Left to Right: Bongani Twala, Helen Taylor, Chase Jagemann and Baxter
Written by Helen Taylor, Founder
Professional photography by Breagh Stirling
I was one of the original founders of a previous organisation, Namaqua Dog & Donkey Foundation (NDDF), when my late veterinarian friend, Dr Andy Swan, decided he’d like to do outreaches in the Northern Cape, one of South Africa’s most impoverished provinces. He came to this decision after visiting my husband and me in Aggeneys, a small mining town that my husband had been transferred to. The surrounding areas – Pella, Pofadder, Springbok, and Port Nolloth – really appealed to him, and so the Namaqua Dog & Donkey Foundation was officially registered, and a very successful animal sterilisation outreach was promptly carried out.
Keep on reaching out
My husband was transferred back to Johannesburg, but Dr Andy and a team of volunteers, including me, went back for three years to the Northern Cape to do more outreaches. Sadly, after only a few years of NDDF being in existence, Dr Andy passed away very unexpectedly from a heart complication – far too young, and the animal world was definitely worse off without his amazing passion for doing outreaches. We’d managed several outreaches in these areas before his demise, and we were blessed to have Dr Tanya Grantham to accompany me afterwards on a trip to these areas and hold a sterilisation, treatment and vaccination outreach.
Dr Andy’s widow, Elinor, was still extremely passionate about these outreaches and continued to raise funds for another. I found another vet to do an outreach a while later, but this proved to be quite challenging and expensive as Dr Andy had funded most of the outreaches himself or through donors he’d approached.
So, although my husband and I had returned to Johannesburg, the NDDF was still in existence, although mainly doing work in the Barcelona township on the East Rand.
My friend, whose employee lived at a small township called Piels Farm, not far from where we live, asked me if I could help with a “sick dog”. I went along and met a charming little Maltese Poodle cross called Lovemaker (yes, we’ve always had interesting names at Piels Farm!). We treated her under NDDF. It was after this, just before Dr Andy passed away, that we held a sterilisation outreach at Piels Farm. It was well supported, and I very much wanted to continue to help the residents.
Understandably, since the majority of NDDF committee members resided on the East Rand, they weren’t keen on doing work in the south of Johannesburg. The same was true of me living out south not wanting to travel out east, especially if there was a medical emergency, so we amicably decided that NDDF should focus out east and I resigned from the committee.
For some time after that, I continued the work with two close friends, Cindy Engels and Jenny Shone, but on a very small scale, funding it ourselves. We started off just doing sterilisations (which is the most important, so we could reduce unwanted litters of kittens and puppies). But soon, people were calling for other medical treatments. We also realised that the need for food was great and, where we could get sponsorship, we started a subsidised feeding scheme. This reduced scavenging (which could lead to accidental poisoning), dog fights, and straying that could result in the animals being run over, but it wasn’t enough.
So, Jenny, Cindy, Cindy’s niece, Michelle, and my sister, Sandra, agreed to join me in forming Rainbow Nation Animals, which we registered in 2014.
Building relationships to create change
Being a legitimate non-profit organisation, we then went about obtaining whatever sponsorship we could to assist the owners at Piels Farm. But equally important as food, water and shelter was education. Both on how to appreciate and care for their animals humanely, as well as noticing when things weren’t good, ensuring they were aware of the importance of fresh water being available at all times, and providing shelter with the means they had.
We’ve now been at Piels Farm for 15 years and have built up relationships with all the owners. Not every animal owner has been open to our suggestions or help, and we’ve been chased off several properties by owners who refuse to sterilise, and therefore refuse our help. However, we never give up trying to persuade them to join us; sometimes it takes years to get them to agree to sterilise their animals.
The majority of owners have seen and experienced the benefits of sterilisation and proper care, and we work tirelessly to persuade them that the animals are part of their family.
We’re now working hard at educating the children through activities to be more aware of the animals and be able to report to us if something isn’t right.
After searching hard for the right people to live up to our values, Piels Farm resident Bongani Twala now works permanently for RNA as an animal ambassador, along with Chase Jagemann, also an animal ambassador. Together they form a fantastic team. Bongani starts his rounds very early in case there are any medical cases he needs to alert us of. He also fills up empty water buckets where necessary (as a lot of owners leave really early for work) and is ready by the time Chase arrives. Together they check each and every dog – cats will be cats, so we don’t always see them, but talk to the owners if they’re home to find out if each animal is ok.
These men are passionate about the animals and work well together. They create awareness, educate, and build up relationships with both the animals and their owners. We’re at Piels Farm every day of the year – I worked on Christmas Day last year, and Chase on New Year’s Day. Rain or shine, we’re there, as we’ve found if we’re there every day, we have a better chance of noticing when an animal is sick or injured.
We take turns over weekends, to ensure that if owners work and they want to speak to us, the weekend gives them the opportunity to do so.
RNA makes wooden kennels from old pallets. We use tyres with a water bucket wired firmly in (as lots of dogs can either knock small water bowls over – or swim in them!) In summer, water is checked three times a day, as the weather can be extremely hot, and dehydration is a potential problem.
We make a point of working with new puppies so as to ensure they’re handled and don’t become aggressive, because if the owner isn’t there and the dog is sick, we need to be able to handle the dog to take it to the vet. Occasionally, adult dogs have come in, and it can take a long time – sometimes never – for the dog to get used to us and allow us to pet them, as most haven’t received much attention from their owners. The other reason we interact with all the dogs is that we love them as our own. Our township dogs have the most amazing natures and are so loving. When they hear one of our vehicles, they become quite vocal, knowing that they’re going to be given lots of love and attention. It takes many hours to do our rounds because we spend a little bit of time with everyone.
All RNA employees are passionate about these animals, and when one isn’t well, or any die – for various reasons – we’re devastated, as each one has their own unique personality. As we’ve been at Piels Farm for 15 years, a lot of the dogs are over 10 years old, and we need to accommodate their geriatric needs accordingly.
We feed a good-quality, age-appropriate food for each animal and sometimes go the extra mile with more specific veterinary prescription food such as a Kidney, Mobility or Weight Loss diet. We’ve taken several of the dogs to the best vets in the country, and we’ve been blessed so far to have been able to have sponsorship for these specialised visits. We won’t give up on any animal unless the prognosis is very bad, and no other options are available. Should we need to make the decision to put any animals to sleep, one of us is there with them (albeit crying), holding them gently and giving them love until they’ve crossed. They deserve the best attention and love, as much as our personal animals do. Our fantastic vet, Dr Hennie Boonzaaier, understands this and gives them the best possible care. The poor man has seen all of us in the most dreadful conditions – pyjamas at midnight even; when there’s an emergency, when a sick or injured animal needs help, we won’t let it wait.
Obviously, our biggest challenge (as for all animal welfare organisations) is financial. With so many people feeling the pinch after Covid, inflation, losing jobs, businesses closing, it becomes extremely tough to keep the organisation going. We feed almost two tons of animal food a month, and there are regular vet bills – but less so with us being there seven days a week. We’ve “capped” owners on only owning one animal per property once their other animals die, or we’ll not be able to continue our work. Most owners are understanding and stick to this rule for assistance, but there are a few who refuse.
We chose to only work at Piels Farm and give 100% of our efforts into a holistic approach. RNA has received requests in other townships, but we don’t have the resources to assist elsewhere. We’d rather do 100% in one township than split our resources between several and not give the full attention that’s needed.
Although we’ve made a positive difference, and will continue to do so, we know we can never sit back and think we’re doing enough. There’s always room for improvement and we’re always looking for ways of doing things better. However, our passion and commitment for these amazing animals are what will continue motivating us to find a way to do what we do. The positive far outweighs the negative, and we love our work!
You can help!
Rainbow Nation Animals is grateful for donations of funds, as well as pet food, pallets and wood (for kennel building), kennels in good condition, non-scripted veterinary supplies, dog collars and leads, and food bowls – everything makes a difference to helping the animals.