Vlermuis – the dog who found me

21st Dec, 2023

Written by Aly Goedvolk

Professional photography by Robynne Prinsloo Photography    

I was on my way to the pub one Friday evening some seven years ago when I noticed an emaciated, bedraggled, yet young and friendly, dog was following me closely. Sadly, there are many such cases here in Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast, and I just walked on. I already had two rescues at home and hadn’t given much thought to a third,” says Michael Goedvolk, a longtime visitor and now resident of this small seaside town.

When I arrived at the pub the dog simply lay down outside. On leaving the watering hole, somewhat the worse for wear, of course, I was surprised to see the mutt still there, as if waiting for me, and she was in fact doing just that. She and I had never met, of that I was sure, as I know virtually every dog in town, especially the stray ones who congregate at the local shop in the hopes of getting lucky with some food from a kind soul.”

She had deep scars around her neck

She followed Michael home that night and went in the gate with him, as if it were her home. Michael fed and watered her, but didn’t let her inside due to the other dogs. But in the morning, she was still there, oddly enough curled up on a plastic outside table. It was then that Michael noticed what appeared to be deep scars around her neck and head, as if made by wire tied very tightly around her head. To this day, many years later, the scars are still clearly visible, and meanwhile a little more of the backstory became clear. She also had a horrendous case of mange which necessitated Michael to inject her weekly for six weeks (there are no vets near here).

As mentioned, Kei Mouth is a small seaside village, but with a rather larger township, Cwili, located about a kilometre before the town. Michael knows a great many of the residents of this township because he’s a scrap-metal dealer and there’s a constant stream of people at his house selling whatever metal they can to him.

One day a man, Sandile, saw the now healthy dog at the house and told Michael that “I know this dog” and described how she’d been tied to a tree for months, in obvious agony and entirely at the mercy of the elements. One night he’d taken his chances, slipped into the yard where she “lived” and untied her, after which she slunk away into the bushes. He said he hadn’t seen her again until she appeared at Michael’s house. It was at this point that Michael decided he was definitely keeping her.

The social butterfly-bat

A typical-looking township dog for this area, she did have a rather large distinguishing feature. Or should I say, two of them – her ears were big enough to pick up DStv reception, although only one could perk up straight – the other was too damaged from the wire. Michael, being Afrikaans, named her Vlermuis, meaning “bat”, and that’s what she’s been known as ever since by all in Kei Mouth.

Suffice it to say that Vlermuis can’t tolerate being confined in any way, despite now “owning” a very large garden and, as if making up for lost time, spends her days socialising with both dogs and people in the village, having quickly figured out that visiting the hardware store is sure to elicit biltong treats from the staff, and perhaps a little warm milk. At the petrol station she quickly made friends with the local dog and its owner, who also feeds her little titbits.

Then she strolls down to the sole restaurant in town to see what’s on offer there, and on her afternoon stroll back home – she’s always back home by 5pm – she visits several residents and their dogs for a game or a meal. She’s extremely streetwise and one can often see her on her way to her snack stops, despite getting plenty of food at home.

Says Michael: “We each have our own agendas for the day and often pass each other during our activities, whereupon we politely greet each other and then go our own ways. Occasionally, if there’s something specific she wants to show me, she wraps her legs around one of my ankles and gives it a gentle nip – then she takes me to see what interesting find she’s made that day.”

She’s become a village character in her own right by now; for example, when there’s a vaccination drive that the town organises, she goes to investigate what the congregating is all about and simply queues up with the other dogs for her shots, no fuss about them either. She sees it as a social event, where she can connect with all her friends, although it’s an odd sight because the township dogs are all so thin, while there’s Vlermuis in line, fat as a street whale.

But when it comes to ablutions, she has her pride, and discreetly disappears into the marshy grass at the end of the block to do her toilette – she simply won’t contemplate doing such things in the garden in view of spectators. '¡Qué horror!

Living her best life

It’s hard to say how old she is, but when Michael first got her she was still in that big puppy phase, perhaps about two, so that would make her nine or ten now. Seven years later, though, the wire marks are still clearly evident, and her hair won’t grow on the scars. She’s also terrified of the rain – one might even describe it as a phobia – likely a fear that developed in her traumatic youth. Fortunately, she no longer has to endure it, and one drop from the sky and she’s home, inside, and under her blanket in a flash.

But however old she is, she’s still having a royal old time with her dog pals, wreaking havoc by strolling through the local Spar for a browse through the aisles, or turning over trash cans for hidden treasure and, of course, every Wild Coast dog’s delight, chasing cows, goats, pigs and monkeys all around town.

So, thanks to the compassion of two unrelated people, Vlermuis has been living her best life for close on a decade.

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