’ll love you for a thousand more.”

Diane Logie of Healthy Hound (K9 Search & Rescue Unit) shares…

Healthy Hound’s dispatchers/handlers and missing pet consultants work between four to eight hours a day responding to queries. On Wednesday the 5th of January, I was the dispatcher/handler/missing pet consultant on duty and took the call from Louise van der Klashorst to report that her beloved dog Schwoz had gone missing in a nature reserve the same day he’d been collected and booked into a doggy hotel. However, she’d only been informed of his escape two days later – and immediately rushed home to search for him.

Further information revealed that he’d been spotted in a nearby complex, Rietvlei Heights Estate, which is adjacent to the game reserve. Because Schwoz is so afraid of people, he only ventured out at night and would rush off as soon as people came near him.

We jumped in to assist. Sadly, we didn’t yet have traps so couldn’t help with our K9s, and our consultant realised that the dogs would only scare Schwoz more. Fortunately, we have an excellent network of colleagues and could refer the family to Thys Mulder, an animal rescuer specialising in trapping. Thankfully, he was able to assist with a trap and provided a detailed lesson on how to use it.

When we received a very excited message from Louise the following night to say that Schwoz had been caught, we were ecstatic! We were told that as soon as he was in the trap, he immediately recognised his mom and was bouncing with happiness to see her.

Schwoz is now safely back home and enjoying all the spoils he’s being given.

His mom, Louise, has expressed her thanks for our response and for helping her get the help she needed. Our team is always here from the moment you message us!

We’re certain that Schwoz would have been found on the 24th of December already had we been contacted earlier and that he wouldn’t have had to spend 13 nights in the bush alone. However, we’re extremely grateful that Louise and her family contacted us, and we could point them in the right direction to get the help they and Schwoz needed.

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