In May this year, we were on our way to the Garden Route, full of excitement for the well-deserved break that lay ahead. Hubby Alex and I had finally managed to get away (an hour late, no less!), when we spotted a bedraggled creature trudging towards us on the shoulder of our busy country road.
It was a dog. But not a dog as it should be...
The emaciated figure looked as if a light breeze would blow her right off her feet. Her every movement seemed like a punishment. She looked like Death walking. As we neared, she looked up at our passing car. It felt like she looked right at me. Right into my soul.
I felt heavy inside. But, that heaviness was almost immediately replaced by a resolute little voice that said, “There’s nothing you can do”. We drove on. I tried my best to put the image of the dog out of my mind and instead think about the vacation that lay ahead, but I couldn’t focus. I just kept thinking about that creature's obvious desolation… Suddenly, I heard another little voice - softly, uncertainly at first, saying, “no”. Then more forcibly, “no”. Finally, I heard myself repeating, out loud, “NO”, as I pulled off to the side of the road. “I cannot leave that dog”, I said to Alex. As always, I was met with his unshakable understanding and support. I turned the car around.
We found the dog a little ways on, on the opposite side of the road to where we first saw her. Heaven knows how she made it across the busy road without getting hit by a car… We had to stop some distance away, and I walked the rest of the way towards her. The moment she saw me, she turned on her heel and started walking in the opposite direction, casting furtive glances over her shoulder. I stopped and waited. She stopped too, and looked back at me. She was clearly terrified, but just too tired and weak to run away. She lay down on the spot. Collapsed on the spot, is more like it. It’s like she just completely gave into her fate.
It took a while, but I crept slowly nearer, talking softly to her. She was so, so scared, but lay still, watching me. When I finally got close enough to touch her, I sat down, let her sniff my hand and then started stroking her.
A long time ago, she must have been a very handsome dog. A German Shepherd cross, with big, soulful eyes and an intelligent, pretty face. But now…
Up close, her condition was far worse than I first thought. Every bone in her body protruded grimly through her scruffy, thinning coat of drab fur and there were open sores on her hind leg and tail. Before I could stop myself, I burst into tears. How can something like this happen? How can it get this bad? What must she not have been through? Has she ever experienced love in her life?
I sat beside her, sobbing, stroking her feeble, skeletal body for ages. Alex had safely parked the car some ways off, and was slowly walking toward us. She tried to get up as he approached, but couldn’t. Eventually, he was also able to softly stroke her.
We had no idea what to do now.
We decided to take it one step at a time: Let’s just get her back to the car. I wrapped my arms around her and lifted. I might as well have been carrying a bag of bones, not a large dog…
I got into the passenger side, and sat her down between my feet. We called our vet to ask about animal shelters in the area. They kindly referred us to the Helderberg Animal Welfare Society.
During the 30 minute drive to their kennels in Gordon’s Bay, the dog hardly moved. Most of the time, she kept her head bowed down, tucked between my legs, face hidden, while I stroked her ears. I still couldn’t stop crying. When we finally reached the shelter, I donned my mask, hoisted her limp form out of the car and carried her inside.
We were met with such warmth, kindness and positivity. The staff (and even their clients in the waiting area) gushed over the dog, showering her with concerned attention. Without a moments hesitation, they took her in. Clare, one of the heroic staff members, gave me her personal contact information, so that I could check in with the dog’s progress.
Although I was heartbroken, I felt comforted knowing that this poor creature would finally have a full belly, a warm, dry place to sleep, and such wonderful people taking care of her.
About a week later, returning from our vacation, we stopped at the kennels to check up on the dog. The team had named her Maddison. We visited her in her kennel, and even took her out for a short walk. The week in the AWS’s superb care clearly made a difference. She wasn’t dragging her feet anymore, and I could already see the beginnings of some flesh forming on her bones. However, we learnt that she was very old - anything between nine to 11. She also had some underlying health issues that the team was concerned about...
Another week later, our hopes for Maddison’s recovery were finally dashed. Clare contacted us with the sad news that Maddison’s condition took a turn for the worse. She could no longer stand, and they discovered that she was in multiple organ failure. The vet made the difficult - but kind - decision to put her down.
Of course we felt horribly saddened. I just kept thinking that it was such a terrible waste of a life. A life that deserved more than the hand it was dealt.
I thought of our Kitty, who stumbled across our path as a scared, skinny feral that had hissed at me from her hiding place. She had no trust in humans. She had never known affection or the feeling of a full belly or the comfort of a warm bed. But with time and love, she has become a stunningly healthy, happy cat whose willingness to show affection just never runs out. We adore her, and certainly get way more out of the relationship than she does.
Just imagine what Maddison’s life could have been like if she had been taken in sooner. Just imagine how many animals would be spared her pain and suffering, if all strays would be sterilised. If people, en masse, supported and adopted from shelters, or fostered animals long enough for them to trust again. If we all said a resounding “NO” to the lying little voice in our heads that try to convince us that we cannot make a difference. Just imagine.
The amazing team at the Helderberg Animal Welfare Society (amongst many others!) are living proof that it is possible for this imagining to become reality. They speak for, fight for and shower love over the Maddison’s of the world.
Now, after recently receiving a very kind and generous gift from an anonymous donor, Alex and I are finally in a position to pay it forward to this very deserving non-profit organisation, and we hope to rally others to do the same.
Share this with your friends and family, so that we can help this team of amazing people to care for - quite literally - the Underdog:
BUY A RAFFLE TICKET FOR MADDISON, AND WIN!
I’m so pleased to announce that the AWS Helderberg are hosting a raffle from 6-24 September. The lucky winner may choose from any one of my fine art, limited edition, photo-realistic wildlife prints. They are valued at between R1100-R1900, and will be shipped to the winner's door, anywhere in South Africa (abroad and want to support this cause? Please contact me!).
Raffle tickets are only R20 each and can be purchased via EFT. All proceeds go to the AWS Helderberg’s more-than-worthy cause.
Animal Welfare Helderberg
Account number: 072286547
Branch code: 033012
Email proof of payment together with your name and cellphone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in touch with the AWS Helderberg:
021 856 0597
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Find them on Facebook
Here are just a few of my fine art wildlife prints that the lucky winner can choose from:
Above: "5 O'Clock Shadow"
See more of my fine art wildlife prints that are up for grabs in the raffle in my online shop: