Leading the charge in controlling rabies in Alexandra Township.
It’s a chilly winter’s morning in the impoverished Alexandra Township in the heart of Joburg, but residents are braving the cold. They’ve formed a long line outside the Kitty And Puppy Haven Dog Day event and are eagerly waiting for their chance to vaccinate their pets against rabies and other viral diseases.
Although cases of rabies have decreased drastically over the years due to vaccinating programmes, a rabies epidemic has run rife in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal highlighting the importance of vaccinating against this deadly disease. In May alone, rabies claimed two human lives, while several infected stray dogs had to be euthanised after contracting the disease. Despite the risks, residents living in rural areas continue taking in stray animals, which they mostly use for protection, but don’t have the funds to vaccinate them against diseases, or even provide them with basic health care. This is where Kitty And Puppy Haven has stepped in to help. For the past three years, the Johannesburg-based pro-life rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing sanctuary, has dedicated its time and resources to helping improve the lives of animals in Alex.
“Statistics show there are over 600 000 residents living in Alex and an estimated 30 000 dogs,” says Sam Berger, founder and owner of Kitty And Puppy Haven. “When we first started working in the area, the conditions of animal care and health were horrific. Animals were kept chained up and there was minimal compassion shown towards them. Barely any of these dogs had ever been dewormed, defleaed, or vaccinated, with over 98 percent unsterilised.
Most of the dogs were suffering from mange, malnutrition (in some instances, only fed sawdust) and worm infestation, while hundreds more were dying from biliary (tick bites), anemia (fleas) and total neglect. There was no education, or an outlet for people to go to for free help for their pets. As most of the households have no form of transport, and many have no adult supervision, due to the Aids epidemic, when an animal was sick, it was simply left to die.”
The Haven was approached by the ANCYL to start a programme known as Alex Dog Day – tri-monthly dog days where pets’ owners can bring their pets for free rabies vaccines, dewormers and health care, in association with the State Vet. Free pet food is also handed out to pet owners donated by Purina, as well as free collars and leads for every dog and puppy brought to the event at the sanctuary’s expense. The first Dog Day held saw over 900 dogs and 3 000 residents attend. The last Dog Day, held in February, treated over 800 animals, with the next Day scheduled for mid July.
In addition, Kitty And Puppy Haven also opened a Community Veterinary Clinic (CVC) on its premises, which has treated more than 500 animals since its inception in 2011. “We have seen a large change in attitude of residents toward sterilisation and today sterilise up to five animals a week. We have joined forces with Ratang Bana, a non-profit organisation in Alex that cares for Aids children, and they’ll be joining us on our quest to educate and promote animal health in Alex. Because of the current rabies scare, we anticipate between 800 and 1 000, if not more, animals brought to the CVC for vaccinations.”
Despite their good work, Kitty and Puppy Haven has received little corporate sponsorship with regard to their sterilisation and anti rabies campaigns. “Cases of rabies, in particular, are more predominant in rural areas and townships because dogs are not vaccinated, therefore they have no immunity,” explains Berger. “Rabies is transmitted through saliva, not just biting. A dog takes two weeks to show any signs of being affected by the virus. Communities in townships have limited access to information and veterinary care so by the time their dog shows signs of the disease, it’s too late.
“There is so much misinformation regarding the prevention of rabies. Despite what you hear in the media, puppies and kittens under three months are not allowed to have rabies shots as the vaccine takes no effect at that age. This is why rabies needs to be eradicated as a whole. Communities like Alex have a right to know the correct information with regard to animal welfare and it is our job to educate the community and monitor its progress.”
While the rabies vaccines are provided by the State Vet, Kitty And Puppy Haven have to pay for needles and syringes, as well as the dewormers, dog dips and de-flea products. The Haven also pays for the antibiotics administered to sick dogs at the Dog Days and at their CVC. Until recently, they did not have a sponsor for rabies injections for their staff or animal handlers, but fortunately Dis-Chem Foundation has offered to sponsor this treatment. While the costs to run their CVC and Dog Days are enormous, Berger says the massive difference their involvement has made to the lives of these animals is priceless. “Pet owners come to the sanctuary on a daily basis for their free vaccinations which cover parvo, distemper and rabies, as well as sterilisations.
When an animal is sick, it is brought into the sanctuary immediately, and we are asked for help instead of it being left to fend for itself or to die. The level of animal health care and the animal/owner bond has gone from strength to strength. Unwanted dogs and puppies are brought into the sanctuary instead of being killed or thrown out into the streets. Dogs are treated with kindness and respect, chains are no longer the norm, the free collars and leads we provide the dogs at our personal expense have now become the norm and a status symbol in the township.”
If you are interested in providing funding or becoming a volunteer, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
diseases, pets, vaccinating, Alexandra, vet